The Yalta Division of Germany


By GEORGE N. SHUSTER, President, Hunter College, New York

Delivered before the Foreign Policy Association, New York, February 17, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 403-405.

I SPEAK today as an American liberal of Wisconsin origin, who clings with all the fidelity he can muster to the conviction that this country is not merely a political power but also a luminous tradition. Our generation arose in the shadow of Lincoln's greatness. Later on it was the Progressive Movement which formed in part our attitudes toward social action. There has never been any room in our minds for any doctrine of race, even of a German race, nor for any dogma of tyranny, even a tyranny of the Left. In the formation of the American liberal position, as I have understood it, respect for the human being goes hand in hand with a deep regard for fact. Courtesy is not something soft, it is commitment to the family of mankind. We have held and we still hold that America has been a program of social action, dearer to the hearts of men than any other secular program. And we repeat now that America will not have won this war unless it survives both as a power and as a tradition.

That the liberal position thus outlined has owed much to the German-American, and through him to the free German mind, it seems to me futile to deny. I emphasize this indebtedness because I know that there has been a free German mind, born in part of the Christian faith and in part of the desire for liberty. When I personally took up the fight against Hitler—and it is hardly necessary for me to say that this was early—I did so because it was impossible for one of my outlook on life not to share the sufferings and struggles which resistance to Nazism involved. This strange creed, compounded of shell-shock and materialism, of diseased inferiority complexes and a mania for power, of cruelty and venomous bigotry, profited it is quite true by the cynical militarism of a professional soldier caste. But it is

also true that at the very time when "waves of the future" were rising in the minds of foreign intellectuals in all countries, the believing Christian Church was numbering its martyrs in Germany by the hundreds and the thousands. That Church had learned the meaning—apparently so difficult to learn—of the solidarity of Catholics and Protestants in service to ideals. And when I speak of Social Democracy I remember the men and women who had tried hard to build up a republic in freedom.

I shall confess that it had seemed to me that we should be happy to find in what remains of that liberal Germany, friends and allies. To me the thought that Americans, aware of what price has been paid throughout history for the privilege of commitment to democratic idealism, should not openly proclaim their kinship with Faulhaber and Niemoeller, who in the darkest hours of Hitler's assault upon our common civilization, spoke words which rang round the world against pogroms, against violation of family ties, against the taking of life by a fanatically tyrannical state, was as inconceivable as the thought that I myself should surrender jot or tittle of that American creed. But it is necessary to say—to say not in criticism but with calm regard for the clear truth—that the Yalta Conference has doomed these hopes. For whatever else this Conference has accomplished it has endorsed a division of Europe into two spheres of influence, the one of which, namely the Russian, is to include a large and populous section of Germany, as well as nearly all the nations of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and the other of which is to be subject to Anglo-American domination. In the second place, the only realistic international organization which has so far been established is an organization which is to determine what drafts of labor and materials are to be exacted from Germany; and the headquarters of that organization are to be in Moscow. We shall therefore have to look the issue of slave labor squarely in the face. In the third place, the kind of government to be set up in the Russian part of Germany has already been created. It is a government such as Radek dreamed of in 1919—a union of generals and Communist Party functionaries.

Under these circumstances it is futile to debate the future of Germany as that has been debated hitherto. Now Germany has been divided, the division will in so far as we can foresee remain, and there is nothing we can do to alter the fact. We shall therewith inflict not merely upon the Nazis, for whom no punishment could be too stern and no deprivation of liberty adequate, but upon a large section of the German people a fate in which freedom certainly has no place. Moreover, there has never been any difference of opinion in this country about the Prussian military system. But at this moment there is no guarantee whatsoever that what can be salvaged from that system will not be incorporated into the vast agglomerations of military strength which will henceforth rule the world. I know that future discussion may soften some of the stark contours of the present picture. But I know also that only in so far as Yalta made provision for conference and discussion does it offer much in which we may decently rejoice.

It remains therefore to see, and see quickly, what sort of joint Anglo-American solution can be found for those areas of Germany which will be under Anglo-American influence. We may presume, though we have no clear authority for so doing, that these areas will include Austria and the sections of Germany west of the Elbe River. I make no mention of any region to be occupied by the French, since in all practical matters they will no doubt be acting in friendly liaison with ourselves and the British. The territories thus envisaged are populous, though they include only one of the largest cities of Germany, which is bombed-out Cologne They include also the districts in which, with the exception of Silesia, the largest number of Catholics are to be founds a circumstance of obvious political implications.

Let us try to get straight in our minds some elementary facts about this terrain. It has four industrial centers of some importance, only two of which—the Ruhr and the Graz areas—possess appreciable resources in raw materials, Obviously both will have been thoroughly gutted by the fighting. We know that all the large towns of both are shambles, and that before the war is carried to a victorious conclusion the devastation will exceed anything known to history. The really viable production centers on which Germany at this moment relies are partly in the Silesian districts which the Russian armies have conquered, and partly in Czechoslovakia. Now let us look at the agricultural picture. The terrain includes the most fertile land in Germany, its great vineyards, its dairy farms, and the major share of the soil given over to wheat. But it does not include the provinces from which the bulk of certain staple crops, such as rye and potatoes, comes. The transportation system will have been battered down, housing will be in ruins, schools, churches and hospitals gone. The mechanisms of banking and of commercial exchange will not survive this war. No plans will have been made for the demobilization of the army. Even the very common law of Germany will not exist, nor after 12 years of Nazi rule will it be possible to reawaken speedily the memory of what this law once was.

