WHEN the Nazi régime collapsed in 1945 and Germany was occupied by Soviet, British, French and American armed forces the Potsdam Agreement determined the four zones of occupation. The principle of a German state under four-Power control was thereby established. The Allied Control Council was to have supreme power over the entire country, with German central administrations exercising responsibility, under Council authority, for such special departments as finance, railways and the post office. France, however, did not join in these agreements since she was opposed at that time to the restoration of a German state centralized in any respect, just as later she fought against allowing similar political parties to form in each of the three Western zones for fear they might one day unite across the zonal borders.

Each occupying Power tried to mold its zone in its own image. From the organization of the police force down to the choice of movie programs the various parts of Germany received their political institutions, press, cultural life and even ideals for bringing up their youth from the respective zonal authorities. The more the zones conformed to the ideals of the different occupying Powers the more, of course, they became estranged from each other.

In the Soviet zone this process was carried out most effectively. Early in 1946 the Communist Party destroyed the independence of the Social Democratic Party and changed its name to "Socialist Union Party" (S.E.D.). The authorities forced the other existing parties (Liberals and Christian Democrats) to become mere satellites and they invented new parties which had no independence at all. Now all the so-called political parties in the Soviet zone are under effective Communist control. The constitution of 1950 exists only on paper. As in all dictatorships, elections are neither free nor secret. The electorate has but one single list of names to which to say "yes" or be silent. The usual sorts of pressure produce the well-known 99.9 "yes" votes.

While the Soviet zone was being bolshevized the Western Powers established German authorities in their areas at the municipal, regional and Länder level--first by appointment, later through free elections. The recognized political parties were really free and entered into open competition. Since 1946 the Christian Democrats (C.D.U.) have reinforced their position until today they control about 40 percent of the votes, followed by the Social Democrats (S.P.D.) with about 30 percent, the Free Democrats (F.D.P.) with about 12 percent, and some smaller groups. In the West the Communists began with 10 percent and have sunk since to less than 5 percent, so that they are no longer represented in the Federal parliament.

From 1945 to the middle of 1947 only the legislation of the occupying Powers and that of the 11 Länder existed in West Germany; after that, the legislation of the Economic Council for the British and American zones was added. This explains why after the Federal Republic was founded in 1949 it had such difficulty in really merging the various parts of the country. New principles had to be established, for the Nazi laws were totalitarian in concept and the laws of the Weimar Republic no longer fitted present conditions, while the laws of the occupying Powers were, as said, very varied. If this difficulty has existed in the Federal Republic, one can imagine the problems that would follow reunification with the Soviet zone.

Though the policy of Moscow has decisively separated the Soviet zone from the Western zones, administratively the Communists have followed Western decisions step by step. The West was first in carrying through a tough but necessary currency reform. Only after that did the Soviets bring out the Eastern Mark (DM-Ost) in their zone. The Basic Law for the German Federal Republic was launched in 1949. The "Constitution" of the so-called German Democratic Republic (D.D.R.) dates from 1950. The military agreements concluded at Warsaw between the Soviets and their European satellites, including the German Democratic Republic, came after the Federal Republic joined NATO. It may even be that compulsory military service will not be introduced in the Soviet zone before it has become a fact in Western Germany. Soviet Russia is trying to prove systematically that it is not her policy but Western policy which has split Germany in two. Today nobody believes it; but that may change if reunification remains out of reach indefinitely.

Today reunification means the integration of the Federal Republic, Berlin and the Soviet zone. Actually, however, under international law the Germany which was at war with half the globe has been split up into much more than three pieces. There are: 1, the Federal Republic; 2, the D.D.R.; 3, West Berlin; 4, East Berlin; 5, the Saar; 6, the territories under Polish administration (beyond the Oder and Neisse); and 7, Northeast Prussia, annexed by the Soviet Union. This "Balkanization" of Germany cannot last forever. It is bound to be a continuous source of unrest in Europe. A great people cannot be deprived of its natural right to live together under a single roof. In the meanwhile, however, Germany has become the advance post of both the great military blocs. Here the Cold War assumes its most violent forms. Here the intelligence services and propaganda organizations of both sides are busily at work.

