The Western Allies needed West Germany to become strong again

Friday, June 14th, 2019

Jared Diamond explains (in Upheaval) the challenge of rebuilding Germany after the war:

Millions of Germans were searching for missing family members, of whom some miraculously turned up alive years later. But most never turned up, and for many of them the time and place and circumstances of their deaths remain forever unknown. My first German teacher, living in exile in 1954, happened to mention having a son. When I naïvely asked him about his son, my teacher burst out in pain, “They took him away, and we never heard anything about him again!” By the time that I met my teacher, he and his wife had been living with that uncertainty for 10 years. Two of my later German friends were “luckier”: one learned of her father’s probable death “only” a year after the last news from him, and another learned of his brother’s death after three years.


The term “German Democratic Republic” is remembered as a big lie, like the name “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” that North Korea adopts for itself today. It’s easy now to forget that not just Soviet brute force but also German communist idealism contributed to East Germany’s founding, and that numerous German intellectuals chose to move to East Germany from West Germany or from exile overseas.


The pre-war public transport system in Berlin (U-Bahn and S-Bahn) included lines that connected West and East Berlin, so that anyone in East Berlin could get into West Berlin just by hopping on a train. When I first visited Berlin in 1960, like other Western tourists I took the U-Bahn to visit East Berlin and to return to West Berlin.


In 1953 dissatisfaction in East Germany blew up in a strike that turned into a rebellion, crushed by Soviet troops.


Finally, on the night of August 13, 1961, while I was living in Germany, the East German regime suddenly closed the East Berlin U-Bahn stations and erected a wall between East and West Berlin, patrolled by border guards who shot and killed people trying to cross the wall (Plate 6.3). I recall the disbelief, shock, and rage of my West German friends the morning after the wall’s erection.


As late as 1961, when I was about to go live in Germany, my (American) father advised me in all seriousness to be ready to flee to a safe refuge in Switzerland at the first signs of danger in Europe.


The Western Allies needed West Germany to become strong again, as a bulwark against communism. Their other motives for wanting Germany to become strong were to reduce the risk that a weak and frustrated Germany might descend again into political extremism (as had happened after World War One), and to reduce the economic costs to the Allies of having to continue to feed and support an economically weak West Germany.


By the time that I moved from Britain to West Germany, West Germany felt more prosperous and contented than was Britain.


Politically, by 1955 West Germany had regained sovereignty, and Allied military occupation ended.


At the end of World War Two, the Allies prosecuted the 24 top surviving Nazi leaders at Nuremberg for war crimes. Ten were condemned to death, of whom the highest ranking were the foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring. (The latter succeeded in committing suicide by poison during the night before his scheduled execution.) Seven others were sentenced to long or lifelong prison terms.


In Germany the trials became dismissed as “Siegerjustiz”: mere revenge taken by the victors upon the vanquished.


Adenauer’s policy upon becoming chancellor was described as “amnesty and integration,” which was a euphemism for not asking individual Germans about what they had been doing during the Nazi era.


Instead, the government’s focus was overwhelmingly on the urgent tasks of feeding and housing tens of millions of underfed and homeless Germans, rebuilding Germany’s bombed cities and ruined economy, and re-establishing democratic government after 12 years of Nazi rule.


As a result, most Germans came to adopt the view that Nazi crimes were the fault of just a tiny clique of evil individual leaders, that the vast majority of Germans were innocent, that ordinary German soldiers who had fought heroically against the Soviets were guiltless, and that (by around the mid-1950’s) there were no further important investigations of Nazi crimes left to be carried out.


Further contributing to that failure of the West German government to prosecute Nazis was the widespread presence of former Nazis among post-war government prosecutors themselves: for instance, it turned out that 33 out of 47 officials in the West German federal criminal bureau (Bundeskriminalamt), and many members of the West German intelligence service, had been leaders of the Nazi fanatical SS organization.


Bauer did not succeed in tracking down Mengele, who eventually died in Brazil in 1979, or Bormann, who it later turned out had committed suicide in 1945 around the same time as did Hitler.


But Bauer did receive information about the location of Eichmann, who had fled to Argentina.


