Rehabilitation and Moral Reconstruction for Germany

Despite harsh punishment under the Treaty of Versailles, efforts to contain Germany following World War I were weak and unsuccessful: in barely two decades, Germany amassed an even more powerful military and attempted a second takeover of Europe. It took six years for the Allied forces to defeat the Germans in World War II; they then set about the task of demilitarization and rebuilding, hoping to avoid the mistakes that followed World War I.

Summary Overview

Despite harsh punishment under the Treaty of Versailles, efforts to contain Germany following World War I were weak and unsuccessful: in barely two decades, Germany amassed an even more powerful military and attempted a second takeover of Europe. It took six years for the Allied forces to defeat the Germans in World War II; they then set about the task of demilitarization and rebuilding, hoping to avoid the mistakes that followed World War I.

In his speech, Karl Brandt (credited as Earl Brandt) expressed the necessity of separating the military and political aspects of Germany’s rehabilitation. He agreed with completely dismantling the German military and stripping it of its resources. However, he believed the political aspects required a more diplomatic approach. He emphasized that not all German citizens are bad people, and that they too suffered greatly under the Nazi regime. Additionally, the Allies undertook to defeat Germany because of the Nazis’ refusal to respect the rights of individuals and the constitutional form of government. In order to preserve the moral rationale for these actions, the Allies must approach the occupation with sound principles of justice rather than the desire to punish. Ultimately, they must help empower Germany to rebuild itself and rejoin the community of nations as a respected member.

Defining Moment

When World War I ended in 1918, world leaders and the general public alike were determined that no war of that magnitude should ever happen again. To that end, the Treaty of Versailles, signed by the Allies on June 28, 1919, provided for the demilitarization of Germany, and for reparations to be paid to countries it had damaged in the war. It also established the League of Nations, a group that would represent the combined interests of the governments of the world and promote the peaceful resolution of international disagreements.

Despite all the talk of disarmament, Germany was nonetheless able to rebuild its military to unprecedented levels in less than two decades. Then, in 1936, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler moved thirty-six thousand soldiers into the demilitarized zone of Rhineland, located on the French border. This directly violated the Treaty of Versailles, but neither France nor the United Kingdom took definitive action in response to the move. Germany thus felt empowered to take even bolder actions, eventually invading its neighbors and starting a second world war.

World War II lasted from 1939 until 1945. Once the Allies forced Germany’s surrender, they had to agree to the terms under which the German government and German infrastructure was to be rebuilt. Government leaders and the general public across the world feared a repeat of the failed attempts at demilitarization following World War I. This time, they wanted to be sure that not only was Germany’s military completely dismantled, but also that anything that could possibly serve as a tool of war was taken completely out of commission.

However, this sweeping intention could include coal mines and other natural resources, processing plants for raw materials such as steel, and transportation systems throughout Germany and the occupied territories. Compete destruction of this important infrastructure would effectively prevent Germany from rebuilding its military, but would also prevent it from rebuilding its economy, government, administration, and civilian life.

Many people wanted to see Germans punished for starting not one but two highly destructive attempts to take over the world. This included much of the public in the United States and Europe, as well as key leaders such as Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. However, others—such as the German American economist Karl Brandt—advocated a more measured and magnanimous approach to the occupation. On June 22, 1945, Brandt gave a speech before the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. He later delivered the same speech via radio address on June 24, and before the San Francisco Branch of the US Naval Academy Alumni Association on July 11. In this speech, Brandt explained his and others’ belief that leaving Germany in ruins and punishing its citizens—many of whom were oppressed under the Nazi regime themselves—would only lead to further discontent, and in turn, more war.

Author Biography

Karl Brandt was born in Essen, Germany, on January 9, 1899. He attended Wurttemberg State College of Agriculture until 1921, and received his doctorate in agriculture from the University of Berlin in 1926. He was appointed professor of agriculture at the University of Berlin, and worked with organizations such as the German Farm Tenants’ Bank and the German Short-Term Farm Credit Administration.