Following the Korean War, the Cold War led to the decision that Germany should be rearmed. This decision was made on both sides. Now we face the fact that there will be two German armies, each belonging to a military alliance hostile to the other. Who dares to deny that this is a tragic situation regardless of the reasons that brought it about?

The Geneva Conferences were watched by the German people with some hope and much skepticism. There was one constructive result: the leading Powers recognized the dangers of an unlimited armament race, particularly a race in atomic weapons, and have since been trying to relax international tension. But this is possible only if the Cold War is ended, and it will continue as long as Germany is split. No lasting peace is possible in Europe while the heart of Central Europe is cut in two. The two parts of Germany will menace each other. No solid house can be built in an earthquake area.

The German people will favor the side that does the utmost to restore their unity, not with words--words are cheap--but in action. This may involve exhibiting more activity, elasticity and willingness to take risks than at present. There is no such thing as a policy without risk; all we can do is choose the lesser of two risks. The German people must be made to feel certain that the problem of their unity is in better hands with the democracies than with the Communists. We must not repeat the bad experience of the past, when the democracies surrendered to Hitler's blackmail what they had denied to the Weimar Republic--and much more. The Soviets today are speculating on a rebirth of the unholy alliance of Communism and German nationalism, as it existed in the death struggle of the Weimar Republic in 1931 and again in 1939 before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In the Soviet zone the Communists put their hopes on the younger generation. The uprising of June 17, 1953, proved that the vast majority of the population is against the Communists and that the present régime would not stand a chance in free elections. But the steady stream of refugees migrating westward, totalling more than 300,000 annually, deprives the Soviet zone of the most active elements in the struggle against Communism. The more passive elements which remain behind lose hope for reunification and thus for liberation; they adjust themselves to the régime in order to safeguard their existence and that of their children. Each year a new batch of young people finishes school. Those who are 35 today were 12 when Hitler came to power, which means that half the population has had no personal experience with democracy in action. Under Communism they feel as though they were under a foreign Power; but since they have not been brought up in a democratic way of life they do not know what it is to feel that one is a citizen responsible for oneself and for the community. The longer reunification is delayed the more chance the Communists have to profit from this development. It is true that they lose an important economic force each year through the migration to the West, but in compensation their zone gains in uniformity and political reliability. If this process continues, the zone will be lost in the long run for the side of freedom.

But how can Moscow's grip be broken? No Germans, except for a very few Communists, are willing to sacrifice West Germany's political freedom for the sake of unity. Both the government and the opposition are in agreement that the goal should be unity and freedom. But it must be attained by peaceful means only. A war would not unite the German people but destroy them and perhaps all civilization as well. Neither Germany nor any other nation would wish to lose its life for German unity. Thus reunification can be accomplished only by agreement, which means agreement among the four Powers who defeated, occupied and split Germany and whose armed forces are still in Germany. All four of them have to agree. A peaceful solution cannot be reached by three Powers and the Germans against the Soviet Union or by the Soviets and the Germans against the West. A solution must be found which is acceptable to all four Powers and to the Germans.

The present policies of East and West on this problem are irreconcilable. Each is trying to achieve a dominant position in the part of Germany which is on the other side. Since this cannot be done without a war, both sides must revise their positions. The only part of Germany which has a freely elected government should take the initiative in developing proposals which might be acceptable to all concerned. After all, the Germans are the most interested element. If they get the impression that their own government in West Germany is laggard in this respect, democracy as such will lose ground.

The common denominator obviously cannot be an invitation that one part of Germany be handed over unconditionally from one military bloc to the other. The United States would never tolerate a Soviet command on the Rhine and in the Ruhr, quite apart from the fact that the Germans themselves would not want that. On the other hand, the Soviets would not agree to see General Gruenther take command on the Oder even if the Germans wanted that, which they do not. The desire of all concerned for security must be observed, and this means not what one side conceives to be security for the other but what each side feels would constitute security for itself. After a long struggle even Dr. Adenauer has recognized that there is a Russian anxiety about security. The Russian feeling may seem nonsensical when one thinks of the 175 Soviet divisions posed against the few NATO divisions in Europe. But the Soviet leaders remember that German troops marched as far as Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad even when the United States was a Russian ally. They are frightened about where German troops might be able to march if they had the Americans as allies. Present-day facts do not support this fear, but the memory of past events keeps it alive. In those days Russia suffered a heavy psychological trauma. The cruel deeds of our criminal leaders still live on into the present and produce evil consequences. Indeed, similar considerations affect our relationship with our French neighbors, as the dispute over E.D.C. showed.

