On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria, shortly after an overwhelming majority voted in favor of annexation to the German Reich. The same year, the Sudetenland, the parts of Czechoslovakia inhabited Germans, was annexed.
In 1939, German troops first marched into Prague and then in September into Warsaw. Now England and France declared war against Germany. The Second World War began, and it would be even more devastating than the first. It raged between 1939 and 1945 and affected the civilians more than any war before. Over seventy million people were killed. Hitler had wanted this war from the very beginning. Not only to re-establish the German Reich of 1914 and do something against the peace treaty of Versailles with was perceived as shameful – it was a war of conquest and annihilation in the east.
During the first year of the war, Germany had the upper hand. The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun, Denmark and Norway invaded, and in June 1940 France surrendered. Yet the “Battle of Britain” got lost, and Hitler had to give up his invasion plans. In summer 1941, Hitler gave orders to invade the Soviet Union, and at the beginning their offensive was very successful. But in spite of the differences between Western democracies and Soviet communism, first England and then the United States offered the Soviet Union support; the alliance against Nazi-Germany stood. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Now the USA and England war against Japan. Germany declared war against the USA.
The Wannsee conference in Berlin 1942 had sanctioned the “Final Solution of the Jewish question”. Millions of people, mostly Jews but also countless Gypsies, Slavs and others races were arrested, deported and died in concentration camps in Eastern Europe.
The tide turned. Since 1942, the allies flew air raids on German cities. On March 31, 1942, the “night of the 1000 bombers”, Cologne was almost completely destroyed. In the east, the German armed forces suffered a devastating defeat in February 1943 in Stalingrad; from now on the war, which it had carried so cruelly into the east was answered inexorably.
Within the Third Reich, terror and violence ruled, supported by a more and more brutal blood justice. In Germany, more than 70,000 old and sick people were killed. More concentration camps were built, especially in the occupied Eastern territories. Among the countless people who died in concentration camps was Carl von Ossietzky, a journalist and pacifist, and bearer of the Peace Nobel Prize in 1935. Legal opposition or open resistance was impossible, and the individuals and groups who opposed the Nazi Regime risked their lives. Among them were Sophie und Hans Scholl of the White Rose; they were executed in 1943. On July 20, 1944, Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg’s assassination plan failed. He and other conspirators were executed the same day.
On June 6, 1944, referred to as D-Day, American, British and Canadian troops landed in Normandy, France. In mid-January 1945, the Red Army broke through the east front and overran East Prussia. Countless treks of refugees fled before the Red Army into interior Germany. On March 7, 1945, close to Remagen, American troops crossed the only Rhine bridge that had remained intact After embittered fights, particularly around the Löwenburg and the Ölberg, they stood in the Seven Mountains. By the end of April 1945, the situation in Germany had become hopeless. Berlin was taken by Soviet and Polish forces. Hitler killed himself.
During World War II, in 1945, a part of the armament industry was transferred into the Ofenkaulen mine. People from Russia, Poland and other countries were forced to work there. In February and March 1945 people from Königswinter sought shelter from air raids there.
From July 7 till August 2, 1945 the last of the allied war conferences took place in Cecilienhof castle in Potsdam. It decided on the future of Germany: the northern part of East Prussia with Königsberg got under Soviet administration; large areas in the east under Polish administration. The remaining German territory as divided in four – an American, a British, Soviet and a French -zones of occupation whose commanders in chief formed the “Allied Control Council”.
Many cities had been destroyed by bombs, and many villages lay in ashes. People had very little to eat. many homes were badly damaged, there was no running water and no electricity. The streets and ways were destroyed, the post and telecommunication system almost paralyzed. The hospitals were overcrowded.
In a booklet in German Heinz Klein from the village of Heisterbacherrott remembers those years. In simple words and with a lot of compassion he writes about families torn apart, of grief and need, and of helpfulness to share the few houses and shelters with the needy and refugees. There is shared joy when a family member comes home, and sympathy for the forced labor workers who could finally travel home. There is at first the Allies’ hatred and rejection against all Germans, and then free school meals. He reports about the great need and the hunger in the years after the war. Potatoes, a little bit of fruit and coffee beans were wonderful. Also coal to heat in the bitterly cold winter was a fortune, and people would wait for a freight train to stop in order to take a bit of coal.
Josef Cardinal Frings, warmly remembered Archbishop of Cologne in those days, had said in his New Year’s Eve sermon 1946 that, in times so hard, it was no sin: “We live in times where the single individual is allowed to take what is necessary to preserve his live and health when he cannot receive it by hard work or bidding”.
The Seven Mountains were part of the British zone of occupation. In 1947, the federal states of Northrhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and the city state of Hamburg were created.
Truman Doctrine and Marshall-Plan
The Soviet sphere of influence became larger and larger, not only in the later “Soviet Bloc”, but also in Greece and in Turkey. Both countries asked the USA for assistance. Also countries in Western Europe were in great need, and the Communist propaganda made use of that. In this situation, US President Truman announced a policy of the “containment”.
On initiative of the American Minister of Foreign Affairs George C. Marshal began, in 1947, the “European Recovery Program” or simply “Marshal Plan” to “combat hunger, poverty, despair and chaos”: large quantities of food, raw material, machines and also money were given to the European states in need, so that the economy could recover. In turn, 18 free countries grouped together in the “Organization for European Economic Corporation”, and from this 1960 the “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” (OECD) emerged. The Marshall Plan helped a great deal to get Western Germany back on her feet. Armament and war had led to a collapse of German economy, and the value of the Reichsmark had fallen into a bottomless abyss. The “valid currency” were American cigarettes. Upon the Allies’ orders, many factories, not only in the armaments industry, the machines were dismantled and brought abroad. Other factories could not be rebuilt again. The German economy broke down, and eventually there was not sufficient income to pay for imported groceries.
Finally the Americans suggested tounite the zones of occupation economically, aiming at a federal state. At the beginning of the year, Americans and Britain united their zones of occupation into to the Bizone; with the annexation of the French zone in 1948 the Trizone emerged. In those days, the Rhinelanders sang a carnival song that went “We are the inhabitants of Trizonesia”.
“An Iron Curtain has swept across the continent” Winston Churchill
At the same time, the failure of the Allied Control Council became apparent, the differences between the Western powers USA, England and France on one side and the Soviet Union on the other were to great. The zones occupied by the British, the French and the USA should become democracies; the Soviet occupation zone should become a communistic country. When the Western powers began negotiations over a uniting their zones of occupation, the Soviet Union left the Allied Control Council in March 1948. De facto, Germany now was a divided country.
Shortly after, the Soviet Union blockaded all roads, railways and water ways on which goods came into Berlin. But British and American airplanes flew food and coal into the three west sectors. Thanks to the “raisin bombers” and their own great discipline, the people of Berlin got through the winter 1948/49 despite many deprivations, and the blockade was lifted at the beginning of May 1949. But the separation and the “cold war” were there. On October 7, 1949, the constitution of the German Democratic Republic came in force.
The chairman of the economic administration in the Bizone was Ludwig Erhard, under him the currency reform was accomplished. It was a condition for recovering the economy, and the later “Wirtschaftswunder”, the economic miracle of the 50s.
The short 20th century | The Great War | German Revolution 1918/19 | Occupation of the Rhineland | Weimar Republic – Years of Crisis | Weimar Republic – Golden Era | Weimar Republic – Depression and Decline | Nazi Germany | World War II | Federal Republic of Germany