In 1933, as Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power, Brandt immigrated to the United States. He assumed a position as professor of agricultural economics at the New School for Social Research in New York, and devoted much effort throughout the 1930s to helping German friends and scholars immigrate to the United States. He became professor of agricultural economics at the Food Research Institute of Stanford University in California in 1938. He served as associate director beginning in 1952, and as director from 1962 to 1964. Prior to his retirement, he published more than 120 articles on a variety of topics related to economic aspects of farming, trade, and wartime management of food and agriculture. Brandt died on July 8, 1975.

Historical Document

THE tyranny which under the bloody swastika banner overwhelmed most of Europe and threatened the rest of the world, is at last broken. The earth is freed from the monsters Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, and from the gangster regime they built. The once mighty German army, fleet, and Luftwaffe are a heap of scrap—gone the shining armor, the glory, and the aggressive challenge, after almost six years of war.

After years of adversity and deadly peril, the Allied powers have prevailed chiefly because of the power, and the sacrifice in lives and wealth of the United States. Inevitably the challenge, the privilege, and the responsibility to decide about the future of Germany rest primarily upon the American people. Together with our Allies, we have defeated the Nazis, but now we must make up our minds what we shall do with 70 million prostrate Germans. This we owe to our boys who will never return, to our own future, and to our Allies.

The German people are still there, beaten, impoverished, threatened by famine—most of their cities in shambles. But still they are there, with their abilities and their gifts, and their claim as human beings to some sort of existence. The German land is there, in the very heart of Western Europe, with its resources and its strategic importance in the political and economic fabric of Europe, irrespective of the German people.

Whether Europe will have peace depends largely on how good a moral basis for that peace we build. Only if our decisions are born of intelligence, sound judgment, and true statesmanship will the sacrifices we have made not be in vain.

What I am about to say is purely my personal opinion as a private citizen who is keenly interested in the security of our country in the years to come and in the peace of tomorrow.

Born and educated in Germany, I lived and worked under the Weimar Republic, and for it. I saw the rise of the gangster regime. After tasting for six months the daily medicine of Nazi tyranny and terror, I left Germany for good, by my own initiative, came to this land of the free, and for 12 years have given my undivided loyalty to the cause of freedom. Having never compromised with the gangsters who have drenched Europe in blood and reduced to shame and shambles my former country, I take the liberty of speaking frankly, and straight from the shoulder, on this delicate subject. Freedom of speech means something only so long as we have the intellectual integrity and the civil courage to speak when the time calls for it.

The essence of what I have to suggest can be condensed into this formula: hard military and political peace terms must be combined with a policy which offers the German people the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, to find their way back into the family of nations as a respected member, to work themselves out of their poverty and misery, and to carve for their children a lot better than their own.

I know that today I have very little company in proposing such a policy. But the time will soon come when the inescapable necessity of such a course will be generally recognized, no matter what, in confused anger and bitterness, we may feel now.

Let me speak briefly about the military aspects of the peace for Germany. On this point, all of us agree. The German armed forces, including the general staff, must be abolished; equipment and military installations must be destroyed, and the revival of military activities in any form prohibited.

The enforcement of this peace clause is simple and foolproof as long as the people of the United States stand behind that policy. It may be convenient to claim that we tried that after World War I and it did not work, but that is not true. The German army and navy were not dissolved. They were merely reduced, and no effort was made to prevent full re-militarization. Neither Great Britain, France, nor the United States were interested in real demilitarization for Germany. France granted Hitler all the soldiers he wanted a few days after he grabbed power. The British did not even protest when Helgoland was fortified again. Seven years of appeasement gave Hitler the time, the rawmaterials, and in part even the credit to arm to the teeth. On top of that, the Western powers added Czechoslovakia’s 80 modern divisions to Hitler’s army, partly by omission, partly by commission. That was more troops than Great Britain and the United States combined had at the time. It changed the balance of military power by 160 divisions.

No, it is not true that demilitarization was ever attempted. If it had been, many millions of people who are now dead would be alive.

A few military intelligence officers living in Germany can watch violations of the peace, and a single international bombing squadron can enforce the law. Such a police force should act automatically under standing regulations whenever certain facts of violation are established. On this matter of demilitarization we can agree so easily because it requires little else but determination and vigilance.

