THE revival of a unified German nation has been receding across the horizon for so many years now that the prospect has come to be taken as a mirage. It is demonstrably true that no charted road exists to reach it. No one, in or outside Germany, pretends seriously to believe any longer that an effective formula for reunification is about to materialize.

Nevertheless, the tensions set up by the problem remain acute. The major power dispute over Berlin is their dramatic reflection. The painful search for a way to reduce the explosive potential of the East-West conflict is blocked again by the inability to reach a common decision on Germany. Nothing, it seems, can be done towards satisfying the ambitions of one side without injuring the interests of the other so grieviously that war could easily result. In this distressing situation, intolerable to orderly minds eager to clean up unfinished business and get on with the world's new problems, the temptation has grown to see a reasonably durable solution in stalemate.

The arguments in favor of trying to settle down permanently at the impasse are of two major types. The first is that partition of Germany is desirable for her neighbors, that it acts as a governor on the car of an habitual speeder, that it restrains the frightening Teutonic momentum. In this view, it is as well to keep the Germans divided, despite the trouble that results, because it makes them more manageable. The second and concomitant argument is that partition not only exists but can and will last because the Germans are coming to accept it. Taken together, the two lines of argument are presented as the stuff of miracle--a solution to the German problem. It is simply a matter of acknowledging that what is must needs be, and that the worst of the complications will automatically sort themselves out.

Since no one can offer a feasible alternative now, there is a tendency to consider rejection of this apparent way out as sheer willfulness, illogical, stubborn and downright dangerous. But from inside Germany--either part of it--the situation looks drastically different. There, the dangerous illusion seems much more to be the supposition that European stability can rest on a partitioned Germany. Even the glossary reveals the sharp distinction in outlooks. No one here speaks of the "two Germanys" or the "two German states," and it is not just because of the legal question of recognition. The common phrase is "the parts of Germany" and that is an accurate reflection of the way people think and feel about it.

The most evident facts apply to the second line of argument, so it is best to begin with the prospect of making partition acceptable to Germans.

The surface calm, even lassitude, with which most West Germans approach the question of reunification has led some observers to suppose they are not really eager for it. There is little of the frothy ferment that used to be taken as proof of a real irredentist cause, as contrasted with saloon or debating society ardors. People do not storm the halls of officialdom nor riot in the streets to press nationalist demands. They go on with their daily lives as though they were reasonably satisfied with their lot. Those who are unbearably dissatisfied, in East or West, effect a private kind of reunification by moving with more or less stealth across the border.

But although they are seldom spectacular, there have been a multitude of signs that German nationalism is reviving. The dirty rash of anti-Semitic incidents at the beginning of the year was basically a nationalist, not a religious or racial outbreak. More respectable, and far more widespread, was the indignant reaction to the outpourings of criticism against Germany after the clumsy Spanish bases affair. Many responsible Germans, who sternly disapproved of the attempt to bypass NATO, were none the less vocally angered at the public scolding their country got. A few years ago, the general reaction here to that sort of drubbing was injured regret. This time, it was not pained sorrow but downright resentment. Even opposition Socialists, who have nothing against blasts at Konrad Adenauer's government, fumed and said, "How long do we have to be the whipping boy?"

Along with the apartment blocks and factory chimneys, the pride of nationality has been building up again. It is not necessarily chauvinist, any more than factories are necessarily munitions plants although conversion is often a possibility. It shows up in a thousand little ways, in the conversation of businessmen, the passions of sports fans, the formality of dignitaries. And it shows up in larger ways when the occasion arises.

No doubt some such resurgence was inevitable. Every community feels the need to respect itself and to be accorded respect by others. The point is that the renewed patriotism is not West German but plain German, "all-German," to use the political phrase that distinguishes from either West or East. As the West German press has pointed out, no one says, "I am a Bundesrepublikaner." The answer to the question of nationality is always simply given as German, although citizenship may have to be specified as Federal Republic or German Democratic Republic (D.D.R).

Although Communist East German officials insist that two separate and distinct German states be recognized, they do not for a moment suggest that two German countries do now, or are likely to, exist. It is not just semantics. To indicate the difference, the existence of two English-speaking countries side by side in North America can be cited. But even East German officials reject emphatically the notion that two parts of Germany could ever evolve into two separate lands with a similar ethnic heritage, like the United States and Canada.

Regardless of the logic of power politics, to its inhabitants Germany still means an ethnic, cultural, psychological unit that must sooner or later regain its physical integrity or lose identity altogether, like a disjointed machine that can only be sent to the scrap heap and the melting pot if it is not reassembled. This is a matter of emotions, not of hard military fact, but emotions can be stony political facts.

