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The Allied Occupation of Germany

The Refugee Crisis, Denazification and the Path to Reconstruction


Francis Graham-Dixon


International Library of Twentieth Century History, vol. 70

London: I.B. Tauris, 2013

Hardcover. xiii+348 p. ISBN 978-1780764658. £59.50


Reviewed by Armin Grünbacher

University of Birmingham



To say it right at the beginning: the book does only to a very small extent deliver what the title promises. The Allied Occupation of Germany provides only a small backdrop for the wider topic of British refugee policy, leaving the suspicion that in the age of quick key-word searches, the publisher had the title adapted for the benefit of sales figures. Allied occupation policies in the sense of the word are mentioned in passing but the book is really about British refugee policy in Germany and the developing refugee crisis in the British occupation zone and especially in the hardest hit state of Schleswig-Holstein and in this field Graham-Dixon does a good job.

In the first of seven chapters the case for a revision of the existing research on British refugee policy against the backdrop of international law and supposed British ‘moral leadership’ [17] is outlined. Chapter two deals with British public and political opinion on Germany and Germans as it developed during the war; this is possibly the book’s weakest chapter. The analysis of the language used in Britain to justify the bombing campaign, for example, looks somewhat misplaced, even as an attempt to show German civilian suffering. The next chapter, ‘Realities of Occupation’, is also trying to find flaws with the direction of British occupation policy but the harsh criticism of the British trials of German generals and Field Marshals in 1949 is misplaced, in particular when compared to the American decisions to carry out death sentences on convicted war criminals as late as June 1951. Nevertheless, Graham-Dixon’s judgement that ‘Germany managed to survive and rebuild itself economically despite Britain’s interventions and not because of it’ [105] holds a lot of truths, even if it neglects to consider wider international implications, for example coal exports to France and the rest of Western Europe.

Chapter four, the case study of British policy and the refugee situation in Schleswig-Holstein, is the centre piece of the book and explores the ‘difference between British rhetoric and reality’ [128]. Graham-Dixon argues that British policies were always more about ‘prestige’ than the actual wellbeing of the refugees [140ff]. In face of the huge social problems of the refugee crisis in Schleswig Holstein, where in 1948 almost half the population were refugees and where statistically a person had only 3.7 sqm accommodation [154] to live in he argues that British Military Government passed the responsibility for the refugees to German authorities but failed to grant them the corresponding powers necessary to deal with the crisis adequately. While the chapter highlights the contrasts between the official Military Government publications and British reports from occupation authorities on the ground and highlights the declining German morale as late as 1948, this should have been compared with overall refugee developments in other parts of the British occupation zone and the American zone to allow a sharper contrast and better understanding.

Chapter five expands on Anglo-German differences and analyses German reactions to British occupation policies and their failures and shortcomings. Here the impact of unemployment and dismantling are highlighted as well as the inconsistency of British housing requisition policies. The penultimate chapter summarises the contradiction in British Military occupation policies and then provides a very fine link to present day refugee and immigration debate. The final chapter, ‘The Janus Faces of Occupation, 1949-1955’ goes beyond the refugee issues and deals with questions that persisted after the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949: the absence of a peace treaty between the Federal Republic and the Western Allies; the ongoing dismantling in the British occupation zone; the question of prominent war criminals, especially from the old officer corps; and the fate of Heligoland.

Based on a wide range of archival sources, in particular a very good reading of the otherwise less used Kreis Residence Officer files, Graham-Dixon does a good job in highlighting Allied and especially British shortcomings in their dealings with German refugees, even if he seems occasionally to overshoot his target, for example creating the impression that once the Germans became responsible for the refugees things went instantly better and that they improved the lot of the refugees out of sheer humanitarianism and not out of political concerns for Realpolitik [e.g. p. 229]. There are also a good number of small and unnecessary mistakes, ranging from very poor grammar [75ff], something the publisher should have picked up, to factual mistakes. Hans Schlange-Schöningen was not head of the German Economic Council [197, 206], he was Director of Food, Agriculture and Forestry in the Verwaltungsrat für Wirtschaft; the August Thyssen Hütte is in Duisburg, not Duisberg and the Wattensted Salzgitter steel plant is near, not in, Brunswick [both p. 254]; the DKP in 1949/50 is the Deutsche Konservative Partei and not the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei [ix, 217], the latter being founded only in 1968 as a replacement of the banned KPD.

Having said this, these mistakes are annoying but should not distract from the fact that large sections for the book go against the grain of previous research on the fate of German refugees in the post-war years and the role the British had in it. It is a good complement, for example to R.M. Douglas’s Orderly and Humane : The Expulsion of Germans after the Second World War (Yale UP, 2012). For this reason alone, the book is worth reading.


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