We encounter difficulties, however, when we approach the political element of the peace formula, because here we have to tackle the intricate job of rehabilitation and moral reconstruction, and we have to denazify Germany. It is relatively easy to prevent rearmament, but it is tremendously much more difficult to create a new moral and psychological atmosphere in a nation which has been so thoroughly scourged by 12 years of gangsterism and total military defeat. Yet I want to put most solemn emphasis on my conviction that me lose the peace to Hitler unless we succeed with the moral reconstruction of the relations between nations, including Germany.

We broke the grip of the Nazi gang on the civilized world by using their own weapons with greater physical power. We had no other choice. But what we really tried to restore was a moral system of international law and respect for the basic tenets of constitutional government. We would indeed have attained very little if the Allied victory had accomplished nothing except the defeat of force and violence by stronger force and more effective violence.

The moral principles of the Western World, with its Judaeo-Christian foundation and its political tradition, were trampled upon and flouted in Germany, and in Germany, we must reinstate them and fortify them. Chief among these principles are genuine tolerance, respect for the inalienable rights of the individual and the family, respect for due process of law, and honesty. We forfeit the opportunity to restore these principles if we do not refrain from retribution against the vanquished and from employing the methods used by the defeated gangster regimes.

In the political sphere, the terms of unconditional surrender contain provisions for the abolition of the Nazi party and its institutions, the punishment of war criminals, and the subjugation of Germany under an Allied Control Commission. If denazification is to be effective, it must be constructed on the Western concepts of justice.

Those responsible for crimes against international or national law existing at the time and in the country where such acts were committed should be tried, and if convicted, punished under such laws. There are laws already to handle most of the crimes against civilians.

But retroactive new laws must not be arbitrarily established, lest we eliminate one of the cornerstones of the Anglo-American concepts of justice. Nor must phoney trials be held, or lynch law prevail. The damage to our own position in the world by railroading proceedings against war criminals would outweigh all possible momentary advantages.

To condemn whole groups or classes is also a violation of the basic principles of justice. We hold individuals, not classes, responsible for their acts. Moreover, we cannot punish soldiers or officers merely for acts of warfare without eliminating the legal ground upon which we stand for our own acts and those of our Allies. If we convict men for doing their duty to their country as soldiers, we descend to the level of the Japanese militarists who behead American aviators for doing just that.

The trials must be conducted so as to restore belief and faith in justice. After the war-criminal trials and the first very brief phase of occupation, peace must be declared. The idea of not declaring peace, and of making the German people a collective criminal awaiting trial for many years is destructive, for it opens the road to abuses of the principles of the Geneva Convention concerning the treatment of war prisoners, and will sabotage any effort to bring the German people back to peaceful cooperation.

There should soon be a new German government and a German administration. The new German government should be composed of representatives of all political groups—left-wing, center, and right, in so far as these groups believe in constitutional government by law. The German constitution should be based on the Swiss system of a confederacy of relatively equal cantons or states. This would mean that Prussia would be broken up into several such cantons. A Prussia broken up into several self-governing regional units would be the best guarantee against any repetition of that section’s aggressive ventures, and would make over-centralization impossible. Germany should retain her 1936 territory, particularly if neighboring countries should insist upon deporting all German minorities, and she should not be broken up as a unit. Destroying Germany as a unit would misdirect all the energies needed for a peaceful reconstruction toward the nationalistic effort of reunion.

The goal toward which the Allies must work is to make it possible for Germany one day to become a member in good standing of the United Nations, and to rekindle Germany’s interest in being such a member.

After the war criminals are brought to justice, the German people themselves must accomplish their denazification. We must cooperate as closely as we can with the good Germans who have stood against the Nazis and believe in moral principles and law.

Many a thoughtful man questions the possibility of bringing back the German youth, whom the Nazis despoiled, to a decent status. The task is an enormous one, but by no means impossible. Many of you have read Ernest Hauser’s moving story in the Saturday Evening Post called “The Dead-End Kids of Cologne.” If the greater part of Germany’s youth are no worse than those kids, there is no need to hesitate a moment about tackling the job of making good, law-abiding citizens of them. But they need employment, the satisfaction and self-respect that work bestows, and some ray of hope for a home, if their ingenuity and their energy are to be put to work for good, not evil.