For these reasons the claim that a reunited Germany should be a member of NATO is as much of an obstacle to reunification as would be a Communist demand that reunited Germany must be bolshevized. The suggestion that a reunited Germany should have the right to decide freely about joining military alliances would have the same effect, for if Germany were reunited and could exercise this right she would join the Atlantic Pact. We know that, and so do the Russians. We must therefore develop a proposal which faces this question seriously and does not evade it. What has to be discussed is the military status of a reunited Germany. The Western Powers did this at Geneva when they proposed that zones with limited armed forces should be established on both sides of the Iron Curtain. If that does not hamper the freedom of decision of the future German government, a discussion about participation or non-participation in a military alliance cannot hamper it either. In actual fact, all that is needed is a temporary solution for the period between reunification and the ratification of a peace treaty by a freely-elected all-German government. This treaty should finally determine Germany's military status and should be signed by all parties to it, including Germany.

With these ideas in mind the German Social Democrats for a number of years have been proposing a collective security system for Europe. The idea has made its way gradually until now it can be found in various forms in Soviet as well as Western proposals. A military alliance is always directed against an outsider. That is true also of a defensive alliance such as NATO, which everybody knows serves as a defense against the Soviet Union only. A system of collective security, however, does not mark a certain state as a potential aggressor while there is still peace. It therefore does not add to international tensions but relaxes them. It includes the potential aggressor without naming him and tells all members: "Whoever among us attacks one of us will meet with the collective opposition of all the rest." This principle is found in the United Nations Charter, but on account of the veto in the Security Council it has never been realized on a global basis. It might serve, however, as a guide in solving the German question; for this purpose a security system without a veto would have to be created.

The view was once expressed by George Kennan that the four Powers would not need to go beyond committing themselves not to enter a military alliance with Germany. One obstacle to reunification might thereby be removed, but that would not be enough. Germany and her neighbors cannot find security by creating a vacuum in the heart of Europe. Germany must be prepared, if attacked, to contribute to her own defense with her own (probably limited) armed forces within the framework of a general security system. But she should not have been already serving in time of peace as a barracks for one bloc against the other. She might allow the West to install a radar line on her Eastern borders and the Soviets to install one on her Western borders. That would be no threat to either and would provide protection for both against surprise attack, as well as compensation to them for having given up strategic positions. By her free choice Germany would be a partner of the free world economically, socially, culturally and politically, even though--for the sake of liberating 17,000,000 of her people--she would no longer be a formal military ally in NATO.

The government of the Federal Republic must decide whether or not to further reunification by developing a policy along the above lines. The situation as we see it should be explained to our Western friends. Only after a common program has been worked out will it be possible to ascertain the Russian position towards it. Contrary to what many people think, no such investigation has ever taken place. The Soviet Union has never been asked if it would agree to German reunification provided it could be certain that the reunified country would not be a member of a military alliance.

Now that diplomatic relations exist between the Soviet Union and the German Federal Republic it will be possible for Bonn to make the investigation. The Federal Republic cannot do anything without, or against, the Western Powers. It cannot win the confidence of the Russians at the price of losing that of the West. It must preserve Western confidence in a democratic Germany and win Russian confidence in the practicability of peaceful coexistence with such a Germany.

The Federal Republic cannot tear up valid international contracts. The Social Democrats fought against ratification of the Paris Agreements but as democrats they respect the decision taken by the duly qualified majority. Those Agreements, however, bind only the Federal Republic, not a reunified Germany. They are not damaged by our discussing with our Western partners whether a reunified Germany should not have another status than that provided in the Paris Agreements. The Agreements themselves even contain a reservation providing for an adjustment in case reunification makes it necessary. Article 10 provides: "The Signatory States will review the terms . . . in the event of the reunification of Germany, or an international understanding being reached . . . on steps towards bringing about the reunification of Germany. . . ."

