Dismemberment of Germany the Allied Negotiations from Yalta to Potsdam

From right to left: De Lattre, Zhukov, Eisenhower, and Montgomery at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Köpenick on June 5, 1945.

DURING World War II, the idea of punishing Germany for obeying Hitler to the end and supporting the Nazi bid for world domination found strong backing. Many influential Allied leaders felt that the most telling reprisal could be inflicted on her by decreeing her dismemberment. This feeling reached its high point at the Yalta Conference. There a provision for dismemberment was added to the surrender instrument previously prepared for German signature, and a secret committee was established to study and report on the steps necessary for carrying the plan into execution. Three weeks after V-E Day, however, Marshal Stalin complained to the late Harry Hopkins that Foreign Secretary Eden and the American Ambassador to Britain, the late John G. Winant, had rejected dismemberment.[i] In the absence of other evidence it might be assumed that Stalin's complaint gave a full account of the fate of the Yalta decision on German dismemberment. Actually, this is not the case. As we shall see, it was Stalin's own decision which put an end to effective discussion of this issue; and on May 8, 1945, he publicly renounced dismemberment as a Soviet aim. In the meantime, however, the action at Yalta looking toward dismemberment had gravely compromised the arrangements which had been agreed upon for recording Germany's unconditional surrender.

The idea of keeping Germany divided into several or many independent and rival states has had a long history. It was a prominent objective of French policy, from Richelieu to Napoleon III and Clemenceau. The hope and desire for the partition of Germany haunted Allied policy-makers during the Second World War, and played an important part in delaying and confusing the efforts to achieve, before Germany's surrender, a consistent and effective Allied policy for the postwar treatment of defeated Germany. One of the main difficulties was that the proponents of dismemberment never made clear exactly what it really implied. Was Germany to be divided into several completely independent states? Was partition to be welcomed and encouraged if it emerged

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