Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918

Date: April 30, 1947

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World History


Western Allied-Soviet Differences on Germany


. . . the Soviet delegation wanted to rebuild Germany in a way which the other three delegations thought dangerous. We all wanted a Germany which . . . would never want to make war. But the United States, the British and the French also wanted a Germany which could not again make war even if it wanted to.

The Soviet leaders were willing to take a chance on rebuilding a powerful Germany which might again be a powder keg in the middle of Europe. That represented a big change in Soviet thinking since the Potsdam Conference of 1945. Then the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States had agreed that peace would best be served if Germany did not have a high-powered central government, and if Germany were economically weakened by the removal of industrial plants, particularly those which could readily be converted to war purposes.

That Potsdam scheme did not work out very well in helping the Soviet Union. After the German plants were taken apart the Russians could not always put them together again. Even if they could, it was expensive business to get them going in Russia. Housing had to be built around the machinery and power lines and railroad tracks had to be connected with it. By now, the Russians have lost most of their original enthusiasm about getting plants from Germany. Many parts of German factories are rusting on the railroad sidings between Berlin and Moscow, and the Soviet authorities have taken from their own zone in Germany only about half of the plants to which they were entitled under the Potsdam Agreement. They have switched to taking as reparations, the goods which the Germans manufactured there.

The Soviet Government now wants to extend that scheme to all of Germany and to get $10,000,000,000 worth of German goods. That, however, involves much more than writing a new reparation formula. It involves making Germany into a high-powered industrial state. Even if Germany does not go into the business of making goods for the Soviet Union, Germany will have to have considerable industry.

Much of the farm lands of eastern Germany have been taken away and given to Poland. Also, about 10,000,000 Germans who used to live there or in Czechoslovakia have been expelled into Germany. The result will be nearly 70,000,000 Germans crowded into a Germany much smaller than before and with relatively little farm land. . . . The people will starve unless they can get food from abroad. They can only pay for that food by manufacturing goods for export. That . . . will require considerable industrialization.

The new Soviet plan would add the further industrialization needed to enable Germany to go into mass production of goods for Soviet needs. If that happens, Germany will again be a great industrial power. . . .

The Soviet leaders, of course, know that this involves risk. However, Soviet economic needs are so acute and so vast, that they are now willing to take risks in order to get goods. They plan to reduce the risk by tying Germany tightly into their own political system so that, they figure, Germany’s industrial might will never be used against them. They want in Germany three things: A strong central government operating from Berlin, which is in the Soviet zone; a single dominant political party, in which Communists will play a leading part; a trade union federation which will put all German trade unions under central control located at Berlin. Such a set-up they believe they can control by penetration, at which they are past masters. Under those conditions they are willing to risk turning Germany into a workshop for the Soviet Union. The plan, of course, also fits into Soviet world strategy.

The British, the French and ourselves could not agree to this new Soviet plan. . . . We wanted political institutions which would train Germans to think and act individually and not be mass followers of some fanatical leader. We wanted to see authority grow from the bottom up, and not be imposed from the top down.

We felt that Germany would be more apt to be peaceful under a federal system like our own—where there are checks and balances through states’ rights and an independent judiciary, competing political parties and trade unions with local autonomy. We wanted a Germany where ideas and people and goods could move about freely. . . . Those are some of the things we wanted.

There were other things we did not want. We did not want Germany quickly rebuilt as a great, modern industrial machine. We did not want political and economic centralization so that anyone who controls Berlin would automatically control all Germany.

In other words, we did not want all the German eggs in one basket. That is too great a temptation to dangle before militant and vengeful persons who will surely again be found in Germany. Furthermore, we did not want a Germany which would be a projection into western Europe of a totalitarian system. . . .

We did not agree on a four-power treaty to keep Germany disarmed. . . . At Moscow, the British and French wanted to go ahead with such a treaty. The Soviet countered with many proposed riders. Their effect was to commit the parties to the highly centralized, industrial Germany which the Soviet wanted. . . .

For the reasons given, we came home with virtually no agreements. . . .

13 The New York Times, April 30, 1947, by permission.


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Chicago: "Western Allied-Soviet Differences on Germany," Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918 in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan (Chicage: Lippincott, 1951), 1170–1172. Original Sources, accessed June 20, 2024,

MLA: . "Western Allied-Soviet Differences on Germany." Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, edited by Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan, Chicage, Lippincott, 1951, pp. 1170–1172. Original Sources. 20 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Western Allied-Soviet Differences on Germany' in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918. cited in 1951, Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. , Lippincott, Chicage, pp.1170–1172. Original Sources, retrieved 20 June 2024, from