Background of Post-WWII German History
In post WWII years of 1949-1958, 375,000 Germans immigrated to the United States.
In the 1950s and 60s about 786,000 Germans immigrated to the United States.
I will provide a description of Germany at the finish of World War II which will demonstrate why many people chose to immigrate to countries such as the United States. My goal is to not go into great detail about the political intricacies of WWII, rather to create an image of the circumstances that will help explain why many Germans, including my relatives, left their home-country to create a new life in America.
Upon the ending of the Second World War, the Allies, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, arrived to occupy the war-torn and defeated Germany. The Allies viewed themselves as the “victors” as opposed to the liberators of the German people. Security of the Allies and reconstruction were the two main concerns of the victors. Actions made in order to fulfill these two goals, as well as the effects of war itself made for a difficult life for the Germans which in no way mirrored the country in the pre-war era.
To fulfill the first goal of security, the Allies arrested people whom they believed threatened security. In 1945, The United States made 117,500 arrests, Britain 90,000-100,000, French 21,500, and the Soviet Union 122,671 (of which 42,889 died in internment camps and 766 were executed). Prisoners of War taken by British and Americans were relatively lucky as the majority survived and were released by 1948. The USSR on the other hand took their POWs and deported them to the Soviet Union where the last ones returned in 1955; many still remain unaccounted for. The Allies imposed strict curfews and confiscated items that were deemed a threat to their lives.
As for reconstruction, the Allies’ objective was to “establish German administration to which a military government could give orders” (174 Bessler). Therefore, the Allied governments renamed streets and public buildings that reflected former German government or military figures. They also established a non-fraternization policy which stated that Allies cannot become friends, let alone interact with German citizens. They also took over homes and offices to set up temporary government headquarters.
Besides the actions of the Allied governments, hyperinflation, depression, a food crisis, coal shortage, and massive unemployment plagued Germans into the 1950s and 60s. Loss of farmland in the former East Prussian province plus the need to feed millions of refugees contributed to a food crisis. Poor harvests also affected the food supply; in 1945 the total harvest of bread grain in the French zone was less than half of what it was in 1938. The amount harvested was enough to cover only half of the zone’s food requirements. Malnutrition had a ripple effect in the economy: the less nourished the population, the less hard labor individuals were capable of doing. As of August 1945, the American official ration for normal consumers was 1550 calories per day, although people did not always receive this amount because food was often unavailable. The German economy in the early 20th century had relied on coal for heating and fueling industry. Due to the damage to the railroads, coal was unable to be transported. Coal shortages as well as overall infrastructure destruction led to widespread unemployment. “Altogether, the loss of the former eastern regions of Germany, combined with the wartime destruction of industry and transport infrastructure, effectively removed 4.7 million jobs from the German economy—that is, about 15% of the positions in Germany when war was launched in 1939” (355 Bessel).