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A picture of a conference session including Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Joseph Stalin, William D.
Leahy, James F.
Byrnes, and Harry S.

Clement Attlee, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, July 1945.

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhofmarker, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdammarker, occupied Germany, from 17 July to 2 August 1945. Participants were the Soviet Unionmarker, the United Kingdommarker, and the United Statesmarker. The three nations were represented by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and later Clement Attlee, and President Harry S. Truman.Stalin, Churchill, and Truman — as well as Attlee, who participated alongside Churchill, awaiting the outcome of the 1945 general election, and then replaced Churchill as Prime Minister after the Labour Party's victory over the Conservatives — gathered to decide how to administer punishment to the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier, on May 8 (V-E Day). The goals of the conference also included the establishment of post-war order, peace treaties issues, and countering the effects of war.

Relationships between the Leaders

In the five months since the Yalta Conferencemarker, a number of changes had taken place which would greatly affect the relationships between the leaders.

1. The Soviet Union was occupying most of Central and Eastern Europe

By July, the Red Army effectively controlled the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and refugees were fleeing out of these countries fearing a Communist take-over, Stalin had set up a Communist government in Poland, ignoring the wishes of the majority of Poles. Britain and the America protested, but Stalin defended his actions. He insisted that his control of Eastern Europe was a defensive measure against possible future attacks and believed that it was a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence.

2. Britain had a new Prime Minister

The results of the British election became known during the conference. As a result of the Labour Party victory over the Conservative Party the leadership changed hands. Consequently, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee assumed leadership following Winston Churchill, whose Soviet policy since the early 1940s had differed considerably from former U.S. President Roosevelt's, with Churchill believing Stalin to be a "devil"-like tyrant leading a vile system.

3. America had a new President

On 12 April 1945, President Roosevelt died. He was replaced by his Vice-President, Harry Truman. Truman, wholly inexperienced in foreign affairs, took a far harder stance with the Soviet Union. Roosevelt had brushed off warnings of a potential domination by a Stalin dictatorship in part of Europe, explaining that "I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man" and reasoning "I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace." Truman was much more anti-Communist than Roosevelt and was very suspicious of Stalin. Truman and his advisers saw Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as aggressive expansionism which was incompatible with the agreements Stalin had committed to at Yalta the previous February.

4. The US had tested an atomic bomb

On 16 July 1945, the Americans successfully tested an atomic bomb at Alamogordomarker in the New Mexico desert, USA. July 21; Churchill and Truman agreed that the weapon should be used. Truman did not tell Stalin of the weapon until July 25 when he advised Stalin that America had 'a new weapon of unusually destructive force.' While Stalin seemed unaffected at hearing this news, he was later noted as being outraged at President Truman for not sharing this information earlier. Stalin was actually aware of the atomic bomb before Truman was as he had two spies that had infiltrated the Manhattan Project. By the 26th of July, the Potsdam Declaration had been broadcast to Japan, threatening total destruction unless the Imperial Japanese government submitted to unconditional surrender. It was at Potsdam where Truman first alluded to Stalin that the Americans had developed the atomic bomb and might use it against Japan, which they later did on August 6 and August 9. Joseph Stalin suggested that Truman preside over the conference as the only head of state attending, a recommendation accepted by Attlee.

Agreements made between the leaders at Potsdam

Potsdam Agreement

Main article: Potsdam Agreement
At the end of the conference, the three Heads of Government agreed on the following actions. All other issues were to be answered by the final peace conference to be called as soon as possible.


See also: Expulsion of Germans after World War II, The industrial plans for Germany and Oder-Neisse line, former eastern territories of Germany
  • Issuance of a statement of aims of the occupation of Germany by the Allies: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization and decartelization.
  • Division of Germanymarker and Austriamarker respectively into four occupation zones (earlier agreed in principle at Yaltamarker), and the similar division of each's capital, Berlinmarker and Viennamarker, into four zones.
  • Agreement on the prosecution of Nazi war criminalsmarker.
  • Reversion of all German annexations in Europe, including Sudetenland, Alsace-Lorrainemarker, Austriamarker and the westernmost parts of Poland
  • Germany's eastern border was to be shifted westwards to the Oder-Neisse line, effectively reducing Germany in size by approximately 25% compared to its 1937 borders. The territories east of the new border comprised East Prussia, Silesia, West Prussia, and two thirds of Pomerania. These areas were mainly agricultural, with the exception of Upper Silesia which was the second largest centre of German heavy industry.
  • Expulsion of the German populations remaining beyond the new eastern borders of Germany.
  • Agreement on war reparations to the Soviet Union from their zone of occupation in Germany. It was also agreed that 10% of the industrial capacity of the western zones unnecessary for the German peace economy should be transferred to the Soviet Union within 2 years. Stalin proposed and it was accepted that Poland was to be excluded from division of German compensation to be later granted 15% of compensation given to Soviet Union.
  • Ensuring that German standards of living did not exceed the European average. The types and amounts of industry to dismantle to achieve this was to be determined later (see The industrial plans for Germany).
  • Destruction of German industrial war-potential through the destruction or control of all industry with military potential. To this end, all civilian shipyards and aircraft factories were to be dismantled or otherwise destroyed. All production capacity associated with war-potential, such as metals, chemical, machinery etc were to be reduced to a minimum level which was later determined by the Allied Control Commission. Manufacturing capacity thus made "surplus" was to be dismantled as reparations or otherwise destroyed. All research and international trade was to be controlled. The economy was to be decentralized (decartelization). The economy was also to be reorganized with primary emphasis on agriculture and peaceful domestic industries. In early 1946 agreement was reached on the details of the latter: Germany was to be converted into an agricultural and light industry economy. German exports were to be coal, beer, toys, textiles, etc — to take the place of the heavy industrial products which formed most of Germany's pre-war exports.


