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Germany After the Surrender in 1945
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Germany After the Surrender in 1945
View of destroyed buildings on a city street in Germany at the end of World War II, 1945.

Due to bombing and warfare, many German cities were badly damaged at the end of the Second World War. Centuries-old libraries, schools, churches, theaters and other buildings lie in ruin. German citizens had to grieve the deaths of millions and start rebuilding their lives and cities. They also had to reflect on their Nazi past. How had such a proud and enlightened nation become the tool of mass murderers?

Germany partitioned

Before the end of the war the allies had already agreed on partitioning Germany into three zones of occupation. These were to be a large Soviet Zone in the east, a British zone in the northwest and an American and a French zone in the Southwest.

Redrawing the map of Europe

Losing the war meant once again losing territory for Germany. Austria, which had been annexed by Germany in March 1938 had had become part of Germany, was separated again from Germany. The Saarland, which had been administered by France since the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War and had been ‘taken over’ by Nazi Germany in 1935, was again to be placed under French administration until its future could be decided.

German territories located east of the Oder and Neisse rivers were given to Poland. Some areas of Northeast Germany were taken over by the Soviet Union. The German people living on these lands, as well as the German people living within the borders of East European States such as Czechoslovakia (former Sudetenland), Hungary and Yugoslavia were expelled. The total number of refugees moving into what remained of Germany was more than 10 million.

Future of Germany

The Allies were not really sure about how they should go about dealing with Germany. There were plans to break Germany up into regional states or for Germany to be turned into an agricultural nation. Most importantly, the Allies did not want a repeat of what happened after the First World War, when Germans rallied around their hatred of the conditions imposed upon them. What the Allies DID agree on was a policy of de-nazification. All Germans who wanted to run for political office, to work as public servants, teachers, judges, or policemen needed a document stating that they had not been active Nazis. This proved difficult in practice, since so many judges, teachers, etc. had been Nazis and their professional qualifications were needed to rebuild the country.

Political changes

It became obvious that the western and eastern zones of occupation were developing in different directions. By 1947, The Americans decided that the best way forward for Germany was for the country to try to sustain itself. This could be done by revitalizing the economy and stopping the advance of Communism. Communism was very popular in many parts of Europe, also because of the critical role Communist fighters played in the resistance against the Nazis. The British and American zones joined to form one larger zone and economic unit (they were later joined by the French zone). In1948, the German Mark was introduced as the country's new currency. The exchange rate was 1,000 Reichsmark = 1 DM. Everybody was given a start sum of 40 DM. The black market collapsed immediately; and the shelves in the shops were filled with goods.

The Soviets were furious about this currency reform, which was introduced without them being informing. What was left of Germany now was divided in 2 regions - West Germany (the US, British and French zones of occupation), and what became known as East Germany (the Soviet Zone). Berlin, which was in the Soviet Zone, was divided into West Berlin (the western sectors) and East Berlin (the Eastern sector). A wall was built right through the capital City of Berlin, know as the Berlin Wall. The Western-oriented part of Berlin was totally engulfed by Soviet-oriented East Germany. For some time, while the Cold War was at its height, supplies had to be flown in. In other places, fences went right through small towns, separating people from their neighbors and oftentimes relatives. The portioning of Germany did not end until 1989 when German citizens tore down the wall with their own hands.

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Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Robert Steinke.
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This day in history
Today: 12 December 2017
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

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