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Germany will not be occupied for the purpose of liberation, but as a defeated enemy nation …. It should be brought home to the Germans that Germany’s ruthless warfare and the fanatical Nazi resistance have destroyed the German economy and made chaos and suffering inevitable, and that the Germans cannot escape responsibility for what they have brought upon themselves …. In the conduct of your occupation and administration you should be just, but firm and aloof.

Those are excerpts of Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067, “Directive to CINC U.S. Forces of Occupation Regarding the Military Government of Germany,” of April 1945. They set the tone for the U.S. government’s guidance to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the military government in the American occupation zone in Germany, as the mission in Europe changed from fighting the Germans to managing them in defeat.

As German civilians soon found out, the official American mindset toward them was that of a conqueror and punisher, not a collaborator. The military government the U.S. Army established in Germany in the spring and summer of 1945 didn’t give the Germans a helping hand; it gave them the back of its hand, deliberately.

While the urge to assign collective guilt to the German people was understandable and arguably even justified, the masterminds of this policy soon found it harder to practice than to preach. 


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How to treat the defeated germans

Eisenhower was not inclined to go easy on Germany’s citizens. “General Eisenhower expressed the view that during occupation the Germans should not be pampered, but should ‘stew in their own juice,’” Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau wrote in his diary. Morgenthau felt the same way. The secretary was one of the most prominent officials in Washington calling for a “hard” peace to be imposed on Germany. 

“The sole purpose of the military in control of the German economy shall be to facilitate military operations and military occupation,” said Morgenthau’s Treasury Department in a Sept. 6, 1944, memorandum to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “The Allied Military Government shall not assume responsibility for [solving major] economic problems … or take any measures designed to maintain or strengthen” the German economy.  

Morgenthau’s ideas for how to handle Germany went well beyond short-term economic policy. The secretary didn’t want the Allies to simply manage and reform Germany after it fell: He wanted them to split the country apart, literally and permanently. Morgenthau’s Sept. 6 memo to FDR called for the far eastern territories of East Prussia and Silesia to be given to Poland and the coal-rich Saar region to France. The leftover parts of Germany “should be divided into two autonomous, independent states” — a southern one in and around Bavaria and a northern one “comprising a large part of … Prussia, Saxony, Thuringia and several smaller states.” The Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, “should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened that it can never become an industrial area” again.

He suggested to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that the Allies remove German children from their former Nazi parents, make them “wards of the state,” and place them in schools run by the Allies. He also proposed creating a list of Nazi “arch-criminal” officials who, once captured, wouldn’t be tried but simply shot.   

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. leaves the White House after a 1935 conference. Morgenthau preached an especially harsh version of dealing with Germany after its defeat, including destroying the country’s industries and creating a list of Nazi “arch-criminal” officials who would be executed without a trail. (Library of Congress) 

Fodder for Fearmongering

When The New York Times and other newspapers reported leaked details of Morgenthau’s ideas in the autumn of 1944, Joseph Goebbels seized on them in propaganda broadcasts, warning Germans that the Americans and British planned to crush the Fatherland. The propaganda campaign had some impact. William J. Donovan, founder of the Office of Strategic Services, told President Roosevelt in December 1944 that Goebbels, by citing Morgenthau’s ideas, had convinced many Germans “that the [Allies] planned the enslavement of Germany” and that “Germany had nothing to expect from defeat but oppression and exploitation.” That, said Donovan, encouraged the Germans to fight harder. A 1967 Senate Judiciary Committee report noted that Army Chief of Staff George Marshall “complained to Morgenthau that, just as the Army placed loudspeakers on the front line urging the Germans to surrender,” The  New York Times’ reporting “appeared and stiffened the will of the Germans to resist.” 

Morgenthau’s harsh approach clashed with the instincts of Army civil affairs officers who would lead the American Military Government, or MG, in Germany. Initial MG plans were shaped by the army’s extensive experience in disaster relief and civil works projects. They envisioned MG detachments tackling and fixing the problems they found in any areas they governed — friendly or enemy.

