27th January 2007
Noel Annan was a senior officer in the Political Division of the British Military Government in Germany immediately after the Second World War. He reported to Christopher Steel, who in turn worked for the political adviser, William Strang (see last week's posting). He left Germany and returned to Britain in August 1946.
During the war Annan worked in the Joint Intelligence Staff in the Cabinet Office. After the war he had a distinguished career as an academic, becoming Provost of Kings College Cambridge in 1956, Provost of University College London in 1966 and a Life Peer in 1965. He is probably best known as the chair of the Royal Commission on Broadcasting, generally known as the Annan Committee.
In last week's posting on William Strang, I contrasted some of Annan's writing on Germany with Strang's autobiography 'Home and Abroad'. This week I thought it would be interesting to quote some more extracts from 'Changing Enemies', Annan's memoirs of his time in Germany, published in 1995. This provides a personal, and sometimes idiosyncratic account of the times. Here are a few extracts:
In the introduction he explains the choice of title:
"The second part of the book describes the beginning of the regeneration of Germany and the minor part I took in reviving German political parties. We had changed enemies. Soviet Russia was imposing communist regimes upon the Soviet Zone and in Eastern Europe. It was not in our interest to acquiesce in a centralised Germany that would bring communism to the Rhine; nor in the interests of the Germans to substitute for Nazism another one-party dictatorship. It was odious to find oneself in alliance with people who had been willing to go along with Hitler to keep communism at bay. But the best hope for the West was to encourage the Germans themselves to create a Western democratic state. It was also in Germany's interests."
The first chapter is titled "Britain's new colony." He describes early (1943-44) US and British plans for post-war Germany as follows:
"What should be done with Germany? At first there had been much talk of dismemberment and returning to the days before the Zollverein, or customs union, was formed, the first stage in the unification of Germany in the nineteenth century. Roosevelt and Stalin were still talking dismemberment at Yalta, [in February 1945], and Churchill and Eden went along with them, but both knew Whitehall was sceptical....
"Meanwhile Roosevelt had become enchanted by his old friend and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau's plan for the future of Germany.... Four million Germans would be shifted from industry into agriculture and transported to farm lands east of Berlin. The Allied occupation was to last for twenty years, and no assistance should be given to the German economy. The plan was solemnly initialled by Roosevelt and Churchill at Quebec in September 1944....
"In the winter of 1944-45 it became clear that Stalin was going to shift Poland's frontiers to the west, and the land Morgenthau had earmarked for the four million displaced Germans would be farmed by Poles, not Germans....
"The Morgenthau plan died at the Potsdam conference of July-August 1945, but its ghost walked for many months and bedevilled occupation policy."
(For more on the Morgenthau Plan, see the Wikipedia article)
When the new Labour Government came to power in Britain in 1945, Prime Minister Attlee and Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin were in a dilemma:
"They wanted good relations with the Soviet Union, and had been shocked by a paper written by the Chiefs of Staff who argued that if Russia turned hostile Britain would have to incorporate as large a part of Germany as possible within the Western sphere."
The key issue was reparations. The Russians were asking for a share of the output of the German coalmines in the Ruhr, which was in the British zone. But the British wanted to keep the level of reparations low and the capacity of German industry relatively high, to reduce the costs of occupation and the burden on the British taxpayer.
"The decision about reparations, and the British expostulation that it would be the British as well as the Germans who would be paying the price, established the matrix for the future of Germany. All talk about a central government - reunification, de-Nazification, frontiers and the rest - was secondary to the decision about reparations. That decision determined that the Western powers would be responsible for the German economy in their zones."
In other words, according to Annan, it was the issue of reparations, which led to each of the Allies wanting to run the economies of their own zones in Germany in their own way, for their own benefit, which was the prime cause of the division of Germany after the war, between West and East.
On the situation in Germany immediately after the war, and the attitudes of the British military personnel and administrators, he says the following, echoing many other eye-witness accounts:
The "spectacle of misery pervaded one's life" and "the memory of Germany in defeat has never faded from my mind ... Particularly since we, [the British] the new lords of creation, swept by in our cars bound for some snug [officers'] mess remote from hunger and cold....
"When P.J. Grigg, Secretary of State for War, saw the man [Gerald Templer] whom Montgomery appointed to be Military Governor of the British zone, he told him he must resign himself to the fact that two million people would die of starvation in Europe after the war...."
(Fortunately this didn't happen, but looking back sixty years later, it's sometimes easy to forget how close parts of Europe were to famine and starvation after the war. I wrote about this a year ago in my posts on Bread Rationing in Britain).
In 'Changing Enemies', Annan describes how: "Templer's energy transformed the British zone. Military Government officers, who had previously spent happy hours commandeering the best houses and stocking up the messes with wine and schnapps, found themselves working late hours reconstituting the German administration and putting Templer's emergency plans into operation....
"Who were these new rulers in Germany whom Templer galvanised? Some were senior officers, generals and brigadiers, who a few months earlier had been commanding military units. Indeed during 1945 most of the Military Government detachments were manned by army officers, some like myself waiting to be demobilised.... Then there were the civilians, many wearing ill-fitting uniforms and somewhat despised by the regular officers. Some were civil servants. Ministries had been asked to release experienced administrators, but few were willing to let their best men and women go when Britain was converting from a war to a peacetime economy. Others came from the Colonial Service. Some were young idealists who hoped for a lifetime career in the Control Commission - described by Con O'Neill of the Foreign Office as 'low-level' zealots.' Quite a few, singularly lacking in zeal, were there for the pickings."
And as a final quote from the book, here is the response from German politicians to a speech Annan made to them in December 1945, on plans to hold the first democratic elections in the British zone after the war:
"The response was touching: 'This news is better for us that white bread' said one old social democrat. Here were men with sallow faces and with the strained expression that hunger gives, men who were prepared to devote themselves to the unrewarding task of being a politician. I recognised during the time I spent in Germany a spirit of dedication to parliamentary democracy which sprang from the knowledge of what dictatorship had been, and still was in the Soviet Zone of Germany. I have never failed to be struck by this spirit whenever I have returned to the Federal Republic."