Instead, he relayed the news of Eichmann’s whereabouts to the Israeli Secret Service, which eventually succeeded in kidnapping Eichmann in Argentina, secretly flying him to Israel in an El Al jet, putting him on public trial, and eventually hanging him after a trial that drew worldwide attention not just to Eichmann but to the whole subject of individual responsibility for Nazi crimes.


The Nazi defendants being prosecuted by Bauer all tended to offer the same set of excuses: I was merely following orders; I was conforming to the standards and laws of my society at the time; I was not the person who had responsibility for those people getting killed; I merely organized railroad transport of Jews being transported to extermination camps; I was just a pharmacist or a guard at Auschwitz; I didn’t personally kill anyone myself; I was blinded by belief in authority and ideology proclaimed by the Nazi government, and that made me incapable of recognizing that what I was doing was wrong.


  1. Lu An Li says:

    Important to remember that in the aftermath of the war about ten to fifteen million ethnic Germans living in eastern Europe were rounded up and shipped off to Germany proper, most of them ending up in the allied sectors which became West Germany. About one to two million of those dying during transport and this after the war was over.

  2. Kirk says:

    The aftermath of WWII was a total sh*tshow, especially in Eastern Europe. If it had been left up to the Western Allies, they would have returned to the same status and borders as before the war, leading to inevitably re-ignition of the war over the same issues. The Soviets had other ideas, and the one thing they did get right was “Separate out the ethnicities”. No German minority, no cause for war.

    Little rough on the Germans in question, but, hey… Ya know what? Don’t start none, won’t be none. You look at it over the long haul of history, and what happened to the German minorities was pretty much just the inevitable pushback from the Balts and Slavs they’d abused and conquered going back to the days of the Teutonic Knights.

    This is the lesson to take from that whole thing: If you want peace for your kids and grandkids, don’t be doing wrong things today, because it will eventually come back on you.

    Of course, that’s only if you leave survivors.

    Which, I suppose, is the alternative lesson: If you’re going to do evil, have the conviction of your beliefs, and go all the way.

  3. Graham says:

    Like CVLR said elsewhere, the wheel turns.

    I always sympathized with the idea that the drang nach osten and its accompanying ostsiedlung [love German phrases] starting from the Middle Ages was just the German speakers reclaiming lands they had left on their drive west into Rome, in front of the invading Huns. The few they left behind, like Crimean Goths, lasted no longer than the 1600s. Still pretty good run.

    Someone once wrote an account of some German officer who claimed to be first to put his boot in the Volga in 1942, with this sort of thing in mind.

    There’s a limit to all that, of course. For one thing, the Goths probably were never east of the Don. And even back in the iron age they had been migratory peoples coming down from the north onto the steppe, and the ancestors of the slavs may have already been in the Pripet Marshes region. Plus there are still Iranic-speakers who could claim the whole steppe, and plus all of them are long since interrelated anyway. I bet if 24andme could get anything like this fine-grained, every Ukrainian has some of all those peoples right back to the Cimmerians. The real ones, not the Conan ones.

    Fun, though.

    I recall we had a thread about SF and alternate history a while back. If I didn’t then I recommend Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories. The relevant one here is one of his best, “The Sorrows of Odin the Goth”.

  4. L. C. Rees says:

    If territorial justice reached all the way back to the beginning of history, the Germans would find themselves living on a reservation in southern Sweden. Even the core of today’s Germany was primarily Celtic until a few hundred years before Christ. There’s Grimm speculations that even the word “Germania” is Celtic in origin.

    German kind’s drive west against the Celts was halted by Caesar and blocked by Rome for the next half millennium. It regained momentum as Rome crumbled, sucking Germanic energies west into former imperial territory. Many of the few Celtic holdouts were finally overrun, even if most of those holdouts had already drowned in a Latin tsunami. This wandering of the people, coupled with strong pushes from steppe riders like the Huns and Avars, left a vacuum in Eastern Europe for the Slavs to fill for another half millennium before German kind returned to the east.

  5. Graham says:


    I’m all in favour of a new Celtic expansionism back into the old homes, although we’d have problems-

    1. There is substantial part descent in the peoples currently there. Willing to call them cousins.

    2. We need massive increase in Celtic reproductive rates. I’m getting on, but willing to do my part.

    I’d like Austria and Bohemia and all the old Hallstatt and LaTene homelands back.

Leave a Reply