In “The City Becomes a Symbol,” the 2017 account by military historians Donald Carter and William Stivers of the U.S. Army’s first five years in Berlin, the authors quote Gen. Julius Holmes, Eisenhower’s deputy assistant chief of staff for civil affairs. Holmes said army MG detachments “tried to produce ‘model communities’” in European countries liberated from Nazi rule. Detachments “competed with each other to have its community the best fed, the best housed and the best run.”  

The “Handbook for Military Government in Germany Prior to Defeat or Surrender,” prepared by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, reflected that spirit. The handbook’s approach was, in the eyes of Senate historians, “moderate and lenient throughout. Germany was not only to be self-supporting, but was to retain a relatively high standard of living.” The army didn’t plan to embrace the Germans as long-lost friends, but there seemed to be a strong inclination to emphasize reviving Germany’s economy, as opposed to controlling and disciplining the country and its people.  Drafts of the handbook were circulating through SHAEF headquarters by June 1944. 

Morgenthau got a copy and was outraged. He complained to FDR and showed him some excerpts. Roosevelt agreed with him. “This so-called handbook is pretty bad,” the president told Secretary of War Stimson in a memorandum on August 26th:  

It gives me the impression that Germany is to be restored just as much as the Netherlands or Belgium and the people of Germany brought back as quickly as possible to their pre-war estate …. It is of the utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize that, this time, Germany is a defeated nation. I do not want them to starve to death but, as an example, if they need food to keep body and soul together beyond what they have, they should be fed three times a day from Army soup kitchens. That will keep them perfectly healthy and they will remember that experience all their lives. The fact that they are a defeated nation collectively and individually must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war. 

FDR ordered the handbook recalled and revised. The new version, dated December 1944, had the harsher tone that Morgenthau and Roosevelt preferred. For example, one of the “basic principles” the handbook stipulated was that German civilians would receive no relief supplies “beyond the minimum necessary to prevent disease and such disorder as might endanger or impede military operations.” JCS 1067, Washington’s April 1945 primary directive for how M.G. would handle Germany after it surrendered, continued that harsh tone. 

Morgenthau’s views were adopted in the early days of the occupation and extended to the unforgiving treatment of everyday Germans. U.S. servicemen were issued copies of a “Pocket Guide to Germany,” which laid out in no uncertain terms how they were to interact with the “German warmakers”: “There must be no fraternization! This is absolute!” (HistoryNet Archives) 

Ignorance, not bliss

One way the army tried to make Germans feel defeated was to ignore them deliberately. The “Pocket Guide to Germany” was a publication specifically prepared for individual American soldiers. (The “Handbook” was written for MG supervisors.) It told G.I.s to stay away from average Germans: “There must be no fraternization! This is absolute!” Former MG officer Franklin Davis, in his 1967 book “Come as a Conqueror“, remembered a “continuous and intensive information campaign [that] explained to the troops the need for avoiding contact with the Germans.” He added, “A common radio announcement on the Allied Forces Network in the spring and summer of 1945 ran ‘If in a German town you bow to a pretty girl or pat a blond child … you bow to Hitler and his reign of blood … you caress the ideology that means death and persecution. Don’t fraternize.’”

Davis went on to list some specific instructions American soldiers received:  

Troops were expressly forbidden to entertain Germans, to billet Allied personnel with German families, to visit German homes, to shake hands with Germans, to play games or engage in sports with Germans, to give or accept gifts, to attend German dances or other social events, to accompany Germans on the street or into places of entertainment. In German church services, Allied troops would be seated separately. No one could converse or argue with Germans, and the politics of Germany or its future were particularly proscribed. Troops were not allowed to marry Germans, and except for official contacts, were to leave them expressly alone.  

Rubbing their noses in it

Sometimes Americans took specific steps to emphasize to Germans their defeat and war guilt. The Allies allowed the Berlin Philharmonic to resume performing — but they forced it to open each concert by playing the national anthems of all four occupying powers. Karl Mautner, an MG officer in Berlin, recalled how some MG officers required Berlin city officials to stand in front of their desks, at attention, when they had business with the Americans. American radio broadcasts told Germans again and again of the horrors in the concentration camps and Nazi atrocities abroad. (The tone of the broadcasts was so harsh that some Berliners said they preferred listening to Soviet-controlled Radio Berlin.) Germans could be jailed for publicly insulting or criticizing MG officials. Some actions were petty, even cruel. On several occasions, Americans burned excess food or doused it with gasoline so hungry Germans couldn’t have it. 