See also: Western betrayal and Territorial changes of Poland after World War II
  • A Provisional Government of National Unity recognized by all three powers should be created (known as the Lublin Poles). Recognition of the Soviet controlled government by the Western Powers effectively meant the end of recognition for the existing Polish government-in-exile (known as the London Poles).
  • Poles who were serving in the British Army should be free to return to Poland, with no security upon their return to the communist country guaranteed.
  • The provisional western border should be the Oder-Neisse line, defined by the Oder and Neisse rivers. Parts of East Prussia and the former Free City of Danzigmarker should be under Polish administration. However the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should await the peace settlement (which would take place at the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany in 1990)
  • The Soviet Union declared it will settle the reparation claims of Poland from its own share of the overall reparation payments.

Potsdam Declaration

Main article: Potsdam Declaration

In addition to the Potsdam Agreement, on July 26 Churchill, Truman, and Chiang Kai-shek (the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan) issued the Potsdam Declaration which outlined the terms of surrender for Japanmarker during WWII in Asia.


Truman had mentioned an unspecified "powerful new weapon" to Stalin during the conference. Towards the end of the conference, Japan was given an ultimatum to surrender (in the name of United States, Great Britain, China and USSR) or meet "prompt and utter destruction", which did not mention the new bomb. After prime minister Kantaro Suzuki's declaration that the Empire of Japanmarker should ignore (mokusatsu) the ultimatum, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively.

Following the conference, Polish diplomat and politician Michael W. Zwierzanski published a memoir, based on his role at the conference. However, whilst the memoir was focused on the political events and implications of the agreement, the memoir was named after his original claim to fame - being the diplomat that dropped a tray of foodstuffs onto the lap of Stalin. My Bungle: and the Conference That I Witnessed (translated from its original Polish) documented how he, and the other Polish representatives, failed to secure all of their terms of agreement. Most notably, Zwierzanski, though a junior diplomat in 1945, came up with what became known as "The Flim Test", which would put in place an international agreement on Poland's defensive infrastructure. Stalin and Churchill, however, vetoed Zwierzanski's flagship proposal; Roosevelt was the only head of government to openly support flims.

In addition to annexing several occupied countries as (or into) Soviet Socialist Republics, other countries were converted into Soviet Satellite states within the Eastern Bloc, such as the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Hungary, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republicmarker, the People's Republic of Romania, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslaviamarker the People's Republic of Albania, and later East Germanymarker from the Soviet zone of German occupation.

The conference is the beginning of tension between the United States and the USSR, as well as a possible forewarning to the Cold War.

Previous major conferences

See also


  1. Description of photograph, Truman Library.
  2. Potsdam Conference, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  3. BBC Fact File: Potsdam Conference
  4. James Stewart Martin. All Honorable Men (1950) p. 191.
  5. Senn, Alfred Erich, Lithuania 1940 : revolution from above, Amsterdam, New York, Rodopi, 2007 ISBN 9789042022256
  6. Granville, Johanna, The First Domino: International Decision Making during the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, Texas A&M University Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58544-298-4
  7. Eastern bloc, The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.


Further reading

  • Michael Beschloss. The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 (2002)
  • Farquharson, J. E. "Anglo-American Policy on German Reparations from Yalta to Potsdam." English Historical Review 1997 112(448): 904-926. Issn: 0013-8266 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Gimbel, John. "On the Implementation of the Potsdam Agreement: an Essay on U. S. Postwar German Policy." Political Science Quarterly 1972 87(2): 242-269. Issn: 0032-3195 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Gormly, James L. From Potsdam to the Cold War: Big Three Diplomacy, 1945-1947. Scholarly Resources, 1990. 242 pp.
  • Mee, Charles L., Jr. Meeting at Potsdam. M. Evans & Company, 1975. 370 pp.
  • Thackrah, J. R. "Aspects of American and British Policy Towards Poland from the Yalta to the Potsdam Conferences, 1945." Polish Review 1976 21(4): 3-34. Issn: 0032-2970
  • Zayas, Alfred M. de. Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans, Background, Execution, Consequences. Routledge, 1977. 268 pp.
  • Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers. The Conference of Berlin (Potsdam Conference, 1945) 2 vols. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960

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