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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 10: The Cold War •

The Cold War

Book cover: Germany from Defeat to Partition

Author's response


Germany from Defeat to Partition, 1945–1963

D. G. Williamson
Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd
ISBN 0582292182; pp. 179, 2001

Pertti Ahonen

Department of History, University of Sheffield

It is not often that an author has the opportunity to reply to criticism. I would therefore like to thank Dr. Ahonen for his detailed and constructive review and Anne Shepherd for planning and putting on line the Reviews in History series, which make a positive debate between author and reviewer possible.

I have read Dr Ahonen's review with interest. Obviously his useful list of misspellings and misprints cannot be disputed and will be put right when the next impression of the book is printed. With many of the other more substantial points in his review, I would, however, like to take issue. He remarks that the book is organised primarily on the basis of political developments. Up to a point, I suppose, that is true, provided one sees this as an umbrella term which also covers economic and international developments. I am a little surprised that he has said nothing about Chapter 4, which deals with the pivotal role played by the two Germanys in the Cold War.

I note that Dr Ahonen is 'puzzled by the book's title and chronological focus'. Of course the years 1972/73 are a turning point in German history, but there is an important change of focus and political mood in the FRG symbolised by the Spiegel Affair in the late autumn of 1962 and the resignation of Adenauer in 1963. The early 1960s were a watershed in West German politics and society. New issues emerged which were to dominate the later years of the decade In the GDR the construction of the Wall is surely an important turning point. It stabilised the GDR and gave the GDR a second chance to try to engineer its own economic miracle. The party faithful did after all regard 13th August 1961 as the 'secret foundation day of the GDR'. In the Cold War, too, the Berlin Wall was a turning point, which ultimately made possible the policy of détente. By sealing off East Berlin it de facto completed partition and gave the GDR a new lease of life. On a purely practical point the publishers are planning to produce a second volume on the post war Germanys. In that context 1963 is an obvious place to stop.

Dr Ahonen is rightly critical that some important and recent studies on culture, mentalities and memory are not included in the biography. Certainly the three books he mentions will be included in the second impression, as indeed will references to his own work on expellees. On the other hand I have introduced readers to the important contributions by A. Sywottek, some of whose work is included the collection edited by Robert G. Moeller – one of the books recommended by Dr Ahonen. Given that the Seminar Series is aimed at undergraduates and the brighter and more industrious 6th formers, I was particularly anxious to make sure that readers would become acquainted both with H.-P. Schwarz's Adenauer biography and his monumental and indispensable two volumes on Die Ära Adenauer in Die Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland series. As the latter are huge and comprehensive tomes in German, students need to become familiar with them initially through such text books as mine. A more fundamental question raised by Dr Ahonen is the significance of recent research on such issues as 'culture, mentalities and memory'. Obviously the staple topics of an introductory book such as this must include relatively detailed studies of the occupation, the emergence of the two German states, the functioning of their political systems, economic developments and the role of both states in the cold war. Once these are grasped, students will be in a better position to read and understand the interesting and challenging aspects of recent research into the more complex areas of culture, mentalities and memory. That is the reason why I was only able to include two relatively short chapters on social cultural developments. Nevertheless I hope that these will interest students and inspire them to further reading. In my chapters on social and cultural developments in the FRG and the GDR, I do introduce students to some key concepts, such as restoration (although this is also discussed earlier on pp. 31–2), modernisation, Americanisation, as well as such topics as the question of reconstructing a new Germanness, the integration of expellees in both states and what a workers and peasants state in the GDR actually meant in concrete terms for those involved: fascinating and important topics, which I hope they will follow up, but ones which can only be fully understood and explored once the basic economic and political developments have been understood.

Certainly coming to terms with their Nazi past was a key challenge to both German states. There were of course many different ways of coming to terms with so painful and immediate a past. Dr. Ahonen has criticised me for failing to pursue the matter methodologically. In one sense this theme permeates the whole book In the chapters on the GDR I have shown how the older elites, who were compromised by their associations with Nazism, with the partial exceptions of doctors and dons, were ruthlessly pushed aside. Again running through my book has been the theme that in West Germany the predominant mood among the political and administrative elite at least up to the late fifties and early sixties was the desire to overcome the past by creating a feeling of continuity and integrating all but the most brazen ex-Nazis into the new constitutional republic. The question of integrating the armed forces into the constitutional state (pp. 61–62) does produce, however, a more fundamental debate on the role of the army into a democratic society, which was a major contribution to coming to terms not just with the Nazi past but also with the whole German/ Prussian military tradition.

An important aspect of coming to terms with the past was also to avoid its repetition by learning from it. This influenced, as I have stressed (pp. 31–33), the drafting of the new West German constitution by the founding fathers, who attempted with remarkable success to erect constitutional barriers against a repetition of the events of 1930–33. It also influenced Adenauer's European policy of integration, which, by preventing the isolation into which the Weimar Republic had fallen, would, it was hoped, enable the FRG prosperously to coexist with its western neighbours, and so avoid creating the pre-conditions for a Nazi revival (see chapter 4). Initially coming to terms with the Nazi past involved during the 1950s a policy of safety first and disaster avoidance. Another strand of coming to terms with the pain of the past was to devote one's energies to reconstruction and to distance oneself from politics (the ohne mich attitude), which I explore, albeit briefly, in chapter 7. It was the generation of 1968 that rejected the cautious 'burnt children' of the 1950s and ruthlessly interrogated their parents about their involvement in or toleration of the Nazi era. I mention the critics of Adenauer's integrationist policies (p. 79) by West German intellectuals and writers such as the Gruppe 47, but I do concede that their criticism of the Bundesrepublik, which anticipates some of what the New Left said in the 1960s, needs a more in-depth treatment, which I shall give it, if I am allowed more pages by my publisher when the time for a second edition comes.

Finally Dr Ahonen regrets that the absence of a more extensive comparative section. Up to chapter 4 I have followed a broadly comparative approach. Chapter 2 deals with the post war occupation thematically and makes constant comparisons between the four Allied zones. Chapter 3 follows the interactive impact of Allied decisions on the process that led to the emergence of the two Germanys (See for instance Bizonia and the Economic Commission) and Chapter 4 deals with both Germanys in the Cold War, 1949–63, in a linked and comparative way. I did consider whether I should carry on this approach when I came to analyse the domestic policies of the two states. In the end I came to the conclusion that my readers would be served by analyses that dealt with each state separately. I feared that a comparative approach to domestic policies, in a short book such as this, would be muddling, sometimes stating the obvious and repetitive, as well as threatening to obscure for readers, who had little prior knowledge of post war Germany, what the actual political, social and economic developments in each state were. I have, of course, made cross references where relevant, but have tried to avoid becoming repetitive and simplistic. I have attempted to show that the differences between the two states were a consequence of the way in which Germany was divided and became integrated in rival blocs. Each part followed in relation to the other its own Sonderweg. Still, had space allowed, a succinct comparative introduction to part 5 ('The GDR from its foundation to the Berlin Wall') would have done no harm. Something to consider for the second edition!

March 2002

Original review

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