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10-08-2015, 22:17

WEST GERMANY: THE ECONOMIC MIRACLE

The unification of the three Western zones into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) became a reality in 1949. Konrad Adenauer (1876 –1967), the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), served as chancellor from 1949 to 1963 and became the “founding hero” of the FRG. Adenauer, who had opposed Hitler and his tyrannical regime, sought respect for Germany by cooperating with the United States and the other Western European nations. He was especially desirous of reconciliation with France—Germany’s longtime rival. The beginning of the Korean War in June 1950 had unexpected repercussions for West Germany. The fear that South Korea might fall to the Communists led many in the West to worry about the security of West Germany and inspired calls for German rearmament. Although some people, concerned about a revival of German militarism, condemned this proposal, Cold War tensions were decisive. West Germany rearmed in 1955 and became a member of NATO. The Adenauer era witnessed the resurrection of the West German economy, often referred to as the “economic miracle.” Although West Germany had only 75 percent of the population and 52 percent of the territory of prewar Germany, by 1955 the West German GNP exceeded that of prewar Germany. Real wages doubled between 1950 and 1965, even though work hours were cut by 20 percent. Unemployment fell from 8 percent in 1950 to 0.4 percent in 1965. To maintain its economic expansion, West Germany imported hundreds of thousands of “guest” workers, primarily from Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. The capital of the Federal Republic had been placed at Bonn, a sleepy market town on the Rhine River, to erase memories of the Nazi era, when the capital was at Berlin. Still, the country was troubled by its past. The surviving major Nazi leaders had been tried and condemned as war criminals at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1945 and 1946. As part of the denazification of Germany, the victorious Allies continued to try lesser officials for war crimes, but these trials diminished in number as the Cold War produced a shift in attitudes. By 1950, German courts had begun to take over the war crimes trials, and the German legal machine persisted in prosecuting cases. Beginning in 1953, the West German government also began to make payments to Israel and to Holocaust survivors and their relatives to make some restitution for, in the words of German president Richard von Weizsäcker, “the unspeakable sorrow that occurred in the name of Germany.” After the Adenauer era ended in the mid-1960s, the Social Democrats became the leading party. By forming a ruling coalition with the small Free Democratic Party, the Social Democrats remained in power until 1982. The first Social Democratic chancellor was Willy Brandt (1913– 1992). Brandt was especially successful with his “opening toward the east” (known as Ostpolitik), for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972. On March 19, 1971, Brandt met with Walter Ulbricht, the leader of East Germany, and worked out the details of a treaty that was signed in 1972. This agreement did not establish full diplomatic relations with East Germany but did call for “good neighborly” relations. As a result, it led to greater cultural, personal, and economic contacts between West and East Germany. Despite this success, the discovery of an East German spy among Brandt’s advisers caused his resignation in 1974. His successor, Helmut Schmidt (b. 1918), was more of a technocrat than a reform-minded socialist and concentrated on the economic problems brought about largely by high oil prices between 1973 and 1975. Schmidt was successful in eliminating a deficit of 10 billion marks in three years. In 1982, when the coalition of Schmidt’s Social Democrats with the Free Democrats fell apart over the reduction of social welfare expenditures, the Free Democrats joined with the Christian Democratic Union of Helmut Kohl (b. 1930) to form a new government.

 

 

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