Germany Postwar Occupation and Division
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
On May 8, 1945, the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) was signed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in Berlin, ending World War II for Germany. The German people were suddenly confronted by a situation never before experienced in their history: the entire German territory was occupied by foreign armies, cities and infrastructure were largely reduced to rubble, the country was flooded with millions of refugees from the east, and large portions of the population were suffering from hunger and the loss of their homes. The nation-state founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 lay in ruins.
The Establishment of Occupation Zones
The total breakdown of civil administration throughout the country required immediate measures to ensure the rebuilding of civil authority. After deposing Admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler's successor as head of state, and his government, the Allies issued a unilateral declaration on June 5, 1945, that proclaimed their supreme authority over German territory, short of annexation. The Allies would govern Germany through four occupation zones, one for each of the Four Powers--the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.
The establishment of zones of occupation had been decided at a series of conferences. At the conference in Casablanca, held in January 1943, British prime minister Winston Churchill's proposal to invade the Balkans and East-Central Europe via Greece was rejected. This decision opened the road for Soviet occupation of eastern Germany. At the Tehran Conference in late 1943, the western border of postwar Poland and the division of Germany were among the topics discussed. As a result of the conference, a commission began to work out detailed plans for the occupation and administration of Germany after the war. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, participants decided that in addition to United States, British, and Soviet occupation zones in Germany, the French were also to have an occupation zone, carved out of the United States and British zones.
The relative harmony that had prevailed among the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union began to show strains at the Potsdam Conference, held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. In most instances, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was successful in getting the settlements he desired. One of his most far-reaching victories was securing the conference's approval of his decision to compensate Poland for the loss of territory in the east to the Soviet Union by awarding it administrative control over parts of Germany. Pending the negotiation of a peace treaty with Germany, Poland was to administer the German provinces of Pomerania, Silesia, and the southern portion of East Prussia. The forcible "transfer" to the west of Germans living in these provinces was likewise approved.
The movement westward of Germans living east of a line formed by the Oder and western Neisse rivers resulted in the death or disappearance of approximately 2 million Germans, while an estimated 12 million Germans lost their homes. The presence of these millions of refugees in what remained German territory in the west was a severe hardship for the local populations and the occupation authorities.
The conferees at Potsdam also decided that each occupying power was to receive reparations in the form of goods and industrial equipment in compensation for its losses during the war. Because most German industry lay outside its zone, it was agreed that the Soviet Union was to take industrial plants from the other zones and in exchange supply them with agricultural products. The Allies, remembering the political costs of financial reparations after World War I, had decided that reparations consisting of payments in kind were less likely to imperil the peace after World War II.
The final document of the Potsdam Conference, the Potsdam Accord, also included provisions for demilitarizing and denazifying Germany and for restructuring German political life on democratic principles. German economic unity was to be preserved.
The boundaries of the four occupation zones established at Yalta generally followed the borders of the former German federal states (Länder ; sing., Land ). Only Prussia constituted an exception: it was dissolved altogether, and its territory was absorbed by the remaining German Länder in northern and northwestern Germany. Prussia's former capital, Berlin, differed from the rest of Germany in that it was occupied by all four Allies--and thus had so-called Four Power status. The occupation zone of the United States consisted of the Land of Hesse, the northern half of the present-day Land of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and the southern part of Greater Berlin. The British zone consisted of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and the western sector of Greater Berlin. The French were apportioned the Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Saarland--which later received a special status--the southern half of Baden-Württemberg, and the northern sector of Greater Berlin. The Soviet Union controlled the Länder of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and the eastern sector of Greater Berlin, which constituted almost half the total area of the city.
The zones were governed by the Allied Control Council (ACC), consisting of the four supreme commanders of the Allied Forces. The ACC's decisions were to be unanimous. If agreement could not be reached, the commanders would forego unified actions, and each would confine his attention to his own zone, where he had supreme authority. Indeed, the ACC had no executive authority of its own, but rather had to rely on the cooperation of each military governor to implement its decisions in his occupation zone. Given the immense problems involved in establishing a provisional administration, unanimity was often lacking, and occupation policies soon varied.
The French, for instance, vetoed the establishment of a central German administration, a decision that furthered the country's eventual division. Because they had not participated in the Potsdam Conference, the French did not feel bound to the conference's decision that the country would remain an economic unit. Instead, the French sought to extract as much as they could from Germany and even annexed the Saar area for a time.
The Soviet occupiers likewise sought to recover as much as possible from Germany as compensation for the losses their country had sustained during the war. Unlike the French, however, they sought to influence Germany as a whole and hoped to hold an expanded area of influence. In their own zone, the Soviet authorities quickly moved toward establishing a socialist society like their own.
The United States had the greatest interest in denazification and in the establishment of a liberal democratic system. Early plans, such as the Morgenthau Plan to keep Germans poor by basing their economy on agriculture, were dropped as the Soviet Union came to be seen as a threat and Germany as a potential ally.
Britain had the least ambitious plans for its zone. However, British authorities soon realized that unless Germany became economically self-sufficient, British taxpayers would bear the expense of feeding its population. To facilitate German economic self-sufficiency, United States and British occupation policies soon merged, and by the beginning of 1947 their zones had been joined into one economic area--the Bizone.
Data as of August 1995
NOTE: The information regarding Germany on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Germany Postwar Occupation and Division information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Germany Postwar Occupation and Division should be addressed to the Library of Congress.