Why weren't the Soviets prepared for World War II?

History of the GDR

Andreas Malycha

To person

studied history at the University of Leipzig from 1978 to 1983. He is a research associate in the research project "The SED between the Wall and the Fall. Structures, Elites and Conflicts (1961-1989 / 90)" at the Institute for Contemporary History, Munich-Berlin. His main research interests are the history of the political system in the GDR, especially the history of the SED, and the history of science in the GDR.

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In the Soviet-occupied part of Germany, the occupying power, with the help of German communists, shaped the political, social and economic system according to their ideas. The parties are brought into line, large estates and industry are socialized.

After the conclusion of the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allied heads of state Winston Churchill (Great Britain), Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA) and Josef Stalin (USSR) had their photos taken. (& copy Wikimedia)

End of war and occupation regime

The Second World War ended with the unconditional surrender of the High Command of the German Wehrmacht on May 7 and 8, 1945. Germany lost its sovereignty to the allied victorious powers France, Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union, whose troops had taken possession of the country. The four allied states established zones of occupation and took over the supreme power of government in Germany. In the part of Germany occupied by Soviet troops, the fighting continued bitterly to the end. Refugees and displaced persons from the German areas east of the Oder and Neisse rivers let the number of inhabitants here, measured against the pre-war level, grow by one million to around 16 million by the end of 1945. In December 1947, refugees and displaced persons made up almost a quarter of the total population in the Soviet occupation zone, at over 4.3 million. Everyday life was shaped by the search for shelter, food, family members and a new home.

Occupation zones and countries in Germany after the Second World War.
The borders of the Soviet occupation zone were marked on September 12, 1944 by the EAC (= European Advisory Commission), a subcommittee of the Allied Foreign Ministers, and in February 1945 by the heads of government or state of the three great powers Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin in Yalta finally determined. It included the Prussian province of Brandenburg, the state of Mecklenburg including Western Pomerania, the state of Saxony-Anhalt formed from the province of Saxony and the Free State of Anhalt, and the Free States of Saxony and Thuringia. The Oder-Neisse line formed the eastern border of the Soviet-occupied zone. By July 1, 1945, a third of the Soviet zone and thus important industrial centers in Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony had been under Anglo-American occupation. However, the USA and Great Britain withdrew their associations from July 1, 1945 due to previous agreements. In return, the Western powers moved into twelve of the twenty administrative districts of Berlin that had previously been exclusively under Soviet control. The presence of the three western allies in Berlin, four after the admission of France, was predominantly symbolic, since Berlin was to be administered jointly by an "Allied Command". For the Western powers, however, the strategic importance of Berlin in the center of the Soviet zone also played a role that should not be underestimated.

The declared intention of the four victorious powers was to exercise supreme governmental power in Germany together. To this end, the Commander-in-Chief formed an Allied Control Council, which was to "make decisions by mutual agreement on all questions affecting Germany as a whole" and which met for the first time in Berlin at the end of August 1945. Independently of this, there was a military government in each of the four zones of occupation, which exercised supreme power there. A Soviet military administration in Germany (SMAD) was established for the Soviet zone on June 9, 1945, headed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet occupation forces. Until April 1946 this was Marshal Georgi Zhukov; his successor was Marshal Vasily Sokolowski. The political, economic and cultural development of the occupied area was the sole responsibility of the SMAD until October 1949.

The victorious powers initially agreed on the general principles of treatment for Germany. At the Potsdam Conference (July 17 to August 2, 1945) they agreed to disarm and demilitarize the country, repeal all National Socialist laws, denazify the population, arrest and condemn war criminals and the educational system, the judiciary, the Democratize administration and public life. However, the specific policies of the occupying powers that were derived from them soon showed how differently the Allies interpreted the Potsdam Agreement.

The Soviet occupation authorities were more rigorous than the Americans, French and British with denazification. By March 1948, around 520,000 civil servants had been dismissed in the Soviet occupation zone. The occupation authorities used the political cleansing to fill the vacancies in the public service with people from whom a loyal political attitude to the occupying power was expected. Efforts to stabilize the Soviet zone economically, politically and culturally, and the Cold War in the wake of the emerging East-West conflict, however, soon gave up interest in the political and legal punishment of the complex entanglements in the Nazi system in all zones of occupation take a back seat.

For a long time, historians argued about the Moscow leadership's political intentions. Did Stalin want to install a communist dictatorship in the Soviet zone from the start, or was he more inclined to maintain the unity of Germany? Here the picture of a contradicting politics reveals itself, which kept several options open: officially, in public statements, the unity of Germany was invoked, in practice the SMAD single-mindedly ensured that the political and social structures in the Soviet zone were quickly reshaped according to the Soviet model. There are many indications that Stalin was primarily aiming for a militarily neutral Germany in Central Europe, which in future should no longer pose a threat of war for the Soviet Union. At the beginning of its occupation, the Soviet Union primarily pursued economic (dismantling and reparations) and geopolitical interests. To this end, it was ready to cooperate with the Western Allies until about mid-1947 and tried to keep an all-German perspective open.