The Americans not only tried to make the Germans feel bad but also hindered their ability to improve their quality of life. Postwar Germany was desperately short of housing. Thousands of dwellings had been damaged or destroyed, especially in the cities. Millions of Germans had fled their homes during the fighting, and refugees flooded the American Zone.

“Southern Bavaria,” wrote army historian Earl Ziemke in his 1974 book “The U.S. Army In the Occupation of Germany,” “had an estimated two and a half million people more than its normal population. … Undamaged towns and cities had a third to a half again as many people as normal.” 

The American response?

“Military government did not regard where or how the Germans lived as its concern,” Ziemke wrote.

American forces took whatever houses and buildings they wanted, evicting thousands of Germans from their homes and adding to the overcrowding throughout the American Zone.

“Even the lowliest soldiers shared the bounties,” wrote Carter and Stivers, citing the example of Theodore B. Mohr, a 20-year-old signals technician with the 82nd Airborne Division, who lodged in a Berlin apartment house, where, “despite his humble rank, he enjoyed sole occupancy of a one-bedroom dwelling.”

The authors also recall the men of one U.S. regiment who lived in a lakeshore settlement built “to quarter high-ranking naval officers.”  

Both Morgenthau and President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that Germans needed to be taught once and for all the hard lesson that they had lost the war, and neither thought it was the duty of the occupation military government to improve the shattered German economy. Homelessness and hunger followed. Here a woman eats in the rubble of Berlin in 1946. (Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images)

This continued into the later years of the occupation. In Wiesbaden, the Americans by 1946 had requisitioned 3,331 apartments; by 1948 the total was almost 6,000.

“By the end of June 1946,” Franklin Davis wrote, “the Army in Germany was actively using 30,143 properties, including 24,502 private homes, 1,458 apartments, 780 hotels, 569 schools, 333 office buildings … [and] 179 barracks.”

A 1946 Army booklet told soldiers en route to occupation duty: “Once you’re settled in Germany, you may find yourself in anything from an SS barracks in a Berlin suburb to a house in a picturesque Bavarian village. The odds are against you having to live in a tent.”

The army forced German communities to pay for the soldiers’ supplies, facilities, and services. The American officers’ mess in Berlin was a lavish affair, with Carter and Stivers describing food served “by waiters from silver dishes” and officers dining from “gold-rimmed porcelain plates [and] crystal wine glasses.”

By the end of September 1945, Berlin was paying for 27,000 German workers to support only 35,000 American personnel.  

Nazis Need not Apply

Not surprisingly, the Americans also took steps to rein in any lingering fragments of the Nazi Party. JCS 1067 dictated that any Germans with connections to the Nazi Party “were to be removed and excluded from public office and from positions of importance in … enterprises such as civic, economic and labor organizations; corporations and other organizations in which the German government or subdivisions have a major financial interest; industry, commerce, agriculture, and finance, [and] education.” A MG law issued in October 1945 tightened those standards, making it virtually impossible for anyone with Nazi ties to work in any fields except common labor.  

JCS 1067 made no allowances for keeping critical “Nazis” in their jobs “for administrative necessity, convenience or expediency.” A U.S. study commission in May 1946 admitted, “Denazification in our zone was carried out with initial severity.”

MG saw, almost immediately upon entering Germany, how devastated the country was and how challenging it would be for businesses, local governments, and community institutions to function properly. Nevertheless, getting rid of the Nazis in a town often took precedence over getting that community back on its feet — and sometimes over the concepts of fair play and due process. A report by the United States Education Mission to Germany, dated October 1946, said that MG had accepted that some “injustices might result from the rigor and the mechanical nature of the initial procedures for purification.”  

