Published Date

July 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 10: What Shall Be Done about Germany after the War? (1944)

We have so far been considering proposed ways of making other countries safe against attack by Germany in the future. But there are past wrongs to be righted. No one, outside of the Axis countries, has any doubt that Germany started the war in Europe and is responsible for the resulting suffering and damages. But over and above the devastation caused by military operations in various invaded and occupied countries, the Germans have killed civilians to a total of millions, deported millions of others from their homes, reduced those who remained to starvation or near-starvation, systematically stolen all the more valuable private property they could take away, and, in some regions, destroyed what they could not remove.

Much of this loss can never be made good; dead men, women, and children cannot be brought back to life, nor ruined health restored. But the immense physical damage done to the occupied countries will have to be repaired by someone before the people of those countries can get back to normal, or even tolerable, conditions of life. Who shall pay the bill for this huge work of restoring Europe? Justice would plainly require that it be paid, so far as possible, by those who deliberately caused the damage by Germany and not by her victims. This could be done, to some extent, by compelling Germany to return stolen goods not already used up or destroyed, to provide German laborers to rebuild devastated regions, and to pay in money or in goods for the other costs of rebuilding them.

But it is necessary to bear in mind that there are limits to the possibility of this. Germany herself will for some time be too poor to pay anything like the whole bill. Many of the other countries will be unwilling to receive German goods—even free goods—in great quantity, for they will feel that this would hamper the recovery of their own industries and decrease the opportunities of employment for their own people. For these and other reasons the attempt, after the last war, to make Germany pay was unsuccessful.

Some reparations can probably be collected this time, but many believe that it would be a mistake to expect that Germany can or will restore all she has destroyed, or even the greater part of it. And it must be remembered that no reparations will be paid except under compulsion, for most Germans will think it unjust that they should be compelled to pay them—especially if payment takes the form, partly, of forced labor of German workmen in other countries. Reparations will be a constant cause of ill will and friction between Germany and the United Nations; and since it would be very undesirable for this friction to continue indefinitely, it is the opinion of many that the best plan would be to fix the total of reparations at a definite amount which Germany will be certainly able, and will be required, to pay off within a fairly short period—perhaps ten years.

Next section: Economic Recovery of Europe