17 July 2012

Potsdam Conference

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from July 17 to August 2, 1945. Participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The three nations were represented by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill[2] and later, Clement Attlee,[3] and President Harry S. Truman.
Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—as well as Attlee, who participated alongside Churchill while awaiting the outcome of the 1945 general election, and then replaced Churchill as Prime Minister after the Labour Party's victory over the Conservatives—gathered to decide how to administer punishment to the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier, on 8 May (V-E Day). The goals of the conference also included the establishment of post-war order, peace treaties issues, and countering the effects of war.

Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin meeting at the Potsdam Conference on 18 July 1945. From left to right, first row: Premier Joseph Stalin; President Harry S. Truman, Soviet Ambassador to the United States Andrei Gromyko, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Second row: Brigadier General Harry H. Vaughan, Truman's confidant and military aide; Russian interpreter Charles Bohlen, Truman naval aide James K. Vardaman, Jr., and (partially obscured) Charles Griffith Ross.[1]

Clement Attlee, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945.

Relationships amongst the leaders

In the five months since the Yalta Conference, a number of changes had taken place which would greatly affect the relationships between the leaders.
1. The Soviet Union was occupying Central and Eastern Europe
By July, the Red Army effectively controlled the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and refugees were fleeing out of these countries fearing a Communist take-over. Stalin had set up a Communist government in Poland. He insisted that his control of Eastern Europe was a defensive measure against possible future attacks and believed that it was a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence.[4]
2. Britain had a new Prime Minister
The results of the British election became known during the conference. As a result of the Labour Party victory over the Conservative Party the leadership changed hands. Consequently, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee assumed leadership following Winston Churchill, whose Soviet policy since the early 1940s had differed considerably from former U.S. President Roosevelt's, with Churchill believing Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system.[5]
3. America had a new President, and the war was ending
President Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, and Vice-President, Harry Truman assumed the presidency; his ascendence saw VE Day (Victory in Europe) within a month and VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on the horizon. During the war and in the name of Allied unity, Roosevelt had brushed off warnings of a potential domination by a Stalin dictatorship in part of Europe. He explained that "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man" and reasoned "I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."[6]
While inexperienced in foreign affairs, Truman had closely followed the allied progress of the war. George Lenczowski notes "despite the contrast between his relatively modest background and the international glamour of his aristocratic predecessor, [Truman] had the courage and resolution to reverse the policy that appeared to him naive and dangerous", which was "in contrast to the immediate, often ad hoc moves and solutions dictated by the demands of the war.".[7] With the end of the war, the priority of allied unity was replaced with a new challenge, the nature of the relationship between the two emerging superpowers.[7]
Truman became much more suspicious of communist moves than Roosevelt had been, and he became increasingly suspicious of Soviet intentions under Stalin.[7] Truman and his advisers saw Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as aggressive expansionism which was incompatible with the agreements Stalin had committed to at Yalta the previous February. In addition, it was at the Potsdam Conference that Truman became aware of possible complications elsewhere, when Stalin objected to Churchill's proposal for an early allied withdrawal from Iran, ahead of the agreed upon schedule set at the Tehran Conference. However, the Potsdam Conference marks the first and only time Truman would ever meet Stalin in person.[8][9]
4. The US had tested an atomic bomb
On 16 July 1945, the Americans successfully tested an atomic bomb at the Trinity test at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert, USA. On 21 July, Churchill and Truman agreed that the weapon should be used against Japan. Truman had previously been encouraged by the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, to inform the Soviets of this new development, in order to avoid sowing distrust over keeping the USSR out of the Manhattan Project. Truman did not tell Stalin of the weapon until 25 July when he advised Stalin that America had "a new weapon of unusually destructive force." According to various eyewitnesses, Stalin appeared uninterested. It later became known that Stalin was actually aware of the atomic bomb before Truman was, as he had multiple spies that had infiltrated the Manhattan Project from very early on (notably Klaus Fuchs, Ted Hall, and David Greenglass), while Truman had only learned about the weapon after Roosevelt's death. By the 26 July, the Potsdam Declaration had been broadcast to Japan, threatening total destruction unless the Imperial Japanese government submitted to unconditional surrender.[10] Joseph Stalin suggested that Truman preside over the conference as the only head of state attending, a recommendation accepted by Attlee.

Agreements made between the leaders at Potsdam

Potsdam Agreement

Demographics map used for the border discussions at the conference.

The Oder-Neisse Line (click to enlarge)
At the end of the conference, the three Heads of Government agreed on the following actions. All other issues were to be answered by the final peace conference to be called as soon as possible.