Merely teaching the German people how wicked the Nazis were is only a step toward rehabilitation. Perhaps . they can educate us in that regard. Genuine rehabilitation will be under way when the young people are inspired with the positive ideals of a civilized democratic society and realize the extent to which they can contribute to it.

We should cooperate with the churches and give them the freedom to restore respect for the teachings of the religion on which our Western civilization is built The greatest heroes who have kept the torch of moral principles burning in Germany can be found among the clergy, particularly the Roman Catholics.

We should refrain from foisting foreign educational systems on the Germans, but assist their anti-Nazi educators to rebuild the school system. But we must not be so arrogant and stupid as to impose foreign teachers and foreign propaganda upon German schools, colleges, and universities, because that is the surest way of rehabilitating the defeated Nazis, In the eyes of all Germans we must become recognized clearly as the champions of all the concepts desecrated by the Nazi tyranny, as well as military conquerors of that regime. I cannot emphasize too strongly the grave obligation we have in seeing to it that we do not align ourselves by word or deed to the Nazi system as we perform our rehabilitation task in Germany. The Germans have had twelve years of it, horrible years to men of good will all over this earth, who saw the results of appeasement and compromise. Every friend of liberty is our ally in this job; we must recognize these friends—we must support them. If we do not, the world will see us as representatives of a power system no less degrading than Hitler’s. You can be sure that by our acts the friends of liberty will know us.

All of this requires that we soon abandon the humiliating policy of non-fraternization—not because it cannot be enforced—but because it penalizes those Germans on whose work we rely, and plays into the hands of the defeated gangsters.

From all these suggestions, you can see that I find myself in determined disagreement with a very articulate part of our public that calls for wholesale punishment, if not worse, for all Germans. Indeed, not only do I believe that all Germans are not vicious and guilty, but I know that a large number of the German people are just as much the victims of the Hitler gang as were all the others whom he conquered.

Before I offer some reasons and evidence of this solid conviction of mine, I want to elaborate further what I think we should do with Germany—for our own sake, not primarily for hers. In the economic realm lies the chief opportunity for establishing a society in Germany that will devote all its energies and ingenuity to the peaceful pursuit of happiness. While it is not true, as Marxian doctrine claims, that war springs exclusively from economic causes, it is still the case that persistent national economic distress promotes extreme nationalism, and therefore foments war.

The German people should, and must contribute within reasonable limits their share to the reconstruction of areas devastated by warfare, and should restore all stolen property. Wisdom of statesmen, however, should prevent the exactment of immediate reparations in kind that destroy the source from which production flows. Taking from 70 ruined cities the machines that survived strategic bombing is a means of destroying future production.

The 70 million Germans who are still there must be permitted to rebuild their shattered and ruined country, and to trade with other countries. The so-called Morgenthau plan of dismantling key industries and forcing the Germans back into agriculture will not only condemn many millions of Germans to starvation, but will impoverish Europe. There are only three hard coal basins in Europe, the two best ones being in the Ruhr and Silesia. To flood and destroy a large number of the mines, as certain experts advise, deprives Germany’s neighbors of the coal she always exported to them. In 1868 Germany had enough food for her people—then, she had 38 million people. Stripped of her industries, she would have 30 million people without means of livelihood. If we have no better plan than to destroy the best of what escaped bombing, it would be more humane to shoot those 30 or 40 million people.

There are three arguments for stripping Germany of her key industries. One claims that it is necessary to military security. This is the sort of logic that suggests that factories which make spades can make knives, and whereas knives are used by some people on other people’s throats, all factories capable of making spades must be forever destroyed. There is not a single modern industry used for war that is not needed for a civilian peacetime economy. Our American industries form the best example. In 1939 we had scarcely any war industry. Germany’s industries must be reconverted to peace and prohibited from reconverting for war, which is a very conspicuous process taking years, not months, to accomplish.

