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1. The Situation in 1945
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Overview   |   1. The Situation in 1945   |   2. Economics and Politics in the Two Germanies   |   3. Reconstituting German Society   |   4. Culture   |   Suggestions for Further Reading in English   |   Suggestions for Further Reading in German

Thenceforth, the Iron Curtain was transformed into an increasingly fortified and guarded border. To the NATO forces on the Western side and the Red Army in the East were added German police and border patrol units. As Cold War tensions rose, the border became increasingly impassable. Finally, in August 1961, the East German regime received permission from the Kremlin to seal off the Soviet sector of Berlin. With the construction of the Berlin Wall and the erection of a barbed wire fence along the East-West zonal border, the border between the two Germanies became virtually impenetrable. For political and economic reasons, many East Germans tried to reach the West by scaling the Wall or crawling through barbed-wire fences – attempts that often proved fatal.

Under these conditions, Allied cooperation lasted at most until 1947; but even during those early years it was largely confined to implementing the “negative” peace aims agreed upon at Yalta and Potsdam. The Allies even found it challenging to achieve consensus on how to rid Germany of Nazis. From November 1945 to October 1946, they cooperated in the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg, where leading figures in the Nazi party, the German military, and the country’s business community were tried and sentenced. This, however, remained the sole instance of Allied cooperation in bringing war criminals to justice. Soon thereafter, it was an American military tribunal – not an international one – that opened proceedings against Nazi doctors for their participation in crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, denazification also affected millions of ordinary Germans. In the Western zones, all adult Germans were required to fill in a questionnaire about the types of political activity in which they engaged both before and during the Third Reich. Afterwards, they had to appear before local Allied-supervised denazification tribunals [Spruchkammern]. These tribunals pored over the completed questionnaires and assessed each individual’s level of cooperation with the Nazi regime. People were placed into one of five categories: major offenders [Hauptschuldige], offenders [Belastete], lesser offenders [Minderbelastete], followers [Mitläufer], and exonerated persons [Entlastete].

“The Present Status of Denazification,” a December 1950 memorandum by U.S. High Commissioner for Germany John J. McCloy, is instructive reading on the practice and ultimate results of the American denazification program, which many Germans viewed with cynicism and the Western Allies regarded as unsatisfactory. In the Soviet zone, leaders managed to create the impression that their denazification program was more thorough than those in the West. The Soviet program saw the dismissal of numerous educators who were former Nazis but was primarily directed against landowners and the commercial and industrial middle classes who, according to Stalinist doctrine, brought Hitler to power and then pulled the strings behind the scenes. If they were not imprisoned, then their property was confiscated. Their land was partially redistributed to small farmers; industrial and commercial enterprises were nationalized.

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