Churchill, Roosevelt & Stalin at Potsdam
Fritsch-Bournazel, Confronting the German Question: Germans on the
essay by Andrew Solow
About Andrew Solow (back to top)
I am a senior majoring in History at UCSB. After graduation I plan on attendting graduate school for a currently unknown major. Since my knowledge of German history was small before this class, I picked a book that would be a good starting point in German history. This book deals with post-war Germany from the German perspective which was a point of view I felt was important to study.
Starting from the immediate aftermath of World War II to right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Renata Fritsch-Bournazel’s book examines the policies of the allies that occupy Germany from the German perspective. She attempts to represent all aspects of Germany society from the conservatives who support rearmification to the liberals in the peace movement. This book showed me that often what the allies wanted for Germany was as much for the country’s good as it was for their own.
Book Essay (back to top)
May 8, 1945 was the day that World War II ended for Germany. The defeat of the Nazis created a power vacuum within Germany that the victorious Allies were forced to fill. What did the Western Allies, the U.S.S.R., and the German people wish for their country after the war? Renata Fritsch-Bournazel’s book Confronting the German Question: Germans on the East-West Divide is a great book for answering the question of what direction the Germans wished to take after the war. While Edgar McInnis’ The Shaping of Postwar Germany does a good job of answering what the Allies wished to do with their occupied zones. The different ideologies of the Allies as well as Germany’s desire to be seen as peaceful led to many different views and policies for this war-torn country. A lot of times these policies were as much an attempt to solve the question of Germany as they were another avenue for the east and west to push forward their conflicting ideologies.
During World War II the goals of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were one and the same. They all agreed that their first goal should be to defeat Germany, occupy it militarily and liberate the peoples in the occupied territories. Their second goal was to destroy National Socialism and create conditions in Germany so that it could never rise again. Each side, whether it be capitalist or communist felt that way was the right way to achieve this goal. Ironically both sides were willing to risk war for the sake of their brand of peace. Unfortunately for Germany the two postwar states would be stuck in the middle of this clash of visions for decades to come.
The first conflict between the former allies came at the Yalta conference, where disagreements over Soviet reparations, where Poland’s western border should lie and the postwar political structure of Germany were the first points of contention.
The reparations that Stalin sought for his country were seen by the Western powers as too much for Germany to handle. The initial sum that the U.S.S.R. wished to extract from Germany was $10 Billion or $215 million a year for 50 years. The west feared this sum would leave the Germans starving. The disagreement over war reparations continued until July of 1945 at the Potsdam Conference. It was decided at this conference that reparations would be settled by zone, with each country taking what it needed out of its own area of control. The Soviets were quick to take what they wanted, “stripping their own zone of half its industrial plant” and then confiscating “for reparations the bulk of the production from what was left” (McInnis pg.30). It is in this action that we can see that one of the main goals of the U.S.S.R. for post-war Germany was to extract what it felt it deserved from its zone.
The Western Allies, specifically the U.S. and Britain, were more concerned with the rebuilding of Germany than with reparations. Once they realized that the country was not recovering economically in the face of the Allied reparations plan they changed their focus from getting what they wanted out of Germany to helping it. They ended up giving Germany economic aid in the hope that it would help the country get back on its feet. McInnis claims that “by 1947 the United States and Britain found themselves compelled to pour subsidies into their sectors of occupied Germany to the tune of $700 million a year”(pg.31). The Western powers, much more than the East, seemed to grasp the fact that an economically weak Germany would hurt Europe as a whole, and changed their policies accordingly.
An added bonus for the west was that a financially secure West Germany would be less susceptible to the lure of communism. Which would in turn give the West a important ally very close to the iron curtain.
Another difference between the West and East was over the issue of territory. While they all agreed that Germany would not retain anything beyond her 1937 borders the U.S.S.R. was particularly adamant about what they wanted to happen to the East German border. Specifically whether the Polish border should be pushed westward or not. Stalin wished to expand the border to the west of the Oder-Neisse line but the western allies felt that the German-speaking peoples of the region should remain part of Germany. The Allies realized that since much of the territory in question was already occupied by the Russians and Poles it would be hard to fight Stalin on this issue. A deal was struck with the U.S.S.R. The Western powers agreed to the expansion of Poland’s northern and western borders as long as the government established in Poland was independent and democratic.
The issue of the Polish-German border was brought up again at the Potsdam Conference. During this conference no official agreement was made on the border of these countries. Instead it was decided that a deportation of the German peoples along the Polish, Czechoslovakian, and Hungarian borders was necessary to solve some of these border disputes. In total 11.7 million Germans were moved west into Germany.
The border dispute between Poland and Germany is important because it helps to demonstrate the Soviet goals. They wished to expand and strengthen their Communist empire and saw this as an opportunity to do just that.
Probably one of the most important differences between the West and the East is how they wished to politically structure their respective parts of Germany. All sides agreed that it might be to benefit to “break into separate pieces the state whose centralization under Hitler’s supreme authority had helped to make her so formidable a menace” (McInnis pg.44). To what extent these pieces should be politically connected and how was a subject for debate. Both sides feared that the other was trying to establish its respective ideology in the new German government. As a result no unified German government was created. By 1949 the debate had become a non-issue. The establishment of the German Democratic Republic in the east and the German Federal Republic in the west allowed each side to mold a piece of Germany in its own image.
