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Covering the Map of the World — The Half-Century Legacy of the Yalta Conference, Part 5


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When Adolf Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, came to Moscow on August 23, 1939, to sign the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, Joseph Stalin hosted a late-night supper for his German guests after the signatures had been affixed to the documents. Stalin rose from his chair and gave a toast to Hitler: “. . . a man for whom [I have] always had an extraordinary respect. . . . I know how much the German nation loves its Führer; I should therefore like to drink to his health.”

In September 1940, Ribbentrop wrote to Stalin:

In the opinion of the Führer . . . it appears to be the historical mission of the Four Powers — the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan and Germany — to adopt a long-range policy and to direct the future development of their peoples in the right channels by the delimitations of their interests on a worldwide scale.

Stalin was then invited by Hitler to participate in the Axis division of the global spoils.

In October 1940, Stalin sent his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to meet with Hitler in Berlin. At this meeting, Hitler offered his deal. The Führer was confident that England would soon be defeated. At that point, “the British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy,” Hitler said. “All the countries which could possibly be interested in the bankrupt estate would have to stop all controversies among themselves and concern themselves exclusively with the partition of the British Empire.” Germany would annex certain territories in Europe and central Africa; Italy would gain areas of Europe, and northern and northeastern Africa; Japan’s territorial aspirations were to be in eastern and southern Asia; and the Soviet Union’s “territorial aspirations [would] center south of the national territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.” Stalin, in other words, was being offered parts of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and British India.

Molotov replied that “everything he was about to say was identical with the views of Stalin” who had “given him exact instructions” before he left Moscow. He said that he had “followed the arguments of the Führer with interest and that he was in agreement with everything that he had understood. . . . The participation of Russia in the Tripartite [Axis] Pact [between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan] appeared entirely acceptable in principle,” Molotov said. But Stalin was interested in more than India. Soviet ambitions were closer to home in Europe and included Finland, Bulgaria, parts of Romania, and the Turkish straits leading to the Mediterranean; Stalin was also interested in the fate of Hungary and Greece. Molotov even suggested that Stalin might be interested in having Soviet military bases in Denmark, at the mouth of the Baltic Sea. Hitler’s own ambitions in Europe, however, led to a heated and angry exchange between the Führer and Stalin’s spokesman.

In spite of the harsh words spoken, after Molotov returned to Moscow, Stalin informed the German ambassador in November 1940 that “the Soviet Union is prepared to accept the draft of the Four Power Pact which the Reich Foreign Minister outlined . . . regarding political collaboration.” But Stalin still insisted on Finland’s and Bulgaria’s being viewed in the Soviet sphere of influence — and that Soviet land and naval bases be established in the Turkish straits; if the Turks objected, Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union would take “required military and diplomatic measures” to get Stalin what he wanted; and “the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognized as the center of the aspirations of the Soviet Union.”

Here was Stalin’s price for formal collaboration with Hitler. But it was a price that Hitler was unwilling to pay. “Russia,” Hitler said, “must be brought to her knees.” The Führer ordered that the plans for Operation Barbarossa — the German invasion of the Soviet Union — be set in motion.

After Stalin signed his Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939, he told some of the Politburo members: “Of course it’s all a game to see who can fool whom. I know what Hitler’s up to. He thinks he’s outsmarted me, but actually it’s I who have tricked him.” In the first months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, as the Nazi war machine advanced to the gates of Moscow and Leningrad, it did seem that, instead, Hitler had gotten the best of Stalin in this “game.”

But now, five years later, in February 1945, as Stalin sat at the table with Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta Conference, deciding the partition of the “bankrupt estate” of Europe, it was clear that Stalin had won the game. Already, Stalin had acquired from Roosevelt and Churchill almost more than he had demanded from Hitler in Europe. The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, eastern Poland, and Romanian Bessarabia were recognized as his, outright. His “unofficial” side-deals and understandings with Churchill and Roosevelt gave him a free hand in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Stalin made sure that the sections of the Yalta Protocols on “Liberated Europe” and “Poland,” that would be published at the end of the conference, would serve as the rhetorical cover for the Sovietization of Eastern Europe. Things had not gone completely according to the long-term strategy that he had laid down in 1925 for the communization of Europe, but, nonetheless, half the continent of Europe was rapidly falling into Stalin’s grip.

The issue now before the Big Three was what was to be done with Germany in the postwar period. On the second day of the conference, Stalin asked if it was their joint intention to dismember Germany. He reminded FDR and Churchill that each had presented a dismemberment plan at their meeting at Teheran in November 1943. At Teheran, on the final day of the conference, Roosevelt proposed a radical plan. Germany would be divided into five separate states. A truncated Prussia would be divided into two states, comprising north-central and northwestern Germany. The third state would be in central Germany. The fourth state would be in southern Germany, including Bavaria. And the fifth state would be carved out of western Germany. The Kiel Canal and Hamburg in the north and the Ruhr Valley and the Saarland in the west would be under permanent international control.

What Roosevelt had presented was territorially a variation of a plan put together in 1943 by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to permanently deindustrialize Germany. The Morgenthau Plan called for a political dismemberment of Germany, the stripping of Germany of all its industrial equipment and capabilities, and the forced “pastoralization” of the German population.

