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Germany Divided into East and West, 1949
Historic World Events, 2012
From World History in Context
Following Germany's partition into east and west, hundreds of thousands left for the West
Key Figures
Konrad Adenauer (1876­1967), West Germany's conservative, anti­Nazi, anti­Communist first
Joseph Stalin (1879­1953), Soviet leader and general secretary of the Soviet Union's Communist
Harry Truman (1884­1972), thirty­third U.S. president, from 1945 to 1953.
Walter Ulbricht (1893­1973), East German leader and faithful Soviet ally.
Summary of Event
The Second World War actually involved a number of different conflicts. On the European front, it was
a battle to stop Nazi Germany's aggression, a fight against the ideology of fascism, and another
installment in a German­Russian struggle to control Central Europe that had been going on for
centuries. Once Germany had been defeated, Stalin wished the vanquished country to remain
helpless, and he also hoped to exploit its resources for rebuilding the Soviet Union. The goals of the
Soviets' American, British, and French allies were less obvious, however. To some Western leaders,
Communism appeared to be as dangerous as fascism, and they had allied themselves with Stalin only
because they considered the Nazi threat to be more urgent. Others were hoping that their wartime
alliance with the USSR would continue into the post­war period. Some Western officials believed, like
Stalin, that Germany ought to be left powerless. In their view, since Germany had caused both world
wars, it was deserving of severe punishment. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who served as treasury secretary
and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, voiced the opinion in 1943 that Germany should be
"pastoralized" to prevent it from going to war again. France, which had been occupied by the Nazis,
also very much wished to prevent future German aggression.
In the post­war period, as the USSR imposed its will on Eastern Europe, there were increasing doubts
in the West that Stalin was committed to independence and peace for Europe. The East­West alliance
was also harmed by events such as the Greek civil war, in which the monarchists fought the
Communists, and by the emergence of powerful Communist movements in Italy and France.
These ideological issues, however, were overridden by geopolitical concerns. Soviet power could not
be counterbalanced by either France or Germany, as neither country was strong enough. Winston
Churchill, Britain's prime minister, had agreed with Stalin in October, 1944, that a way was needed to
divide Eastern Europe. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin
discussed plans to place Eastern Europe under Soviet influence and Western Europe under Anglo­
American influence. After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Stalin and Churchill held a meeting in
Potsdam, near Berlin, with Harry S. Truman, who had become president after Roosevelt's death in
April. In Potsdam, Germany's future was determined, and even Churchill's replacement, Prime Minister
Clement Atlee, during the conference had little effect on the discussions.
The Potsdam Treaty divided Germany into four zones: American, Soviet, British, and French. Berlin,
located within the Soviet zone, was also divided into four sections. The agreement permitted the
Soviets to receive reparations by taking materials, not only from the Soviet zone, but also from the
other zones, to compensate them for damage suffered at the hands of the Germans. European
countries that had been occupied by the Nazis also received compensation, though less than the
Soviet Union.
Some 40 percent of German land was now in the Soviet zone, which was the largest of all the
occupation zones. Germany also handed over to the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland the territory
located to the east of the Neisse and Oder rivers, which had been in its possession prior to World War
II, and all territories conquered by Germany after 1938 were handed back. The land covered by the
American zone, in Germany's southwest, constituted 30 percent of German territory, while the British
zone, in the north of Germany, covered 20 percent, and the French zone, 10 percent.
Stalin instituted Communist­party­controlled governments for Eastern European countries, where
elections featured a single candidate. Those who opposed this system were silenced­­some thrown
into jail, others executed­­or forced into exile. In Western countries, in contrast, attempts were made to
minimize the influence of home­grown Communists, but Communist parties were rarely banned. As
America's Marshall Plan for European economic recovery brought about rapid improvements in
Western Europe, the appeal of Communism was diminished. In 1946, Winston Churchill, speaking in
Fulton, Missouri, warned that "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has
descended across the Continent" and added that those countries behind the iron curtain were all
"subject . . . not only to Soviet influence but to a very high . . . measure of control from Moscow." The
Soviet­Western alliance had been totally dissolved by 1948, and the Cold War had begun.