The communists were very aggressive in the establishment of political goals in their occupied zones. Before the war had even ended a group of German communists were flown into eastern Germany to help create the government. Under these communists the KPD party was founded and quickly became the dominant political party of East Germany. When the GDR was founded in 1949, the SED since 1946 was its main party with all the others being weak and under the sway of the communists. In the years following the founding of the GDR it was to slowly erode its veil of democracy and be seen as the communist government that it really was.
The West on the other hand handled the political rebuilding of West Germany quite differently than the Soviets. McInnis says, “ while the Allies at the outset assumed comprehensive political authority, it was not their plan to shoulder the burden of detailed administration. That was to be carried out through the Germans themselves as soon as competent and trustworthy officials could be installed”(pg. 14). What McInnis is saying here is that the Western allies did not wish to rule Germany, at least not permanently, but rather help it along towards the creation of its own government. This is in stark contrast to the Soviets who allowed the country some autonomy but kept their influence strong within the government.
One of the ways that the Western allies helped Germany down the democratic path was to create democratic institutions at the local level. In this way the Allies allowed for the German people to experience democracy without giving them too much responsibility before they were ready. The Allies feared that immediate democratic authority to the German people could lead to the election of tyrants like Hitler and felt that a “ cooling-off period that would allow the emotions of vengeance to subside and a more objective attitude to emerge” (McInnis pg. 15).
Another challenge that the Allies had to handle in postwar Germany was the denazification of the country. In order to accomplish this Germany had to be
Like many other things, the Western Allies and the Soviets had different views on how to accomplish this task. The Soviets were very structured on their denazification polices. They were most concerned with removing Nazis from political office, administrative spheres, judiciary posts and teaching positions. Nazis who specialized in areas of medicine were more often left to their positions because of their usefulness in post-war Germany. The Soviets set out early on to distinguish between the real Nazis and those that were just following orders. They amnestied minor Nazis so as to help them build the new communist state. They also put a lot of effort into changing the curriculum at schools. German schools during World War II taught Nazi propaganda. The Communists changed the curriculum to Marxist-Leninist teachings.
The West, on the other hand, had a harder time with denazification. The Western allies were torn over what it meant to be a Nazi. It couldn’t simply be party membership because there were many who joined the party for their own safety or to keep their job. The Western allies also were torn over what to do with Nazis once they decided who they were. Was rehabilitation or punishment the goal for these former foes? This hesitation and confusion over what to do with former Nazis continued to be a problem for the West for many years after the war.
With all this talk about the polices of the great powers it is easy to forget that behind all this is a nation of people that were being affected by decisions made for them. One of the main fears of the German people was the possibility of war between the Western powers and the U.S.S.R. A German intellectual named Rudolf Bahro summed up this fear in his writings. He stated that “This frontier between the two blocs and the concentration of destructive power on both sides of it–this is what in a crisis would turn our country, before an other in Europe, into a shooting range for the two superpowers (Fritsch-Bournazel pg. 20). This is a fear that the already war-weary German people had after World War Two, especially with the increased tensions of the Cold War.
Many Germans felt that the only way to stop the threat of a war on their countries soil was to reunite. Author such as Wolfgang Venohr argued that because of the importance a united Germany has to peace it is not just an issue for the Germans to worry about, but all of mankind. In his book Die deutsche Einheit kommt bestimmt (German unity must come) he paints a grave ultimatum for the world, “Either it will come through military catastrophe, in which case the reunification of all Germans will be in a mass grave. Or it will come through a political solution” (Fritsch-Bournazel pg. 20).
Whether these arguments of a nuclear holocaust on German soil were likely is questionable. In an age of mutualy assured destruction a war between the Western powers and the U.S.S.R. would not only be a danger to Germans but to the rest of the world as well.
The German opposition to nuclear weapons goes beyond a fear for themselves. Fritsch-Bournazel explains that there is a great guilt among the Germans for being the aggressors in both of the World Wars. As a result many Germans feel that it is their duty to be a nation that pushes for peace (pg 21). In 1983 Gert Bastian, a former General of the West German army, made a speech in Hamburg on this very subject. In this speech he says “I believe that no other country in the world, certainly not one in Europe, can be more conscious than the Germans of their special responsibility for peace and for promoting such a step, a responsibility derived from history and from their own past errors and mistakes” (Fritsch-Bournazel pg.21).
There are also those in the German peace movement who see the Allied powers not as liberators but as occupiers. That is not to say that these people wish that the Nazis were still in power, rather they see the Allies as the main roadblock to peace in Germany. For example many Germans opposed the U.S. when they stationed Pershing-II missiles on German soil in 1983. Many Germans felt that these missiles represented the “FRG’s lack of sovereignty on issues of international security policy” (Fritsch-Bournazel pg.22). They feared that war was going to be forced upon them by the tension between the occupying countries.
The peace movement prevalent in post-war Germany was not an anomaly. Germany to this day is still very hesitant about fighting in or supporting wars. Staunch opposition to the current Iraq war is a great example of this. I believe that the post-world war Germans within the peace movement above all else wished for peace. Their guilt over World War II along with the weariness they felt over fighting two major wars in one century was the cause of this change.
The Allied powers also wished for peace and felt that what they did with Germany after the war was a key part of that. Unfortunately problems arose when their views on how to reach this peace conflicted. The disagreements seen in the Cold War often had great influence on Germany and its two governments. Regrettably for Germany’s people its governments would not be free of this influence until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)
Published Reviews of Fritsch-Bournazel
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: