The Potsdam Conference (German: Potsdamer Konferenz) was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 17 July to 2 August 1945. (In some older documents it is also referred to as the Berlin Conference of the Three Heads of Government of the USSR, USA and UK.) The participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and, later, Clement Attlee, 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 defeat of the Conservatives—gathered to decide how to administer 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 treaty issues, and countering the effects of the war.
At the Yalta Conference France had been granted an occupation zone within Germany, France had been a participant in the Berlin Declaration, and France was to be an equal member of the Allied Control Council. Nevertheless, at the insistence of the Americans, General de Gaulle was not invited to Potsdam; a diplomatic slight which was a cause of deep and lasting resentment. Reasons for the omission included the longstanding personal mutual antagonism between Roosevelt and De Gaulle, ongoing disputes over the French and American occupation zones and anticipated conflicts of interest over French Indochina; but also reflected the judgement of both the British and Americans that French aims in respect of many items on the Conference agenda were likely to be at variance with Anglo/American agreed objectives.
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.
Firstly, 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 fearing a Stalinist takeover, refugees were fleeing from these countries. Stalin had set up a puppet communist government in Poland. He insisted that his control of Eastern Europe was a defensive measure against possible future attacks and claimed that it was a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence.
Secondly, Britain had a new Prime Minister. Before VE Day, Conservative Party leader Winston Churchill had served as Prime Minister in a coalition government; his Soviet policy since the early 1940s had differed considerably from former US President Roosevelt's, with Churchill believing Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system. A general election was held in the UK on 5 July, the results of which became known during the conference: with a Labour Party majority, Labour leader Clement Attlee became the new Prime Minister.
Thirdly, President Roosevelt had died on 12 April 1945, and Vice President Harry Truman assumed the presidency; his succession 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."
While inexperienced in foreign affairs, Truman had closely followed the Allied progress of the war. George Lenczowski notes that "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". 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. The two leading powers continued to sustain a cordial relationship to the public but suspicions and distrust lingered between them. As the suspicion grew between the two rising powers, Stalin proposed that America would use its economic advantage and success in order to entice other nations into expanding policies favorable to the U.S.
Truman became much more suspicious of communist moves than Roosevelt had been, and he became increasingly suspicious of Soviet intentions under Stalin. 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 schedule agreed at the Tehran Conference. However, the Potsdam Conference marks the first and only time Truman would ever meet Stalin in person.
Agreements made between the leaders at Potsdam
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.
- The Allies issued a statement of aims of their occupation of Germany: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization, dismantling and decartelization.
- Germany and Austria were each to be divided into four occupation zones (earlier agreed in principle at Yalta), and similarly each capital, Berlin and Vienna, was to be divided into four zones.
- It was agreed that Nazi war criminals would be put on trial.
- All German annexations in Europe were to be reversed, 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.
- "Orderly and humane" expulsions of the German populations remaining beyond the new eastern borders of Germany were to be carried out; from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but not Yugoslavia.
- War reparations to the Soviet Union from their zone of occupation in Germany were agreed. 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.
- It was to be ensured 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 Allied plans for German industry after World War II).
- German industrial war-potential was to be destroyed, 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.
France, having been excluded from the Conference, resisted implementing the Potsdam agreements within its occupation zone. In particular, the French refused to resettle any expelled Germans from the east. Moreover the French did not accept any obligation to abide by Potsdam agreements in the proceedings of the Allied Control Council; in particular resisting all proposals to establish common policies and institutions across Germany as a whole, and anything that they feared might lead to the emergence of an eventual unified German government.
- A Provisional Government of National Unity recognized by all three powers should be created (known as the Lublin Poles). When the Big Three recognized the Soviet controlled government, it meant, in effect, 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. Silesia, Pomerania, the southern part 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 45 years later at the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany in 1990)
- The Soviet Union declared it would settle the reparation claims of Poland from its own share of the overall reparation payments.
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 but, at the same time promised ‘it was not intended to enslave Japan’. The Soviet Union was not involved in this declaration as it was still neutral in the war against Japan. Prime minister Kantarō Suzuki did not respond (mokusatsu, which was interpreted as a declaration that the Empire of Japan should ignore the ultimatum). Therefore, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The justification was that both cities were legitimate military targets, to end the war swiftly, and preserve American lives. However, to some the timing has suggested that Truman did not want Stalin involved in the terms of Japan's surrender. It is important to note that Truman delayed the Potsdam Conference in order to be sure of the functionality of this "powerful new weapon". Notably, when Truman informed Stalin of the atomic bomb, he did not explicitly mention its atomic nature, just vaguely saying that the United States "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force"; Stalin, though, had full knowledge of the atomic bomb's development due to Soviet spy networks inside the Manhattan Project, and told Truman at the conference to "make good use of this new addition to the Allied arsenal".
The Soviet Union converted the other countries of eastern Europe into 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, the Czechoslovak Republic, the People's Republic of Romania, and the People's Republic of Albania.
Previous major conferences
- Yalta Conference, 4 to 11 February 1945
- Second Quebec Conference, 12 to 16 September 1944
- Tehran Conference, 28 November to 1 December 1943
- Cairo Conference, 22 to 26 November 1943
- Casablanca Conference, 14 to 24 January 1943
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Potsdam Conference.|
- Agreements of the Berlin (Potsdam) Conference
- Truman and the Potsdam Conference
- Annotated bibliography for the Potsdam Conference from the Alsos Digital Library
- The Potsdam Conference, July – August 1945 on navy.mil
- United States Department of State Foreign relations of the United States : diplomatic papers : the Conference of Berlin (the Potsdam Conference) 1945 Volume I Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1945
- United States Department of State Foreign relations of the United States : diplomatic papers : the Conference of Berlin (the Potsdam Conference) 1945 Volume II Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1945
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- Harry Truman Revisionist Analysis of Potsdam Conference Shapell Manuscript Foundation
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- Pas de Pagaille! Time magazine, 28 July 1947
- Interview with James W. Riddleberger Chief, Division of Central European Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1944–47
- "The Myth of Potsdam," in B. Heuser et al., eds., Myths in History (Providence, Rhode Island and Oxford: Berghahn, 1998)
- "The United States, France, and the Question of German Power, 1945–1960," in Stephen Schuker, ed., Deutschland und Frankreich vom Konflikt zur Aussöhnung: Die Gestaltung der westeuropäischen Sicherheit 1914–1963, Schriften des Historischen Kollegs, Kolloquien 46 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2000).
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- EDSITEment's lesson Sources of Discord, 1945-1945