More and more in West Germany one hears references to the century and a quarter of Poland's partition. The implication is that frustration of nationhood can last a long time, but the nation will reëmerge. A current cabaret joke is a play on the slogan of another historical grievance, for it is becoming fashionable to remember the examples of patience rewarded. It was a French slogan in the years (1870-1914) when recovery of the last provinces of Alsace and Lorraine seemed impossible, and it went, "Never speak of it, always think of it." The joke, taunting the politicians for their inability to do anything about Germany's grievance now, offered as the best formula for handling the reunification issue these days, is "Always speak of it, never think of it."

And the politicians, of course, do continuously speak of it. Their words reflect their unanimous judgment that they are promising the voting public something it really wants. West German politicians are not unanimous on many things, but on this question they take the same reading of their compatriots' desires. The Socialists and the Free Democrats, who urge an attempt at negotiating with East Germany, do so on the ground that this will speed reunification. Adenauer, who refuses to treat with Pankow and enjoins his allies to do likewise, does so on the grounds that any form of recognition would confirm partition.

There have been charges that Adenauer, particularly, is not over-eager for reunification, and only makes obeisance to the idea because that is a requirement of domestic politics. Certainly, the Chancellor has shown that his order of priorities puts defence against Communism through the consolidation of Europe first. He argues that this is essential because of the danger that his countrymen might otherwise be lured to satisfy their appetite for nationhood at the cost of freedom. Whatever the merit of charge and riposte, both are based on the assessment that the idea of reunification demands obeisance.

There are but 75 years of tradition to back up the existence of a real and urgent national feeling that cannot be reconciled to partition, and what precedents exist for its expression were mostly explosions of violence that must be ruled out for the future. But there is no evidence that Germany's historically late achievement of nationhood has made the urge less vigorous. Nor is there any tradition for the existing boundary between East and West Germany. It is an arbitrary line, without roots in sentiment, custom or history. Far from revalidating the dusty maps of the old German states, it slices Prussia in half. With minor variations, it follows unhallowed inner boundaries of the Weimar Republic, which Hitler preserved as the delineation of administrative units.

The line was not originally intended, of course, to become a modified substitute for the Morgenthau plan of breaking up Germany into its antique components. It was drawn during World War II primarily as a military convenience and as a handy way of forcing complete government reorganization after the war. By temporarily splitting administration into pieces, it was easier to insist that rebuilding must proceed from the bottom up. In pointed contrast to the map-making at Versailles after World War I, demarcation did not bother to take much account of local sentiment because it was not expected to last. There could be no clearer indication that the wartime allies planned on a single German entity than the American decision to pull back from Thuringia and Saxony in return for a share in the occupation of Berlin. It would be difficult to imagine that Washington could have agreed to such a one-sided deal if it had considered the official proclamation of central four-power authority as mere window-dressing for an unavowed accord on dismemberment.

Regional loyalties and peculiarities do still exist, of course, but they have little to do with the East-West border. Brandenburgers, in the East, have more characteristics in common with the people of Lower Saxony, in the West, than with those of Saxony, in the East. In East Germany, Saxons and Mecklenburgers share a mutual disregard. Hessians, in the West, and Thuringians, in the East, feel much closer than the people of either region do towards Bavarians or North Germans on either side of the line.

But even the intense old regional ties are being diluted. In part, this is due to modern communications, in part to uprooting by war, in part to the fact that the nineteenth century is definitely over and people are aware of it. Bavarian separatism, for example, which was strong and wild enough to inspire more than one attempted putsch after the First World War, has simmered down to operetta pitch. They make wisecracks in Munich about being "German Bavarians," as though the first word were a mere adjective and the second the all-important noun, and people laugh as they would upon introduction to an "American Texan." But they can laugh now because the serious issues of patriotism have moved to a broader area. It is not surprising. Provincialism has never superseded nationalism wherever it has flared in the world. Where feelings of cultural community have given way, it has only been to a larger unit, not to a smaller one.

In any event, Bavarians, Rhinelanders and the rest are no longer nearly so exclusively Bavarian or Rhenish as they used to be. Assimilation of refugees from both East Germany and the lands beyond the Oder-Neisse has worked well enough that the admixture is not immediately apparent to a visitor. But the influx to West Germany has passed the 13,000,000 mark now--over one in every four of the West German population. They are not evenly distributed, with the heaviest concentrations of newcomers in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony (more than one in every three of the population), but there is scarcely a corner of the country they have not reached.

These people, often differing in religion from the populations they have joined, do not become Bavarians or Rhinelanders because they have gone to live in those regions. If they become any the less Silesian or East Prussian in the displacement, it is only to become more unqualifiedly German. East Germany has absorbed nearly 4,000,000 expellees, and the situation is no different there. The enormous postwar population movements, by disrupting local patterns, have increased the awareness of national pattern.

