Life in post-war Germany
You are in: surefish > faith
Date: 08 July, 2005

'Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, in his sermon declared that theft in times of an existence-threatening emergency was acceptable; on Cologne's railway station, 900 tons of coal per day 'disappeared'.'


What was life like in Germany immediately after the Second World War? The following was written by Alexander Ganse from KMLA

On May 8th, Germany surrendered unconditionally (to Soviet forces on May 9th), and ceased to exist as a state.

The Allies had previously agreed on partitioning Germany in three zones of occupation - a large Soviet zone in the east, a British zone in the Northwest and an American zone in the Southwest.

Austria was to be separated again from Germany, as was the Saarland, again to be placed under French administration until it's future would be decided by a later vote.

Germany's territories located east of the Oder and Neisse rivers were given to Poland in compensation for it's eastern territories which remained part of the USSR; the Northern half of East Prussia was annexed by Russia.

The German population of these territories, as well as the German population of territories located within the borders of restored eastern European States such as Czechoslovakia (the Sudeten Germans), Hungary, Yugoslavia etc. was expelled.


The total number of refugees moving into what remained of Germany exceeded 10 million. Breslau, Germany's second largest city, was renamed Wroclaw, Danzig, the city of Schopenhauer, Gdansk, Koenigsberg, the city of Kant, Kaliningrad.

In Germany, a 4th zone of occupation was established by the recognition of France as a victorious power; this zone was located in the southwest. Berlin was treated separately, partitioned in four sectors.

Germans refer to May 8th 1945 as the Stunde Null (hour zero), in which life started again. The nightmare of 12 years of Nazi regime, the rule of terror, had ended. For everyone, the most serious problem was how to survive the next week or so.

In the last weeks of the war, both state and economy had virtually collapsed. There was plenty of money, but there were hardly any goods to buy. Prices were still regulated, so the store shelves were empty - who had something to offer didn't want to sell cheap. People toured the countryside, went from farm to farm trying to trade their Persian carpet for a bag of potatoes.

Surrogate currency

US soldiers, who were supplied with free chocolate and cigarettes, seeing the despair of the people, generously distributed those, especially to children and to girls. US cigarettes soon became a surrogate currency, on the emerging black market everything was paid for in cigarettes.

On December 31st 1946, in the middle of the first severe post-war winter, Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, in his sermon declared that theft in times of an existence-threatening emergency was acceptable; the acquisition of coal, wood etc. without pay then became known as "Fringsen". On Cologne's railway station, 900 tons of coal per day 'disappeared'.

Most of Germany's major cities were destroyed to a degree of 50-70 %, as a result of air bombardment. 70 % destroyed means that 70 % of the buildings were in such a condition that they had been declared unsafe; nobody could live in there. The population had been crammed in what was left.

In one apartment, 3-4 families were living. The stream of incoming refugees further worsened the situation. As a result of six years of war, the population consisted largely of children, women and the aged. Adult men between 18 and 55 years of age were in short supply, and of these many had been crippled.


The task of removing the rubble from the streets, of repairing the houses (the houses which were inhabited were also damaged, only not to an extent that they threatened to collapse every moment), as well as the task to restart the economy fell on the women (Truemmerfrauen).

The winters of 1945/46 and 1946/47 were the worst Germans can remember. They were cold, and as many houses were still damaged, there was a lack of fuel (coal) and people were undernourished, many starved or froze to death.

The British and the Americans, in their respective zones, did their best to alleviate the situation. The US Red Cross distributed addresses of German families to US citizens who were descendants of German emigrants and, in many cases, relatives of those in need.

Americans sent care parcels containing durable goods extremely scarce in war-torn Germany. The British efforts to prevent the German population from starvation stressed the country's economy (which had not recovered from five years of war either) to the limit. During this process, the population of West Germany began to regard the British and Americans as liberators rather than occupants.


Allied plans as to how to deal with defeated Germany had been vague. There were various plans to undo German unification, to break it up into region states. In 1946, region states were established in all four zones of occupation, democratically elected, with limited authority (the military administration still was in control).

The Morgenthau Plan foresaw Germany to be transformed into an agricultural nation. The Allies did agree on one policy: Denazification. Germans who wanted to take a political office, to work as public servants, as teachers, judges, policemen etc. needed a paper documenting that they had not been active Nazis. The paper was christened Persilschein, after a well-known detergent.

In their respective zones, the occupying forces increasingly influenced the direction political life was taking. In the west, the reestablishment of democratic parties was encouraged - the CDU as a party representing the Christian politicians (uniting the Protestants and Catholics), the FDP as the liberal party (uniting progressive and national liberals), the SPD. The KPD (communists) were tolerated, but the military administration preferred to see them not in governing positions.


It became obvious that the western and eastern zones of occupation were developing in different directions. By 1947 the British were no more able to supply the Germans in their sector with sufficient food and fuel to keep the people from starving and freezing. They applied for US assistance.

The Americans now adopted a new priority in their policy toward Germany: the country should be put in a state that it could sustain itself - the economy had to be vitalised. Also, the advance of communism should be halted.

The American and British zones were united to form an economic unit, the Bi-zone (later joined by the French, so that in formed the Tri-zone). In 1948, the Allies tacitly permitted Ludwig Erhardt and the German Central Bank to proceed with a currency reform, establishing the D-Mark as the country's new, hard currency. The exchange rate was 1.000 Reichsmark = 1 DM.

Everybody was given a start sum of 40 DM. The black market collapsed immediately; miraculously, the shelves in the shops were filled with goods.

The Soviets were furious about this currency reform, conducted without even informing them. What was left of Germany now was divided in four regions - West Germany (the US, British and French zones of occupation), East Germany (the Soviet zone), West Berlin (the western sectors) and East Berlin (the Eastern sector).

Visit the KMLA website

© Christian Aid - the Christian community website from Christian Aid

Christian Aid is a member of the