In 1952 the Soviet Union would in all probability have agreed to reunification under the sole condition that Germany would not join a military alliance with the United States. American superiority in atomic armament was so great then that the Soviet Union would have paid a price to prevent such an alliance. Nobody, of course, can prove this. But it is incontestable that no attempt was ever made to approach the Soviet Union on the subject. Meanwhile the world has witnessed the development of an atomic equilibrium. Doubtless the United States is still on top, but each side knows that an atomic war would destroy it. Today the Soviet interest in getting Germany out of the Atlantic Pact is not sufficient in itself to bring about reunification. The toughness of Western policy has led to an increase in the Soviet price for reunification. Soviet Russia is no longer so much afraid of a German-American alliance. But this does not mean that she will agree to add her part of Germany to the alliance. It simply means that some further interest of Russia has to be found in order to persuade her to release the Soviet zone. Only then will it be possible to settle the military status of Germany along the lines developed above.

Why should the four Powers be interested in bringing about German reunification?

The West must know that if 17,000,000 people now living under Communist domination could gain their freedom this would be a supreme historic accomplishment. Also, London and Paris would sleep more soundly if Russian troops and air bases were moved back a few hundred miles. Peace could be organized on a more solid basis if Germany no longer figured as a source of unrest. Also it would then become possible to create a healthy Europe because its heart would again be working. And, finally, democracy can be stabilized in Germany only when the people are no longer divided.

On the Soviet side it will be important to find an interest overbalancing the loss of the Communist régime in the Soviet zone. Moscow must decide whether friendship with the whole German nation is not worth much more than the domination of only a part and the hostility of all. Of interest to Soviet Russia also would be the removal of sources of unrest along her borders and the removal of hostile military alliances from her door. Further, however, Germany will have to investigate, together with the Western Powers, whether the Soviet Union has any economic requirements which we might meet without surrendering vital interests. Finally, the Soviet Union at present seems to be interested in a policy of relaxing tensions. Such a policy is bound to fail if tensions increase in Germany. Whether these various motives, taken together, will tempt the Russians can be discovered only if the Federal Republic conducts the necessary talks, in full accord, of course, with the Western Powers.

Even if an interest in German reunification could be stimulated among the Russians one must keep in mind that a Great Power has to be careful not to lose face with its own satellites. Reunification of Germany in freedom means the end of the Communist régime in the Soviet zone. It is by no means sure that even in return for substantial rewards the Soviets would agree to let the Pankow régime disappear. Even if they agreed to give up Communist domination of the Eastern zone they would probably let it occur only gradually and in a manner which would make it appear that the local Communist government agreed. Furthermore, before the all-German elections were held, the Soviets would have to be persuaded of the necessity of making changes within the zone which would provide the population with a legitimate democratic representation. Various useful ideas exist as to how this might be accomplished, but one thing cannot be done, and that is to talk with the Communist bosses in Pankow about how to bring about their own removal. This can be discussed only with Moscow. The Pankow bosses will gradually give up their positions only under Soviet compulsion. Under no conditions can one drop the idea of having really free and secret elections for an all-German parliament and an all-German government. The subject to be discussed in this connection is how and when to carry this through in actual practice.

The Soviet Union has raised the question of what might be the internal political structure of reunited Germany. On this point Article 146 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany provides: "This Basic Law shall become invalid on the day when a constitution adopted in a free decision by the German people comes into force." Since neither the Soviet zone will be annexed by the Federal Republic nor the Federal Republic by the Soviet zone, the two will have to grow together; the furnishings of the new all-German house will he decided by its inhabitants in free elections. If the Federal Republic were simply extended to include the Soviet zone, that would mean cheating the population there of their rights of decision. They should not be made to accept what others have decided but should join in making the decisions.