Another argument has found in Mr. Bernard Baruch a new advocate. It proposes to forbid Germany, and Japan, too, from ever exporting industrial goods, in order to prevent damage to the welfare of the American people by the product of “sweat labor.” Professor Howard S. Ellis has very ably replied, in the New York Times, that if this were sound reasoning, America must try to stop exports from Great Britain and all other United Nations as well. In fact, Mr. Baruch’s argument is being used vociferously by various industrial groups in Allied countries. The British Optical Manufacturers’ Association urges the Allies to prohibit for a generation the production of optical glass or optical products in Germany. Other people speak of dynamiting the remnants of the German chemical industry. Of course, this method of eliminating competition is in stark violation of Principle Four of the Atlantic Charter. This sort of philosophy insinuates in clear enough language that one of the purposes of our fighting World War II, and of making the sacrifices we did, was to make certain industries here more profitable, and suggests the utility of war as a means of assuring those industries of no outside competition.

The third argument is of a different nature. It claims that the destruction of German industries is necessary as a means of punishing the German nation, and an atonement for the crimes committed by the German people. This very popular and forceful argument is inspired by the desire for revenge; even in the Old Testament the Lord says that revenge is His, not man’s. Hundreds of specialists are busy devising elaborate plans for forcing the German people down to a diet and a standard of living lower than that of the poorest victimized nation, and keeping them in that sort of perpetual concentration camp. The cruel tragi-comedy is that these people believe this is the way to secure the peace.

The same punitive argument is used to justify a plan envisaging the transfer of many millions of Germans into some countries which have suffered because of German military campaigns to serve as slave laborers. If certain people anaesthetize their conscience by saying that the Nazis, too, used slave labor, they admit that they are willing to drag the peace down to the level of Nazi depravity. Two wrongs can never make a right.

Germany should be forced to do certain specific amounts of reconstruction work in foreign countries. She could organize this on a large scale by hiring voluntary workers under specific labor union contracts and accomplish the job. However, to take many millions of men, perhaps soldiers who have already served four or five years in the army, by force, into slave camps abroad is something for which there has been no parallel in history since the Babylonian exile of the Jews 570 years before Christ.

I am not primarily concerned with political effects in Germany, but rather with the immeasurable harm it will do to the restoration of moral principles with which the reconstruction of a world of law and order must stand or fall.

All that I have said rests upon the foundation of my judgment that the German people consist of individuals who, as other people, are potentially capable of being good citizens of the world, and therefore arc not collectively guilty and collectively punishable for the atrocious crimes committed by the Nazi government and many individual Germans.

I fully share the horror, disgust, and anger of the American public about these crimes. I know only too well, though, that these emotions, natural as they are, will certainly blur our vision and our reason. If we permit these emotions to control our faculty of critical and cool reason and mature judgment, we are well on our way to being conquered by the evil spirit of the defeated men of ill will. Unfortunately, the brutality of a cruel enemy has temporarily brutalized our own thinking, as all of you realize from the sort of language that has crept into our newspapers and magazines, and from the tone of letters to the editors. If we do not stem this process, we will be unable to establish a sane and decent peace.

At present, the most common line of emotional reasoning runs as follows: The Nazis have organized the beastliest atrocities with scientific scrutiny and industrial efficiency. The German people knew about them and did not do anything about it. Therefore all Germans are to blame for Hitler, the SS, the Gestapo, and all that they have committed. There are no good Germans. All Germans are congenitally and racially vicious. They were always that way, and even in defeat and misery they are arrogant, and therefore incorrigible. Not only do I read this story day in and day out, but throughout the country I am asked why it is that all the Germans are obviously degenerates. I accept the facts about the sickening atrocities, but I refuse to jump so quickly to such plausible, and yet such painfully false conclusions.

To begin with, I find myself in wholehearted agreement with the authoritative statement about the background of those crimes in Mr. Justice Jackson’s recent report to the President about the prosecution of war criminals. He says, “Early in the Nazi regime, people of this country came to look upon the Nazi Government as not constituting a legitimate state pursuing the legitimate objectives of a member of the international community. They came to view the Nazis as a band of brigands, set on subverting within Germany every vestige of a rule of law which would entitle an aggregation of people to be looked upon collectively as a member of the family of nations.