With what manner of person shall we be dealing? Studies of German youth as have been made by such careful scholars as Paetel indicate that indoctrination in Nazi ideas and standards is by no manner of means as rampant as has been assumed. Nevertheless, this youth has lived under intense neural strain, has suffered from nutritional deficiencies, and above all has been suffered to drift without moral guidance or intellectual information other than that which comes to it through the sorely beleaguered Church. There will be a desire for change, but no knowledge of what form this change might take and no information about the outside world. Ever since the war started, there has been only sporadic intercourse with Germany. We do not know what former youth leaders have survived, or what course any youth resistance movement may have taken. In so far as the older population is concerned, it will doubtless be in complete physical and psychical ruin. Only the peasant close to the soil, over whom the seasons pass without altering greatly his native strength or bis routine, will retain any notion of the drift of human life.

Obviously to meet such a situation, by comparison with which the burned out regions of the South, with which Grant and Sherman had to deal, were a sort of paradise, we shall need unity of purpose first of all. It is, therefore, necessary to deepen our awareness of solidarity with the British people, which is organically given in the very structure of the contemporary world, by renewal of our insight into what is valuable in our common institutions and heri tage. Permitting petty quarrels, or mutual dissatisfaction with what each other has done to meet specific situations in an imperfect world, to deflect our stress upon the great service to beneficent freedom which has given us both our places in history, is running the risk at the outset of duplicating the unfortunate rifts between Britain and France which played so tragic a part in bringing about the present catastrophe. I should like to see our community of purpose made public, definite and broad to specific statements concerned not merely with economic and military details but with life-giving political and ethical DrinciDle. For in suchstatements, if trouble were taken to write and sign them, humanity could find some of that light of the past which it was Hitler's evil destiny to quench and which must, must, be ours to rekindle again. A hundred years ago, Emerson said that men do no not live by cotton and iron but by ideas.

You cannot have been close to American youth, or to any youth, if you do not know that Emerson was right. And so I say that beyond any interim concern with routine, with penal action and with surveillance, there must be some program of action, some idea, in which the German can find America because we ourselves discern it there. We shall, of course, have to ferret out and punish Nazis. We shall have to make requisition for an army of occupation, and we must apparently be prepared to keep that army there a long time. The code of jurisprudence will have to be altered in accordance with our principles, and it is hardly necessary to say that this is a most difficult task. Administration of relief will be enormously complex, even as will be the task of restoring some measure of order to the economic system. Over and above that we shall have to set up some kind of agency for the dissemination of information which is credible and will be trusted. All this is necessary, even before the job of setting up a variety of German government can even be attempted. Such a government, it is evident, cannot function unless it has some constructive task to perform.

What I have to say about this task is necessarily tentative. We have no clear impression of the extent to which the German bureaucracy will be depleted by the unavoidable purge of Nazis from its ranks. Nor have we any knowledge of how long venomous undeground movements may survive, which can strike down, without warning, such men as attempt to collaborate with us. To make practical progress in the solution of everyday difficulties will be a slow and laborious task at the very best. But it will surely be very much easier if we posit a goal toward which the German people can freely move. Therefore, two things might be attempted. First, we might arrange as soon as possible a plebiscite throughout the area to determine whether Germany under Anglo-American rule preferred colonial status, say as a Dominion inside the British Empire, or independence as a liberal constitutional state. The question is not as fantastic as it may seem, for there would be decided advantages for Germany in a colonial solution, provided the British were not averse to it. On the other hand, a clear vote in favor of a liberal constitutional state would establish a political objective to be reached in due time, and would make it clear that the place Germany is ultimately to occupy—I am speaking here only of the Anglo-American terrain—will be in the family of West European nations. Of course, there will remain a strong urge to unite once more with the East. But such a union can take place only in the distant future, when the European continent, having moved beyond nationalism as it once moved beyond feudal dynasties, will come together in that federation of peoples which is the only soil in which a prosperous freedom can grow. It may in the end prove to have been the purpose of the savage and sanguinary revolutions through which we have lived to break down national barriers and to reveal the road forward. None of us know. We can only hope, sometimes in spite of everything.

At any rate, if there should result from the plebiscite a strong German commitment to a liberal constitutional state, we should take the next step, foreshadowed in so many utterances and efforts of German liberalism itself, and foster an industrial democracy. By that I mean a common use of industrial property by workers and managers; and although I am not enough of an economist to determine how much a democracy would function, I am, if you will permit me to say so, sufficiently well acquainted with German liberalism to know that such a project would revive the creative energies upon which German industry must rely if it is to function, and might give to German workers an objective which could at last make the democratic faith a living thing.

Fostering industrial democracy would require of us greater daring and more incisive thinking than will any plan to control German industry through international consortiums. But on the other hand, it is not difficult to foretell that such consortiums would fail precisely because they would themselves be anti-democratic. For either they would be bureaucratic, and bureaucracies are lifeless, and ineffectual, or they would reflect bondage to foreign capital. And if you argue that armament controls must be our first thought; remember that wars are always begotten in these days, by dissatisfaction upon a corroding and purposeless economic life. If you build industrial democracy in Germany you will need few armament controls. If you do not, you will have created permanent employment for an army and a secret service bent on keeping the German peon in subjection. I do not believe that America's road has ever led that way. America must go forward, even in Germany.