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Expropriations in Germany

Representatives of de Gaulle's movement favored dividing Germany into smaller, independent states – as France had wanted for Germany at the close of World War I. Henry Morganthau, Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury, advocated turning Germany into an agrarian society. These options were rejected, but the victors had decided at Yalta in February 1945 that Germany was to be divided temporarily into zones of occupation. Germany's production of arms, ammunition, aircraft and sea-going ships were prohibited, and the production of metals, chemicals, machinery and other items necessary to a war economy were to be "rigidly controlled." The victors decided that for the time being no central German government was to be established and that the occupiers were to control Germany's international finance and trade in order to prevent the country from developing war potential.

The Allies agreed that Germany's standard of living was not to exceed "the average of the standards of living of European countries." And the US, Britain and Soviet Union agreed to divide Germany's navy and merchant marine among themselves. Germany's submarines were to be sunk, except for thirty or less, which were also to be shared by the victors.

The Americans and the British were eager to see recovery in Germany. Stalin was not. In the Soviet zone, the occupying forces were ripping off as much as they could and taking or sending it home. The Russians took the machinery that Germans needed to keep businesses going, creating more unemployment in their zone. And from people's homes envious soldiers ripped out electrical cables, toilets and anything else they could get their hands on.

Russian soldier grabbing a bicycle

Click for description and to enlarge.

Expropriations

The conquerors were following a plan that moved people to fit new boundaries they had agreed to – rather than fitting boundaries to match the location of people. This great social engineering project reduced Germany in size by 23 percent. Silesia, largely agricultural, was given to Poland although it had been thoroughly German for centuries. Polish people were eager to settle where Germans had been. They pushed against the Germans. German women were raped, and Germans were robbed as they were forced into sealed boxcars and shipped west.

The Czech leader Eduard Beneš had agreed to the expulsion of Germans from the Sudetenland, and he issued a decree allowing the expropriation of the property of Magyars or anyone else who had collaborated with the Germans. The Allies agreed, and after the war the Czechs confiscated 6.2 million acres of German-owned farmland. They drove Germans from their homes and occasionally murdered them.

Nearly ten thousand Germans arrived in the reduced Germany by train and on foot from East Prussia, from Danzig (which was renamed Gdansk), and elsewhere. Germany's economy was in shambles. Diseases were on the rise, and the Allies were splashing DDT around. Children under fifteen were receiving immunization shots against diphtheria. People, especially in urban areas, were without sufficient food while food shipments from the US helped.

Some of the British and Americans were greedy but not for the domestic appliances – which they were more accustomed to than the Russians. When the occupation began, an American soldier was seen trying to open a bank vault with his side-arm. Discrete looting of museums occurred. The British and American authorities were opposed to looting. The British government sent in agents from Scotland Yard. The British commander, Montgomery, announced that drastic measures were to be taken against looting as well as rape and other crimes committed by Allied soldiers or those displaced persons freed from German authority.

The Americans prosecuted Captain Kathleen Nash and Colonel James Durant for theft in the millions from the castle that the Army was using as a recreation club. The army had requisitioned the castle from the Hesse family home and driven the family out of what had been their home. Jewels were discovered in the home that had been hidden in a welded-shut metal box behind brick and mortar. The officers thought that the Hesse family were just a bunch of Nazis anyway, and why not take their share of victor's loot. note1

US military leaders were ashamed of vice in its zone. There was a policy of no collaboration between their occupation forces and the Germans. A Bavarian Catholic priest trying to organize recovery had difficulty meeting with representatives of the US Army because of it. But relationships sprang up between soldiers and German women more easily.

After US officials discovered how the imprisoned Hermann Goering received a cyanide capsule, they refused to disclose that Goering had managed to bribe an American officer of the guard, Lieutenant Jack G. "Tex" Wheelis. Goering had given the officer his gold watch, gold pen and gold cigarette-case. (Douglas Botting,The Ruins of the Reich, footnote, p 280)

Moving to the doings of the Allied powers occupying Germany, they were in a race to get their hands on German technological secrets and hardware. Naval equipment interested them, as did jet propulsion and rocketry, synthetic rubber, oil catalysts and supersonic wind tunnels. From the Nordhausen plant in the Harz Mountains the US shipped home 400 tons of equipment. The US began to recruit those involved with the rockets that had been sent against Britain. And the Russians began employing German scientists and others they thought they could use.

The powerless in Germany, meanwhile, were working at survival. Displaced persons were living in camps where they were receiving free rations and were free to come and go. Some of them formed gangs and were engaged in black market activities. Berlin and some other cities became steeped in crime. The Allied Control Commission decided to allow the German police to have firearms. Curfews were in existence, and every night in Berlin after curfew shots could be heard. And hunger being what it was, a black market butcher was discovered doing business in human flesh.

Germans were getting by on 1000 or 900 calories a day, and in the British zone during the first winter after the war it dropped to 400 per day – half the amount allocated at the Belson concentration camp. Rumors spread that the Allies had agreed to make the Germans suffer three years of concentration camp conditions. It was widely expected that the winter of 1945-46 was going to kill a lot of Germans. Before winter set in, pits were dug for burial. But the winter was surprisingly mild.

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