The refugees are an extremely important factor in German life. The decline of the political party organized to represent them is a totally misleading index of their influence. Rather, the refugee party is failing because its would-be constituents do not see overriding distinctions between their interests and those of other West Germans, so they turn to vote for the larger parties. This does not only mean that they share the indigenous West German's concern for prices, profits, pensions and the like. It also means they are satisfied that their compatriots share sufficiently their concern for the relatives and the homelands they have left. They do not require special parliamentary voices.

The 3,000,000 who came from East Germany all have immediate personal and family ties to the East, and they are constantly renewing their connections through correspondence and the exchange of visits. Each holiday, each family festivity, is a reminder that an artificial barrier divides them. There is some tendency to drift apart, of course, and sometimes angry ruptures. But the greater tendency is to remember.

The expellees from beyond the Oder-Neisse and from other parts of Eastern Europe present a special problem. They are aware that reunification is a precondition even to consideration of their ambitions to recover some of what they lost, but reunification of itself is not their goal. There is not space here for an analysis of their strength and attitudes. Briefly, their aims are controversial and a great many Germans would be content to see them abandoned. There are important currents of opinion in West Germany favoring acceptance of the Oder-Neisse border, if that could be the border of a united Germany. It is impossible to measure exactly the extent of this view, but the point lies in the contrast. There are no opinions expressed favoring the Elbe border of partition.

Because a chance of reunification must come first, however, the debate on the Oder-Neisse has never been systematically taken up. The expellees have built a tight, non-partisan or rather multi-party organization with 2.3 million paying members devoted to keeping their cause alive. They constitute a possibly volatile factor, but if they have been given no grounds for encouragement, neither has anything been done to prepare them for defeat. Their leadership remains alert and vocal, sometimes painfully shrill.

It is primarily, though not exclusively, from this group that one hears the old Lebensraum argument from time to time, nowadays, however, in terms of economics rather than of population density. Super-prosperity in West Germany and the European Common Market have blunted the idea, but they have not destroyed it. It is surprising, in the face of a sustained boom since reconstruction began in 1950, to find businessmen insisting that West Germany is not economically viable under normal business conditions. One cannot count on the extraordinarily favorable business climate of the last decade, they say, and they speak warmly of how much more depression-resistant would be a German economy that encompassed the entire nation.

Whether or not the view is sound, it is deeply held. In the meantime, despite many handicaps, trade between East and West Germany is steadily increasing. In 1958, it amounted to 1.66 billion marks ($415,000,000), approximately balanced with a slight excess of East German exports. In 1959, it reached 2 billion marks ($500,000,000), with a slight excess in favor of West Germany. At this year's Leipzig fair, the major East German trade event, there were 1,500 West German exhibitors.

The delayed but now intense forward spurt of the East German economy is narrowing the gap that developed when West Germany had cleared out the ruins and plunged back to work. There is still an obvious gap, and no reason to believe the East Germans can achieve their planned goal of catching up with the Federal Republic on living standards by 1965. But East Germany is no longer a severely depressed area that would be all drain and no contribution to a reunified Germany.

On the contrary, the East Germans are giving their Western competitors a run for their money in a few markets, and trying hard to push into others. Their greatest success has been in Egypt, where they exported the equivalent of 93,000,000 marks in 1957, and 100,000,000 in 1958, against exports of the much larger West German economy of 266,200,000 marks in 1957, and 275,000,000 marks in 1958. They have penetrated, though to a small extent so far, into the markets of such places as Burma, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ghana, the Sudan, Guinea. To West Germans, this is not an argument for partition but against it--promising far greater successes for a joint effort, just as a joint winter Olympic team brought Germany third place while with separate entries both the East and West teams would have been far down the list.

It is evident that the longer partition continues, and the more East German economic life develops, the more bewildering will be the technical problems of fitting the economies back together. As a Western expert put it, different price structures, accounting techniques and the like will make it as hard as integrating the Common Market. But no one in Germany seems to worry about economic rivalry as a divisive element--on the contrary, the emergence of industry in the formerly agricultural East is considered to offer a promising new market if only it could be opened.

There are certain rival industries--shipbuilding, steel and chemicals are the main examples. East German industrial development was shaped to face eastwards, and East Germany has become the largest single source of Soviet imports. But businessmen and economists who consider the problem do not imagine that reunification is likely to be the result of shifting the cold war boundary some hundred or more miles eastward. The premise is that East Germany would bring into a reconstituted national unit the eastern markets it has won, and even open them to West German industrialists. This is the purely marks-and-pfennigs view that does not take into account the bitter conflicts of economic systems. But the businessmen consider economic systems to be a question of ideology, not business, and do what they can to make trade ignore, not follow, the flag.