Various powerful elements in both the west and the east of Germany have little interest in seeing the country united. In the Soviet zone the Communists do not want to lose their power. In Western Germany various branches of industry fear the competition of the Soviet zone, though others see advantages for them in a larger all-German market. Again, certain political and social groups have acquired influence as a result of the abnormal conditions of the division. On the other hand, German Protestantism and German Social Democracy, which were born in central and eastern Germany and in Berlin, have played only a small part in Western Germany where the majority is Roman Catholic and conservative. The fact that both will breathe with only one lung so long as Germany is divided explains why they support reunification so strongly. It is interesting that Western Germany today is about evenly divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants, whereas in the old Germany the ratio was one-third Catholic to two-thirds Protestant. The fact is of some importance in a country where Catholicism is a political as well as religious force.

The two most active groups pressing for reunification are not important in numbers but are nevertheless effective, namely, those who resist the Communist régime inside the Soviet zone and the refugees who have fled from there to Western Germany and who long to return to their old homes once they have been liberated. Even the refugees, however, do not believe that everything which has happened in the Soviet zone since 1945 can be undone. The Communists talk about their so-called social achievements there. Unfortunately no attempt has ever been made to find out what exactly they mean. They themselves probably mean, among other things, the Communist terrorist machine based on the People's Police and People's Courts. But there are other respects in which Communist propaganda will probably find more acceptance among the people of the Soviet zone if we fail to handle them sensibly. The German people, as I have said, must certainly decide for themselves how their country is to look. Nevertheless, the political leaders of Western Germany have both the right and the duty to say how they visualize the future. Let me give three examples.

1. Agricultural reforms made an end to the large estates in the Soviet zone. Tens of thousands of farmers were settled on those estates. The efforts of the Communist bureaucracy have reduced them almost to the status of farm hands; so many regulations have been forced on them that in practice no free ownership of land remains. Reunification cannot mean that these farmers will be driven from the land they now theoretically own and that the former big landowners will be reinstated. On the contrary, the East German farmers will have to be made owners of their properties in fact. The problem of how to compensate those who lost their living through the agricultural reform is another thing. They will have to be given the chance of a new start--in agriculture again if they wish--in accord with the principles of a legal state.

2. The so-called "people's enterprises" do not in reality belong to the people but are owned by the Communist planning bureaucracy. In these enterprises the workers are exploited to a larger extent than in many privately-owned undertakings. Many such enterprises are large industrial plants which were completely destroyed in the war or were afterwards dismantled. The workers have rebuilt them at the cost of great sacrifices. Unlike what happened in Western Germany, they received no help from the occupying Power but in fact had to pass on part of their product to Russia. They would not understand it if the installations they have built up from nothing should now be handed over to the former stockholders who in 1945 possessed nothing but a heap of scrap iron. Formulas will have to be found which will release these enterprises from the Communist grip, transform them into living parts of the economy of a free society but at the same time allocate a share of them to those who created them. The old Carl Zeiss concern in Jena might serve as an example. Since 1906 it had belonged to the workers, but in spite of that it was seized by the Communists. There are the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized private enterprises, on the other hand, which the Communists destroyed without any reason and which must be given a chance to resume their old work.

3. Today in the Soviet zone children can enter high school and vocational schools regardless of their parents' financial status. Tuition is free. Those who go to the university even have their living expenses paid by the government. On the other hand, it is habitual for government agents to snoop into people's private opinions. Parents have to pretend that they are "reliable" from the Communist viewpoint and a student must join actively in the organizations of the régime on pain of losing his place. Reunification will have to break the Communist privilege of mind-control but not reinstate the old privilege of the bank account.

What can be done now? In the diplomatic field, the West German government should take the initiative in working out with the Western Powers the line to be followed and should then use the new wire to Moscow to discuss the concepts arrived at in common.

