World War II
the Holocaust
GDR 1949-1969 : Politics

Germany Occupied, 1945-1948 : Soviet Zone

In the last months of World War II, the eastern parts of Germany had seen heavy fighting and, in consequence, severe destruction. The city of Dresden, in February 1945, suffered the most severe damage and loss of life in a three day firebombing attack. Soldiers of the Red Army, who had experienced the brutality of the German occupation force in Russia, on German territory, paid back with the same currency.
Soviet and U.S. soldiers met on the Elbe river. According to prior arrangements, the Soviets permitted the western Allies to establish control over the western sectors of Berlin, while U.S. forces withdrew from areas in Mecklenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia they temporarily held occupied. With tacit Soviet approval, Polish forces occupied the city of Stettin, located on the west bank of the Oder River.

The Soviet Military Administration, with brief exceptions, aimed at maintaining the unity of Germany. On a regional level, she dissolved the Prussian state, creating "Länder" (states) of comparatively equal size. The new administration had to deal with pressing problems, such as a large number of displaced persons - refugees, those who had been bombed out, discharged soldiers etc. There was a severe shortage of housing, of food, of coal. The economy had to be transferred from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy.
Despite these pressing problems, the Soviet Military Administration had other priorities. During the war, the USSR had suffered tremendous losses both in terms of human lives and in terms of structural damage. Russia, in a technological point of view, had always been backward. Now the Soviet army occupied part of a technologically advanced country. Stalin eyed at German reparations, which it should be obliged to pay in an eventual peace treaty, and, in the meantime, ordered entire factories and railroad lines in Germany to be dismantled, shipped to the USSR and reassembled (Demontage). With more vigour than the administrations of the Western Zones, the Soviet Military Administration pursued the policy of Denazification. The Soviets continued to run concentration camps (Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen), with Nazis and suspected opponents of the Soviet administration as inmates. They were only closed down once the GDR was granted sovereignty in 1949.
The coupon economy continued; like in the west, a black market thrived. The Soviets began to establish the Iron Curtain along the western border of their sphere of influence (1946ff), the continued flow of refugees, now from the Soviet Zone into the western zones of Germany, being a major reason. Until 1961 (construction of the Berlin Wall) the Iron Curtain would have a hole, through which thousands of refugees poured into West Germany, and a few idealists moved in the other direction.

Early on, a group of German exile Communists headed by Walter Ulbricht returned from Moscow. In Soviet Occupied Germany, political parties were founded - the Christian Democrats (CDU), Liberals (LDPD), the Peasants' Party (DBD, the National Democrats (NDPD), the Social Democrats (SPD) and, in a privileged position, the Communists (KPD). On state level, Anti-fascist Coalition Governments, consisting of representatives of all these parties, were formed. These government coalitions came to be dominated by the KPD, which in April 1946 was merged with the SPD, the new party called SED (Socialist Unity Party); the merger was forced on the latter.
Late in 1945 a Land Reform was implemented; large estates, mostly owned by noble families, were confiscated, the land distrubted among cottagers and landless farmhands. An Education Reform separated church and state on the level of elementary schools (1946). Banks had been nationalized in 1945; in 1946 the confiscation of property of Nazi war criminals was decided; the latter, approved by plebiscite, was used to nationalize enterprises of the heavy industry.

DOCUMENTS Politische Plakate in Deutschland : Besatzungszeit 1945-1949 (political posters in Germany : occupation years 1945-1949) by Ziko Marcus Sikosek
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Ernst Heinkel at his Denazification, 1948; Currency Reform June 20th 1948 : 'head money' is paid. Trümmerfrauen Berlin 1946, (1); Hamsterfahrt 1946; Demonstration Merger of KPD and SPD April 1946 (in the Soviet Zone); Foundation of SED Pieck, Grotewohl, April 21st 1946 (Soviet Zone); Nuremberg Trials : Hermann Goering March 13th 1946; Dismantling of Industrial Facilities for Transport to USSR, Soviet Zone 1946; Nuremberg Trials : Goering and his attorneys, 1946; Nuremberg Trials : Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, 1946; Nuremberg Trials : Goering after the death sentence was passed; Nuremberg Trials : Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltrenbrunner; Truemmerfrauen 1946 (2); Truemmerfrauen 1946 (3); Opening of the Nuremberg Trials, Nov. 20th 1945 (1); Opening of the Nuremberg Trials, Nov. 20th 1945 (2); Nuremberg Trials : Goering, Hess, Nov. 1945; Keitel signs unconditional surrender to Soviet troops, Berlin-Karlshorst, May 8th 1945 (1); Keitel signs unconditional surrender to Soviet troops, Berlin-Karlshorst, May 8th 1945 (2); Jodl signs unconditional surrender to US and British troops, Reims, May 7th 1945
Ingeburg's Story : The Hunger Years in Postwar Germany, from Stories from the 1940's (SBZ)
Report Mayor E. Wieser of Stettin, July 14th 1945, from Transodra, in German
REFERENCE Article Germany, from Britannica Book of the Year 1946 pp. 341-345; Article Allied Military Government, ibid. pp.43-44 (on events in 1945) [G]
Article Germany, from Britannica Book of the Year 1947 pp. 358-360; Article Allied Military Government, ibid. pp.42-45 (on events in 1946) [G]
Article Germany, from Britannica Book of the Year 1948 pp. 342-345; Article Occupied Areas, Administration of, ibid. pp.555-557 (on events in 1946) [G]
Article Germany, from Britannica Book of the Year 1949 pp. 300-304 (on events in 1946) [G]
Hermann Weber, Geschichte der DDR (History of the GDR), München : dtv (1985) 1999, in German [G]
Deutschland 1945-1949. Besatzungszeit und Staatengründung, Informationen zur politischen Bildung 259, Ndr. 2002; in German [G]
Article : Germany, in : Americana Annual 1947 pp.286-295; Occupied Territories pp.515-518 (on events of 1946) [G]
First posted in 2000, last revised on January 3rd 2007

Martim McCauley, East Germany, pp.58-73 in : Martin McCauley (ed.), Communist Power in Europe 1944-1949, London : MacMillan 1977 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 25th 2009

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