The Western­Soviet split had ramifications for Germany because each of the occupying powers
modeled the temporary administration it set up in its occupation zone on its own principles. In 1949, the
Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, also known as West Germany) was established on the territory of
the combined American, British, and French occupation zones, with its capital in Bonn. Anti­Nazi
candidate Konrad Adenauer, a conservative, became chancellor following the Federal Republic's first
elections. While the city of Berlin retained its own legal status, its three Western zones were combined
to form West Berlin.
Later that year, the Soviets proclaimed the founding of what was called the German Democratic
Republic (GDR, also referred to as East Germany), which was established on the territory of the Soviet
zone of occupation with its capital in East Berlin. Communist leader Walter Ulbricht, a loyal Soviet ally,
became its prime minister.
In 1948, the Soviet Union attempted to limit Western access to Berlin, and an air lift was organized,
mainly by the United States, which supplied food and fuel to Berlin until Moscow finally lifted the
blockade in 1949. The blockade, however, was a terrifying experience for Germans in the East. Unlike
people living in other parts of the Soviet bloc, who found it virtually impossible to leave the countries
they lived in, East Germans who had access to Berlin had been able to travel to West Berlin by
subway, and once there, to go wherever they chose. The future appeared bleak for East Germans, and
life in the West was sufficiently enticing that many were willing to leave their belongings behind and go.
Impact of Event
In many ways, for both the West and the USSR, the existence of two Germanies was convenient, as it
made it possible for the settlement of the Second World War to continue once the alliance fell apart.
The Germans, however, were not fond of this settlement, and the FRG was unwilling to recognize the
policy of two Germanies. Its Hallstein Doctrine, enunciated in 1955, and named for Foreign Ministry
official Walter Hallstein, stated that West Germany would not recognize countries that maintained
diplomatic relations with the German Democratic Republic. The policy was not monolithic, however, and
some exceptions were made. The FRG changed this policy in the 1960s to allow it to have relations
with Eastern European countries, but the Federal Republic remained committed to unification of the two
East Germany's leaders, however, wished to maintain two separate German states, for they
understood clearly that if the two Germanies were reunited, this would signal an end to Communist
power. The Sovietization of the GDR had resulted in a great deal of dissatisfaction among East
Germans, and a mass revolt had even broken out in 1953, which was, nevertheless, quickly
As Western aid was rebuilding Western Europe in the 1950s, Eastern European countries were
burdened with building up the USSR, which had suffered badly in the war, and their own countries as
well. Life in the West appeared to compare favorably with life in Eastern Europe, and between 1949
and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 1.5 million or more East Germans left for the West.
After the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded him, reversed some of Stalin's
policies, and there was a certain amount of liberalization in East Germany. The economic growth
experienced by the GDR was particularly noteworthy when compared with the other socialist countries,
and also because East Germany did not receive the tremendous amounts of aid given to West
Germany and had to pay reparations to Moscow. At the same time, however, West Germany was
experiencing extremely rapid growth; the FRG became an economic powerhouse, and West Germans
did not have to deal with lines or shortages of goods, as East Germans were forced to do. This, along
with the general oppressiveness of life in the GDR, significantly increased the number of people who
wished to leave East Germany for the West, particularly those with good professional skills. Eventually,
the Soviet and East German regimes decided to take action, and on August 13, 1961, the border
crossing was closed. Over the next few weeks, the East Germans and the Soviets built an enormous
wall across Berlin. Once the wall was completed, anyone attempting to leave was shot on sight. The
wall became a very visible symbol of the Cold War and of the differences in life on either side of the
border, until it finally fell in 1989.
Source Citation
"Germany Divided into East and West, 1949." Historic World Events. Detroit: Gale,
2012. World History in Context. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2359070412