What was Eisenhower about?

National Socialism and World War II

Manfred Görtemaker

To person

Manfred Görtemaker, born in 1951, is a professor of modern history with a focus on 19th and 20th centuries. Century at the University of Potsdam. He is the author of the book "A Little History of the Federal Republic of Germany".

Tensions between the USA and the USSR increased continuously after the end of the war. The dispute over the future of Germany and friction on a global level were decisive for this. Both on the American and the Soviet side, the ideological and political division was more and more perceived - and accelerated.

East German construction workers start building the Berlin Wall in August 1961. (& copy AP)


The cooperation between East and West soon after the end of the war proved to be complicated and arduous due to the political and ideological contradictions. One example of this was the development in Germany, where the conflicts between the occupying powers over joint administration increased rapidly.

There were conflicts above all because of the political, economic and social transformation that the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD) initiated in its zone of occupation immediately after the end of the war, and which gradually and rigorously eliminated any political opposition. This development, which included the compulsory unification of the SPD and KPD to form the SED in April 1946, was observed with growing concern by the Western occupying powers, especially since the SMAD implemented its policy largely against the will of the population. The incessant flow of refugees from east to west showed this clearly.

Source text

"Iron Curtain"

Churchill's telegram to President Truman, May 12, 1945

The situation in Europe worries me deeply. [...] The newspapers are full of news about the massive withdrawal of American armies from Europe. Our armies, too, are likely to be significantly reduced on the basis of previous resolutions. The Canadian army is sure to leave. The French are weak and difficult to deal with. It is obvious that our armed power on the European continent will disappear within a short time and only modest forces will remain there to hold down Germany.

[...] I have always endeavored to be friendship with the Russians; but their misinterpretation of the Yalta resolutions, their stance against Poland, their overwhelming influence in the Balkans all the way down to Greece, the difficulties they caused us in Vienna, the coupling of their power with the occupation and control of such vast and vast territories Communist tactics inspired by them in so many other countries, and above all their ability to keep large armies in the field for long periods of time, worry me as much as you do. What will be the situation in a year or two when the British and American armies no longer exist and the French have not yet established a sizeable army, so that we only have a handful of divisions, the majority of them French, while Russia has two - holds up to three hundred under the flags?

3. An iron curtain has come down on their front. We don't know what's going on behind it. It can hardly be doubted that within a short time the entire area east of the Lübeck-Trieste-Corfu line will be completely in your hands. In addition to all of this, there are the large areas that the American armies have conquered between Eisenach and the Elbe, but which, I must assume, will also be incorporated into the Russian sphere of power in a few weeks after your troops have evacuated them. General Eisenhower will have to take all possible measures to prevent a second mass exodus of Germans westwards when this enormous Muscovite advance into the heart of Europe takes place. [...] With this, Russian-occupied territories several hundred kilometers deep will cut us off like a broad band from Poland. [...]

Source: Wolfgang Lautemann / Manfred Schlenke (eds.), World Wars and Revolutions 1914-1945, History in Sources, p. 574 f.

Tension in Germany

The bodies set up in Potsdam for a common occupation rule could not stop this increasing alienation between the Soviet Union and the Western powers in Germany policy. On the contrary, the Allied Control Council, the Berlin Allied Command and the Council of Foreign Ministers were little more than reflections of the gradual split. Since all resolutions had to be passed unanimously, each of the Four Powers could prevent decisions through their veto. This situation was initially used primarily by France, which had not been involved in the conferences in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam, to make it clear that it rejected any efforts that could result in overcoming the division of Germany. But the Soviet Union also made use of the right of veto, for example by preventing progress in the unification issue by insisting on high reparations payments and four-power control of the Ruhr area.

The growing confrontation became more than clear in May 1946, when the American military governor Lucius D. Clay had the delivery of dismantling from the American zone to the Soviet Union on his own initiative. The background was the lack of food deliveries from the agricultural areas of the Soviet occupation zone - the agrarian east of Germany - to the three western zones, as agreed at the Potsdam Conference. The British, Americans and French therefore had to feed the population in their zones, in which there was insufficient agricultural cultivation possibilities, through imports from their home countries and thus indirectly paid the German reparations to the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union responded to Clay's measure not only with a first major propaganda campaign against American policy, but also reinforced its obstruction of any common ground in occupation policy. The USA and Great Britain therefore felt compelled to merge their two zones into the "Bizone" on January 1, 1947, and to begin building a new political order in West Germany. The course for the division of Germany was thus set at an early stage.