Our people were outraged by the oppressions, the crudest forms of torture, the large-scale murder, and the wholesale confiscation of property which initiated the Nazi regime in Germany. They witnessed persecution of the greatest enormity on religious, political, and racial grounds, the breakdown of trade unions, and the liquidation of all religious and moral influences.”

You notice that Justice Jackson states vividly how brigands and gangsters enslaved first the German people by terror for seven long years, before the eyes and ears of the world. It was well known in all other countries that the first victims of Nazi atrocities and acts of sadism and brutality were Germans. Sadly enough, neither the free people of Great Britain, or the free people of the United States, did anything about these outrages against civilization—except that they accepted large numbers of refugees.

Here in San Francisco, we accepted a convicted murderer, Baron von Killinger, as consul-general of the Nazi regime, over the protest of German refugees. The British Government, in 1939, issued the Second White Book on Nazi Germany entitled “Papers concerning the Treatment of German Nationals” with a full account of the torture and killing of German nationals in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Unfortunately, His Majesty’s government published these documents only after Hitler invaded Poland, because during the years of appeasement it did not want to aggravate relations with the gangster government.

Ever since March 1933 our government in Washington has been entirely aware of the wholesale torture of the peaceful Germans. From 1939 through the spring of 1945, the torture and liquidation of Germans in camps was only increased in scope, and the system perfected in the years before 1939 was merely applied as well to other peoples.

All Germans knew about it. I did, a few days after it began. Two of my own farm laborers were among the first inmates of the camp at Oranienburg, just a few miles from my farm. Why did I not do anything about it? For the simple reason that soon I was completely paralyzed by fright; and terror, as I am sure every one of you would have been. A day after Hitler came to power, terror was in effect. You had a choice, then, between being quiet or being silenced in torture camps. I had voted against Hitler, and I was well known to be an anti-Nazi. I plotted with good and solid friends, many of whom paid with their lives, kicked and beaten to bloody pulp by the same type of criminal we execute here for murder, but who, there, went into uniform. To this day I have not found in the United States a single person who could tell me specifically what I or any other German should have done to stop the Gestapo, the SA, or the SS from torturing people to death.

I saw very clearly that I would land and end very quickly in a camp. However, being a coward and no hero, and clinging to this little bit of life for myself and my wife, I chose to leave everything behind, and came to these shores where I had many good friends. But millions of the best Germans neither had the opportunity to emigrate, nor did they want to give up what they loved. My fullest sympathy and my deep respect is with them. Through no fault of their own, they have lost their beloved ones, their possessions, their honor, and their country.

In twelve happy years of my second life in America, I have grown very fond of the many excellent qualities of our people, but I have not been able to convince myself that American men and women are made of essentially different timber than the good Germans I have known. I am convinced that under the same system of terror by a well organized, omnipresent, and brutal secret police, they would be just as hopelessly trapped as the good Germans were. In fact, I know that they have been, where sectional reigns of terror have allowed gang warfare to take away civil rights, and men to be tortured and murdered who dared to speak out, regardless of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. These sectional reigns of terror were brought to a halt only because the brigands did not capture the whole government, as they did in Germany. During a year in Louisiana, I made a post-mortem study on Huey Long’s regime. It was sadly similar to that which happened in Germany.

You will perhaps ask why the Germans didn’t do something to rid themselves of Hitler and his henchmen. The answer to that is they did. Half a dozen attempts to assassinate him were made—by rifle, dynamite, and bomb. Many thousands of men have been slaughtered in revenge for these attempts. Adam von Trott zu Solz, a Rhodes scholar, who was my guest here in 1940, organized the last and greatest plot in July 1944, with associates in all spheres of life and in the highest ranks of the army. Long before D-Day this group had solid contact with the Allies, and wanted desperately to end the war after killing Hitler. They failed as you know, and died on the gallows. Several thousand other anti-Nazi Germans of all political shades and religious denominations were simultaneously slaughtered in reprisal.