William Henry Chamberlain, in America’s Second Crusade (1950), summarized the consequences, if the plan had been implemented:

It is no exaggeration to say that the Morgenthau Plan, if applied in its full rigor, would have been an undiscriminating sentence of death for millions of Germans. The area in which it was proposed to forbid all heavy industries and mining is one of the most urbanized and thickly settled in Europe. It would have been impossible to turn millions of city dwellers, accustomed to earning their living in factories, offices, and shops, into self-supporting farmers, even if land had been available. . . . The avowed purpose of the Morgenthau Plan was to turn Germany into a predominantly agricultural and pastoral country. But there was no unused reserves of land for this purpose in thickly settled, industrial Germany.”

After FDR finished outlining his plan for German dismemberment at Teheran, Churchill said, “The President had said a mouthful.” But he himself had no problems with the basic idea. Churchill wanted a vengeful peace. According to his private secretary, already in September 1940, Churchill had called for taking German males and “castrating the lot.” He told his Cabinet that it might be a good idea to figure out a way for “segregating three or four million German males for some years” to prevent them from breeding.

At Teheran, Churchill offered his own dismemberment plan. Prussia would be cut off from the rest of Germany as a separate state. The southern provinces of Germany would be forced into a Danubian confederation. Stalin said that he much preferred Roosevelt’s plan. Germany had to be permanently broken up into five or six separate states. “It was far better to break up and scatter the German tribes,” he said. Furthermore, said Stalin, as part of the dismemberment of Germany, “Poland should extend [west] to the Oder [River]. . . . The Russians would help the Poles obtain a frontier on the Oder.” Roosevelt agreed with Stalin; it had been far safer in the past, FDR said, when Germany had been splintered into 107 tiny principalities.

Stalin was adamant that unless the Allies dealt forcefully with Germany, in fifteen or twenty years, the Germans would start another war. Only two conditions would prevent this: the execution of 50,000 to 100,000 German officers; and the Big Three’s retaining control of certain strategic points around Germany. This suddenly bothered Churchill, who said that the liquidation of 50,000 German officers would sully his honor as well as the honor of his country. “I would rather be taken out into the garden here and now and be shot myself,” Churchill declared.

Roosevelt tried to calm Churchill down by suggesting that only 49,000 be executed. When Churchill finally stormed out of the room, Stalin had to go and get him; putting his arm around the prime minister, Stalin assured him it was all a joke. But the mass murder of potential enemies was nothing new for Stalin. In 1940, he had ordered the execution of 14,000 captured Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.

As for control of strategic points around Germany, Stalin said that he wanted the northern half of the German province of East Prussia, including the ancient German city of Königsberg. “This would put Russia on the neck of Germany,” Stalin assured Churchill and Roosevelt. Furthermore, besides giving the Soviet Union an ice-free port in the Baltic Sea, it would give him a piece of German territory which he believed he deserved.

At the Yalta Conference, the Big Three again endorsed the dismemberment. FDR said he “was in favor of dismemberment of Germany. . . . He added that he still thought the division of Germany into five states or seven states was a good idea.” Churchill, too, stated that “the British Government was prepared to accept now the principle of dismemberment of Germany and to set up suitable machinery to determine the best method to carry it out.” In the formal Protocol of Proceedings at the end of the conference, the Big Three said: “They will take such steps, including the complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany as they deem requisite for future peace and security.”

The other main issue at Yalta concerning the future of Germany was over reparations. Roosevelt said that, unlike after the First World War, he did not want German property in the United States to be returned to their owners. “This time,” FDR said, “he would seek the necessary legislation to retain for the United States all German property for the United States.” Furthermore, he endorsed any claims the Soviet Union might make for reparations, since he did not think that German standards of living should be allowed to be higher than in the Soviet Union. Also, FDR said that he supported the use of “German manpower to reconstruct the devastated regions” in the Soviet Union; in other words, Roosevelt endorsed the use of German slave labor in Stalin’s Russia.

Under Stalin’s insistence, therefore, the Yalta agreements contained a secret protocol on reparations. Under the protocol’s terms, the Big Three agreed to:

Removals within 2 years from the surrender of Germany . . . the national wealth of Germany located on the territory of Germany herself as well as outside her territory (equipment, machine-tools, ships, rolling stock, German investments abroad, shares of industrial, transport and other enterprises in Germany, etc.). . . . Annual deliveries of goods from current production for a period to be fixed. Use of German labor [i.e., slave labor]. . . . [T]he total sum of the reparation . . . should be 20 billion dollars [about 150 billion 1990's dollars] and that 50% of it should go to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

In August 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill had met off the coast of Newfoundland and issued the Atlantic Charter. They had stated:

First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other; Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned; Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.

“All peoples” obviously did not include the Germans. For the sins of the Nazi regime, the German people were to be forcibly dissected and splintered into a number of weak, small states, with large territories in eastern Germany permanently transferred to Polish and Soviet control. The country was to be completely deindustrialized and weighed down with reparations to be paid out of its remaining, limited productive capacity for many years into the future. Population transfers in the millions would have to occur in the face of these territorial changes, and an unspecified number of Germans would see years of slave labor in the Soviet Gulag.

Notwithstanding such harsh punishment being planned for the German people, a further perversion was still to come — Franklin Roosevelt’s betrayal of a loyal wartime ally: China. Prices were still to be paid if FDR was to obtain Stalin’s intervention in the Pacific war against Japan and, more important from the president’s point-of-view, Soviet participation in his grand dream of a new global peace organization: the United Nations.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).