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Allied Occupation of Germany, 1945-52

After Germany's defeat in the Second World War, the four main allies in Europe - the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France - took part in a joint occupation of the German state. With the original understanding that the country would eventually be reunified, the Allied Powers agreed to share the responsibility of administering Germany and its capital, Berlin, and each took responsibility for a certain portion of the defeated nation. This arrangement ultimately evolved into the division of Germany into a Western and an Eastern sector, thereby contributing to the Cold War division of Europe.

During the Second World War, one of the major topics under discussion at conferences of the Allied leadership was how to deal with Germany after the war. Having experienced great losses as a result of German invasions in the First and Second World Wars, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin preferred that a defeated Germany be dismembered and divided so that it could not rise to its former strength to threaten European peace and security again. At the Tehran Conference between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1943, the two countries agreed that after the war Germany would be divided and occupied jointly. At the final wartime conference between these two men at Yalta in 1945, the two powers agreed to shift the eastern border of Germany to the West, enlarging western Poland as compensation for the eastern sections of that country annexed by the Soviet Union. They also determined that the occupation would divide Germany into sections, with each Allied power taking responsibility for one section, although they would be governed as a single economic unit in anticipation of their eventual reunification. Finally, they also concluded that they would demand reparations from Germany, although they did not yet agree on exactly how much they would request. A meeting later in 1945 between Stalin and new U.S. President Harry Truman held at Potsdam confirmed and ratified these arrangements.

After the victory over the Axis powers, however, the wartime cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union soon faded. In reality, mutual distrust ruled the relationship between the two countries, and nowhere was this more evident than in the difficulties over the occupation of Germany. The Allies agreed to a joint occupation, with each country taking charge of a larger zone and a sector of the nation's capital, Berlin. Upon British insistence, France joined Great Britain and the United States in the occupation of West Germany and West Berlin, while the Soviet Union managed the affairs of East Germany and East Berlin.

The divided Germany was weak and dependent on the allies for goods and the differing approaches of the occupying powers served to establish what would become a stark contrast between the two Germanys. The Soviet Union stripped its sector of manufacturing equipment in an effort to garner partial payment for wartime remittances, further stifling the reemergence of a strong German economy. In the western sector, military leaders from the United States soon grew concerned about the economic costs of a Germany completely dependent on the United States, and the United States began investing in German industries. In 1946, the United States and Great Britain merged their occupation zones, and in 1947 the U.S. Government began a massive aid program under the Marshall Plan, which pumped dollars and goods into Europe to aid in recovery. The Soviet Union prevented the countries along the Soviet border in Eastern Europe, many of which had experienced the rise of communist leadership in the wake of the war, from taking part in the arrangement. Instead it offered the Soviet Union offered its own postwar program for economic aid.

By 1948, the Western Allies began the project of pulling their occupation zones together for the sake of rebuilding - a project that the Soviet Union, still worried about a Germany threat to its security, wished to prevent. Although the Western Allies made frequent suggestions for the terms under which the country might be reunified, usually involving the introduction of free and democratic elections and German autonomy for conducting its own foreign policy. These proposals were never made in terms that the Soviet Union would consider accepting, so the continued division of the country was in many ways inevitable. In June 1948, the Soviet Union took action against the West's policies by blocking all road access between West Germany and West Berlin, effectively cutting off the city's occupation zones from the British, French, and American forces responsible for maintaining them. The administrators of the western zones had no agreement with the Soviet Union that required the latter to allow ground access to the city through Eastern Germany, but they did have an agreement on air access. As a result, the United States began an airlift of supplies to the stranded citizens of West Berlin. Over the course of the next eleven months of the blockade, the Americans, assisted by the British and the French, supplied West Berlin entirely by air, landing planes filled with food, clothing, and coal for heat nearly every minute. Because it was a mild winter, they were able to keep ahead of the city's requirements, and the extraordinary accomplishments of the Berlin Airlift became an early propaganda success for the West in the emerging Cold War. After nearly a year, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade, making it once again possible to supply West Berlin overland. The blockade and airlift contributed to cementing the division of Germany and Europe into East and West.

The Soviet Union was not alone in worrying over the threat to European security that could come of a revitalized Germany. Countries to the west, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, were also wary and preferred a neutral and demilitarized Germany. To address these concerns, the British proposed a collective security arrangement that would include these nations, plus Britain, West Germany and the United States. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formally established in 1949.

In 1949, the occupying powers in both East and West Germany replaced their military governors with civilian leaders, and the occupations ended officially in the mid-1950s. Even so, both sides retained a strong interest in Germany, and the country and its capital remained divided throughout the Cold War. Reunification finally took place in October of 1990.


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