No, by far not all Germans are guilty for the depravity of the Nazis. Or, if in the face of the evidence they should be declared guilty, then I, and the 100,000 Germans who came to this country as refugees are guilty, too—along with Thomas Mann, Chancellor Bruning, Albert Einstein, and many another citizen of the world.

If this guilt lies in the blood, what about the many millions of good Americans of German descent, including our leading generals and admirals, former presidents, senators, congressmen, and leaders of industry? If individual German civilians who were in the trap are guilty for not having stopped Hitler, why are not the statesmen of the great powers, who fed whole nations—such as Austria and Czechoslovakia—to the beast in order to appease it, guilty as well?

Why did Hitler have such an easy game in cowing and terrorizing all the conquered countries almost overnight? Because he found in all of them large numbers of nationals to do the dirty job of coercing, torturing, and killing their fellow citizens for him. The Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, French, Czech, and Polish quislings were Hitler’s and Himmler’s pals—the good Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Czechs, and Poles were their sworn enemies.

Any society, or any nation, has that potentially vicious element. Once it gets in the saddle, the terror, the torture, and the atrocities naturally follow. If you want proof, read the history of the French Revolution, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, or the several Russian revolutions and counter measures.

Naturally, the negative emotions of hatred, revenge, and bitterness affect nothing so much as our judgment about the German people. Eventually these emotions lure us onto the slippery pavement of self-righteousness and the cheap illusion that fortunately we are free from all such faults. Let us not lose our compass in a heavy sea. Here in our midst we have people who are potentially excellent candidates for an SS or a Gestapo. What about those honorable fellow citizens who throw dynamite and shoot in the dark at the three-star mothers of Nisei soldiers, or those delightful compatriots who, on my last trip on the Super-Chief, spouted their anti-semitic venom in a loud voice through the whole dining car? These are members of our society who are dyed-in-the-wool Hitlerites without knowing it. So is a scholar who recently said that all the 70 million Germans are not worth the life of even one American boy. He does not know that he quotes verbatim what Hitler said about the Poles. Let us be eternally on guard that these men of ill will never get in the saddle.

I am confident that the American public in the near future will endorse a hard but a just peace for the German people that will open the way to political and economic rehabilitation. We are duty-bound to accomplish this task for our own future. If we fail, our Allies closer to the scene will not, because they know too well the disastrous consequences involved in leaving 70 million people to starve in the midst of ruin and desperation.

Next winter, and in the spring of 1946, without relief from the outside, five or six million German men, women and children will die of starvation. This is no fanciful exaggeration. If the trend of policy continues as it is now drifting, those people will most assuredly die. UNRRA is not permitted to help Germans. The occupying powers must act. The test of America’s willingness to endorse a hard, just peace will come during this period, because these millions of human beings can be kept alive by some shipments from America’s surplus wheat, dry beans, and peas.

If we do nothing to prevent this impending food catastrophe, and let the innocent perish with the guilty, we will smother in bitterness the beginning of rehabilitation, and we will frustrate forever the desire of all the good Germans to cooperate with us in the denazification of their people. Many nations who are united with us mostly in form but much less in spirit will put the blame for such catastrophe under United States and British military government squarely upon us.

The death of millions of Germans under our occupation would cause the greatest embarrassment to our nation—abroad, and here at home. Morally, politically, and socially, America cannot afford to take that risk.


anaesthetize: alternative spelling of anesthetize, which means to render physically insensible

brigand: a bandit, especially one of a band of robbers

canton: a small territorial district, especially one of the states of the Swiss confederation

envisage: to contemplate; visualize

non-fraternization: opposite of fraternization, which means to associate in a fraternal or friendly way

quisling: a person who betrays his or her own country by aiding an invading enemy; fifth columnist

Document Analysis

After more than five years of fighting, the Allied forces defeated the German military and the Nazi Party, bringing an end to World War II. In his speech, Karl Brandt explains that the United States was instrumental in this success, and now has “the challenge, the privilege, and the responsibility” to determine the future of Germany and the German people. “Whether Europe will have peace depends largely on how good a moral basis for that peace we build,” he says.