Meanwhile, everything possible must be done to prevent the split from becoming wider. The desire for freedom must be kept alive among the people of the Soviet zone. We must avoid creating an iron curtain against them but instead poke as many holes as possible through the Communist Iron Curtain. It is to our interest that as many people as possible and as much news and merchandise as possible should pass back and forth between the two parts of Germany. The more traffic there is, the more Communist violence and Communist monopoly of opinion lose their effectiveness among the people of the Soviet zone and the more they will come to know what a free society really looks like. Increased trade relations can also help to raise the standard of living in the Soviet zone, while cultural exchanges keep alive the feeling of "belonging together," of being members of the same community of European culture. We must not be afraid of these contacts. The Communists are able to propagandize in the West in any case, either openly or by camouflaged means. The exchange is useful for us, then, if only to achieve some counter-effect in areas under Communist domination. Moreover, we need to know more about what conditions really are in the Soviet zone; if we accept our own propaganda we shall be helpless every time we touch reality. We should not shy away from intellectual argument with people in the Soviet zone; indeed we should actively seek it, especially with the young generation there.

In all these fields we should press forward, making concrete demands on the Pankow régime. The existing agreements about interzonal trade, postal service and railroads must be developed further--but not so far as to constitute recognition of the Communist bosses as a government. That must not happen, for it would break the psychological resistance of the people. As a means of making progress the Social Democrats proposed that at Geneva the four Powers should assign certain questions for settlement by the German authorities in their name. Unfortunately the suggestion was passed on only in a distorted form.

The Paris Agreements gave the Federal Republic sovereignty, and Moscow has stated that the Pankow régime is sovereign too. This raises the danger that the four Powers may avoid trying to bring about German reunification even though they assert that they still have that responsibility. Germany will achieve sovereignty in the true sense of the word only after she is unified and has signed a peace treaty. She does not seek more sovereignty than her neighbors wish to maintain. She is prepared to transfer the same amount of sovereignty to collective European institutions as do other nations.

The policy of reunification to which the Western Powers are pledged must again be made believable. The failure of the Geneva conferences has almost destroyed confidence in it. Evidence will also have to be given that people are prepared to make sacrifices for it. The West German economy, for instance, should prepare a generous aid program to bring the retarded Soviet zone up to the standards of Western Germany as soon as possible after reunification. We can establish the sincerity of our intentions only if we avoid the inferiority complexes which democracies sometimes feel toward totalitarian Powers. We must not be afraid of either the Communists or the neo-Nazis. The latter are of no importance anyhow; and the best method of fighting Communist infiltration is an active policy.

We must show that military considerations are not an obstacle to reunification. Military bases in a foreign country are valueless if the population regards them as a political mortgage. In addition, the reunification of Germany will create a new military situation for which a suitable strategic concept can be developed by friendly negotiation.

The Saar question must be handled in such a way as to prove that the West is really serious about German reunification. The Russians feel that our requirements regarding free elections are hypocritical and they will not take them seriously if the Western Powers fail to start the process of reunification with an area which they themselves have severed from Germany and which the Soviet Union cannot prevent them from reuniting to Germany. In this respect the Saar plebiscite was a good argument that free elections must also be held in the Soviet zone.

Germany's permanent borders can be fixed only in a peace treaty. For the moment reunification means simply the integration of the present four zones of occupation. The Oder-Neisse Line is not involved. No German government has a right today to make decisions about borders and thus prejudice the eventual peace treaty; those decisions must be made by freely elected representatives of the entire German people. From the legal point of view Germany continues to exist with the borders of 1937. Every German knows that the eastern frontier cannot remain as temporarily defined. But he also knows that things will not again be exactly as if Germany had not started the war and lost it. These matters have to be dealt with soberly; the time to do it will be at the peace conference with German representatives included.

Would the reunification of Germany mean renouncing interest in the freedom of the states of Central and Eastern Europe which have been under Communist domination since 1944? Certainly not. However, unless we want a world war--and none of us does want that--they can regain their freedom only step by step. During a conference of the European Movement a Czechoslovak representative warmly supported the reunification of Germany even if the other nations could not be liberated at the same time. He saw that there was a better chance of freedom gradually returning to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland if these countries had as their neighbor a whole and healthy democratic Germany rather than a segment of Germany forced to operate as a Soviet satellite.

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  • FRITZ ERLER, Social Democratic member of the German Bundestag; member of the Defense Committee of the Bundestag
  • More By Fritz Erler