See also: Expulsion of Germans after World War II, The industrial plans for Germany, Oder-Neisse line, former eastern territories of Germany, and German reparations for World War II
  • Issuance of a statement of aims of the occupation of Germany by the Allies: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization and decartelization.
  • Division of Germany and Austria respectively into four occupation zones (earlier agreed in principle at Yalta), and the similar division of each capital, Berlin and Vienna, into four zones.
  • Agreement on the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
  • Reversion of all German annexations in Europe, including Sudetenland, Alsace-Lorraine, Austria, and the westernmost parts of Poland
  • Germany's eastern border was to be shifted westwards to the Oder-Neisse line, effectively reducing Germany in size by approximately 25% compared to its 1937 borders. The territories east of the new border comprised East Prussia, Silesia, West Prussia, and two thirds of Pomerania. These areas were mainly agricultural, with the exception of Upper Silesia which was the second largest centre of German heavy industry.
  • Expulsion of the German populations remaining beyond the new eastern borders of Germany.[11]
  • Agreement on war reparations to the Soviet Union from their zone of occupation in Germany. It was also agreed that 10% of the industrial capacity of the western zones unnecessary for the German peace economy should be transferred to the Soviet Union within 2 years. Stalin proposed and it was accepted that Poland was to be excluded from division of German compensation to be later granted 15% of compensation given to Soviet Union.[citation needed]
  • Ensuring that German standards of living did not exceed the European average. The types and amounts of industry to dismantle to achieve this was to be determined later (see The industrial plans for Germany).
  • Destruction of German industrial war-potential through the destruction or control of all industry with military potential. To this end, all civilian shipyards and aircraft factories were to be dismantled or otherwise destroyed. All production capacity associated with war-potential, such as metals, chemical, machinery etc. were to be reduced to a minimum level which was later determined by the Allied Control Commission. Manufacturing capacity thus made "surplus" was to be dismantled as reparations or otherwise destroyed. All research and international trade was to be controlled. The economy was to be decentralized (decartelization). The economy was also to be reorganized with primary emphasis on agriculture and peaceful domestic industries. In early 1946 agreement was reached on the details of the latter: Germany was to be converted into an agricultural and light industry economy. German exports were to be coal, beer, toys, textiles, etc. — to take the place of the heavy industrial products which formed most of Germany's pre-war exports.[12]


Poland's old and new borders, 1945. Territory previously part of Germany is identified in pink
See also: Western betrayal and Territorial changes of Poland after World War II
  • A Provisional Government of National Unity recognized by all three powers should be created (known as the Lublin Poles). Recognition of the Soviet controlled government by the Western Powers effectively meant the end of recognition for the existing Polish government-in-exile (known as the London Poles).
  • Poles who were serving in the British Army should be free to return to Poland, with no security upon their return to the communist country guaranteed.
  • The provisional western border should be the Oder-Neisse line, defined by the Oder and Neisse rivers. Parts of East Prussia and the former Free City of Danzig should be under Polish administration. However the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should await the peace settlement (which would take place at the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany in 1990)
  • The Soviet Union declared it will settle the reparation claims of Poland from its own share of the overall reparation payments.[citation needed]

Potsdam Declaration

At the beginning: Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin

The Foreign Ministers: Vyacheslav Molotov, James F. Byrnes, and Anthony Eden, July 1945

Sitting (from left): Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin, and behind: William Daniel Leahy, Ernest Bevin, James F. Byrnes, and Vyacheslav Molotov.
In addition to the Potsdam Agreement, on 26 July, Churchill, Truman, and Chiang Kai-shek, Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China (the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan) issued the Potsdam Declaration which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan during World War II in Asia.


Truman had mentioned an unspecified "powerful new weapon" to Stalin during the conference. Towards the end of the conference, Japan was given an ultimatum to surrender (in the name of the United States, Great Britain and China) or meet "prompt and utter destruction", which did not mention the new bomb. After prime minister Kantarō Suzuki's reply to maintain silence[13] (mokusatsu, which was misinterpreted as a declaration that the Empire of Japan should ignore the ultimatum), atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively.
In addition to annexing several occupied countries as (or into) Soviet Socialist Republics,[14][15][16] other countries were converted into Soviet Satellite states within the Eastern Bloc, such as the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the People's Republic of Hungary,[17] the Czechoslovak Republic,[18] the People's Republic of Romania,[19] the People's Republic of Albania,[20] and later East Germany from the Soviet zone of German occupation.[21]

Previous major conferences

See also


  1. ^ Description of photograph, Truman Library.
  2. ^ "Potsdam-Conference" Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ BBC Fact File: Potsdam Conference
  4. ^ Leffler, Melvyn P., "For the South of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union and the Cold War, First Edition, (New York, 2007) pg 31
  5. ^ Miscamble 2007, p. 51
  6. ^ Miscamble 2007, p. 52
  7. ^ a b c George Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East, (1990), pp7-13
  8. ^ Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1: Years of Decision (1955), p.380, cited in Lenczowski, American Presidents, p.10
  9. ^ Nash, Gary B. "The Troublesome Polish Question." The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. Print.
  10. ^ Keegan, John. The Second World War. Penguin. p. 578. ISBN 978-0-14-303573-2.
  11. ^ Alfred de Zayas "Nemesis at Potsdam", Routledge, London 1977. See also conference on "Potsdamer Konferenz 60 Jahre danach" hosted by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Berlin on 19. August 2005 http://www.ifz-muenchen.de/fileadmin/images/Das_IfZ/jb2005.pdf Seite 37 et seq.
  12. ^ James Stewart Martin. All Honorable Men (1950) p. 191.
  13. ^ Mokusatsu: One Word, Two Lessons
  14. ^ Senn, Alfred Erich, Lithuania 1940 : revolution from above, Amsterdam, New York, Rodopi, 2007 ISBN 978-90-420-2225-6
  15. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 43
  16. ^ Wettig 2008, pp. 20–1
  17. ^ Granville, Johanna, The First Domino: International Decision Making during the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, Texas A&M University Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58544-298-4
  18. ^ Grenville 2005, pp. 370–71
  19. ^ The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
  20. ^ Cook 2001, p. 17
  21. ^ Wettig 2008, pp. 96–100

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