Brandt believes that the most successful approach to building peace in Europe is to take a hard stance on military actions, while taking a peaceful political approach that will allow Germans to rebuild their country, work their way out of poverty, and “find their way back into the family of nations as a respected member.”

He agrees with many analysts that the German armed forces, including their equipment and military installations, must be completely destroyed. He believes this was not sufficiently pursued following World War I, and many governments chose to ignore the signs that Hitler was rebuilding a significant military. Rather than simply reducing the size of the military, as was done following World War I, the German military must be completely dissolved.

The political aspect is more challenging. He understands why the public is angry with the German people, but implores them to recognize that the average German had little to no control over what was happening to them. Those who protested or attempted to thwart the system were killed or imprisoned, and Germans had been subject to the terrors of the Nazi rule for several years prior to its occupation of Europe. He says it would be a “violation of the basic principles of justice” to condemn all of the German people to suffering and starvation as punishment for the actions of a criminal regime.

Additionally, since the Allies undertook to defeat Germany because the Nazis were violating the right of individuals and the “basic tenets of constitutional government,” they must avoid subjecting the German people to the same conditions that the Nazis were forcing upon people. New laws must not be established arbitrarily simply to punish the Germans, trials of war criminals must be fair and held to the standards of fair government, and the Geneva Convention must be followed.

The Allies must help Germany create a new government and administration, composed of representatives of all political groups. Germany must be allowed to continue to exist and govern as a whole, and the German people must accomplish their own “denazification.” He says that to facilitate this, the Allies must work with German people who “believe in moral principles and law” to rebuild.

Essential Themes

At the conclusion of World War II, many German citizens had been only tangentially involved in the war, and were facing potential starvation and homelessness from the resulting destruction of government, administration, and economy. The Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers, signed by representatives of the Allied forces on June 5, 1945, established rules of disarmament and occupation of Germany. However, it required much negotiation before the Allies finally agreed on these rules.

As the “big three” Allied Forces—Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States—met to discuss peace treaties in 1945, differences of opinion emerged. Initially, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt was willing to allow Europe and the Soviet Union to demand significant reparations from Germany for starting the war. But his successor, President Harry Truman, preferred to exercise caution: by that time, many suspected that the harsh punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles had set up Germany for economic failure despite rebuilding efforts, and the resulting difficulties created an environment that eventually led to World War II.

Back on the home front, Americans likewise harbored strong opinions about how Germany ought to be dealt with. Many had sacrificed greatly during the previous six years, and lost fathers, brothers, and sons to the war. They were not so quick to forgive Germany’s second attempt at world domination, and wanted to see the country and its citizens punished for the damage they caused.

As a German immigrant to the United States just prior to the war, Brandt was a vocal proponent of a more measured approach to German rehabilitation. Speaking directly to the American public, he expressed that the military and political aspects of rehabilitating Germany must be separated: while the military must be completely dismantled, the political aspects must be handled more diplomatically. He asked Americans to empathize with the average German citizen, who was just as powerless to stand up against the Nazi regime as they were. And he emphasized that most Germans want to be good citizens of the world, and had the potential to do so if given the opportunity. Thus, he implored people to focus on helping Germany rebuild itself under sound principles of justice, rather than on unilaterally punishing the entire country for the wrongdoing of a specific group. His approach comported with the spirit of justice under which the Allies sought to defeat Germany, and was also intended to prevent a resurgence of postwar social and economic strife that some believe set the stage for World War II.

Bibliography and Additional Reading

  • Bark, Dennis L., and David R. Gress.A History of West Germany, Volume 1: From Shadow to Substance, 1945–1963. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. Print.
  • Campbell, W. Glenn, Walter P. Falcon, and William O. Jones. “Memorial Resolution: Karl Brandt (1899–1975).” 1975. Historical Society. Stanford U, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
  • Milward, Alan S.The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945–51. London: Routledge, 1987. Print.
  • Shuster, Richard J.German Disarmament after World War I: The Diplomacy of International Arms Inspection, 1920–1931. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.
  • “Treaty of Versailles, 1919: Impact of World War I.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 20 June 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.