When East Germany agonized in poverty, it was thought that West Germany's higher living standards provided the main attraction for reunification. From this premise, it was deduced that the urge to reunify must slacken as the gap narrows. But the evidence contradicts this reasoning. West German prosperity has been a major impulse for the population flight from the East, which is slackening. But the desire for unity rests on something else. A typical popular comment to be heard in East Germany now is, "It would be better to reunify under West Germany, because they live better over there. But if we can't do that, then we'll have to reunify under this system, or some compromise. One way or another, though, we have to get back together or we won't survive." This is, of course, an emotion on which the Communist régime is counting, and it obviously ranks high when they list their assets.

Only one development tends against an undiminished German demand for reunification which is likely to grow livelier as German power grows and self-confidence returns. The consolidation of Western Europe does draw off some of the feelings of national frustration. Economically, a European unit offers the larger internal market that partition denies. Psychologically, a European loyalty provides some compensation for the sense of truncation.

Chancellor Adenauer is in a hurry to create the larger unit and the larger loyalty, because he fears what his countrymen would answer if they were offered a choice between Europe and German unity on terms less than certain Communist domination. But the political constellation in West Germany is far from fixed, and future governments are not so likely to maintain Adenauer's priorities, nor his patience with partition. Much more probable would be renewed efforts to find a way out either through neutrality or push.

A certain thinning out of forces, which was once suggested as a way to ease the German problem, seems to be coming willy-nilly as a result of troop reductions and withdrawals. But it need not bring disarmament, and could bring a situation where German arms replace foreign ones. If both sides remained fully committed to its allies, hostility would remain undiminished with increased risk of adventures. If the alliances were loosened, there could be a growth of sentiment for armed German neutrality. Neither possibility makes the present division of the country look stable.

In assessing likely German developments, another factor is the possibility that some progress will be made towards general disarmament. The major powers, in reducing their arms, would of course insist on proportionate reductions of German arms; but the effect of big-power disarmament would none the less be to increase Germany's power status. The less that atomic weapons, missiles and great armies are allowed to matter, the more population, economic potential and national stamina are bound to matter.

Nor, if partition looks unsteady from the West, does it look any more enduring from the East. It has become trite to say that both sides are ready for reunification if it will bring them the whole country. But there is reason to believe that neither Moscow nor Pankow expects partition to last indefinitely. Though he carved it up, Stalin did not hesitate to say he fully expected a single German nation to reëmerge. Khrushchev, though he often tosses off contradictory remarks, has said that "if reunification comes, it would be only reasonable that it should be under Communism, since the whole world will eventually be Communist anyway."

There can be no certain answer now to the question of whether Khrushchev really fears a reunited Germany, and is therefore firmly against it unless it happens to drop in his lap wrapped in a red banner; or whether he is cannily using an historical argument to veil his determination to hold tight to a Communist conquest until he is sure that a slightly looser grip will bring a bigger prize.

East German Communists clearly believe the second premise. They could be fooling themselves, but they seem to be preparing an intensive campaign for reunification, to be launched when they feel economically able to invite comparisons. The thesis is that when the economic differential is narrowed to the point of little significance, the offer of nationhood at the cost of Western ties and Western democracy could attract an important number of impatient West Germans.

No one can say now what the results would be. It would depend on several other factors at the critical moment--the level and prospects for economic activity in West Germany, the extent to which West European consolidation had progressed, West Germany's relative power position, and West Germans' assessment of America's will and ability to provide support.

All the evidence indicates, however, that Germans on both sides will not cease to look for a way to fusion, controlled or explosive, with or without allied help. The world power balance of the moment makes it possible to enforce German partition, impossible to replace it with union. The argument of "realism," that the West should therefore endorse partition in a major-power agreement that would amount to an allied guarantee of the existing border, is based on the assumption that the big powers will indefinitely wish and be able to maintain these borders.

But the German urge to nationhood is just as real as the power balance, if less tangible, and it would be unrealistic to ignore it. The likelihood of a change in German demands seems more remote than the possibility that power relations may be modified.

What now exists cannot now be changed, but it is far too unstable to be considered a solution. It is necessary to remember that it is and will remain a problem, and pressures for a real solution will not subside. If that is forgotten in the temptation to relax in the shadow of apparently immovable barriers, the Germans are likely to take us unawares one day with a desperate effort of their own, regardless of the lessons from a past which they shrink even now from contemplating.

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  • FLORA LEWIS, writer on subjects in Poland and Germany where her husband, Sidney Gruson, has been correspondent of The New York Times; author of "A Case History of Hope: The Story of Poland's Peaceful Revolution"
  • More By Flora Lewis