The Americans instituted a sweeping denazification program to try to erase the memory of Hitler’s regime. Some Germans were easier to convince than others: Here German trade unionist Paul Bebert — who had been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp — chisels away a stone swastika from the facade of a Hamburg building in September 1945. (Frederic Lewis/Getty Images) 

Remaining ‘Pure’

This “purification” deprived struggling German communities of some of their most talented and experienced administrators and technicians. (In Nazi Germany it had been very hard for prominent or skilled people to avoid any contact with the party.) John J. McCloy, a key War Department planner, estimated that 80 percent of the schoolteachers and 50 percent of the doctors in the American Zone of Occupation lost their jobs during the occupation. Cities and towns hoping to get idle children, many of whom were orphans, off the streets and back into school were out of luck.

MG medical administrators reported “difficulty in finding replacements qualified to assure adequate health services.” Cases of tuberculosis — a highly communicable disease exacerbated by overcrowded housing — rose in Germany in the fall of 1945. Yet, in at least three cities in the American zone, de-Nazification trumped public health concerns. The MG medical administrators noted that “German personnel charged with tuberculosis control programs in Mannheim, Pforzheim and Heidelberg have been removed [for having Nazi ties], resulting in cessation of tuberculosis control programs, as qualified replacements have not yet been obtained.”  

JCS 1067, the new “Handbook for Military Government,” and other guidance for MG made it clear that the Germans’ quality of life was not an American priority. The guiding principles for MG were to protect the occupying forces, satisfy their needs, and prevent any starvation or diseases that might harm the occupying forces.  In fact, MG was told to take no steps that might raise Germany’s standard of living above that of the countries it had invaded, which were also now recovering. 

Not the American Way

It’s one thing to plan a harsh occupation; it’s another to actually execute it. The “Morgenthau” approach to dealing with the German people quickly began to sputter. American troops weren’t inclined to be aloof with the Germans.

“In World War I Gen. Pershing had very strict orders about fraternizing,” said Gen.Marshall during a lunch with Secretary Morgenthau in September 1944. Nevertheless, the “American soldiers [on occupation duty] would go in the back door, sit down with German families and enjoy themselves. You will find the American soldier doesn’t want the Germans treated harshly.”

G.I.s told to be on the watch for unrepentant Nazis instead found towns mostly filled with docile women, children and elderly men. (The young men were mostly dead or POWs.) The G.I.s wanted to play with the children, buy luxury items (binoculars, cameras, clocks) the Germans wanted to sell for food, and date the Fräuleins. Army “staffs that had engineered the defeat of the Wehrmacht were having to match wits with their own soldiers” in enforcing the no-fraternization policy, wrote Ziemke, “and were losing.” By October 1945 the policy was largely abandoned. (For more on the failed effort to keep American GIs from fraternizing with Germans, especially women, read “Unstoppable Force.”) 

American G.I.s and German civilians in a park: although the U.S. had mandated a no-fraternization policy, the army found it nearly impossible to maintain its official aloofness, and the policy was largely abandoned by October 1945. (Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock)

A New PLan

By the same autumn, the Americans could no longer ignore Germany’s struggling society and economy. Food stocks were low and dwindling, forcing America to buy and import foodstuffs. Germany couldn’t pay for food or other critical items unless it restarted its industry to make products for export sales. Starting in 1946, America abandoned the “let them stew in their own juices” approach. It increased food aid and began to help restart German industry.   

On Sept. 6, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes gave a speech in Stuttgart titled “Restatement of Policy on Germany.” Claiming that dissension among the Allied powers had hurt Germany’s economic recovery, Byrnes said that “the American Government is unwilling to accept responsibility for the needless aggravation of economic distress” that that dissension had caused. Byrnes called for the Allies to curtail their dismantling of German industry and help it export more goods for sale.

Byrnes’ speech changed the tone of American occupation from punishment to reconstruction. Some called it “The Speech of Hope.” The Marshall Plan — the $15 billion U.S. aid package that helped 16 European nations, including West Germany, recover from the war’s ravages — was developed a year later. The “backhanded slaps” of the American MG’s early months in Germany turned into helping hands, setting the stage for the strong West German-American alliance of the Cold War.  

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