On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally, and World War II, at least in Europe, had come to an historical end. The loss of life caused by the war, precipitated by Germany's invasion of Poland in September of 1939, was devastating. Approximately 53 million people (soldiers and civilians) had died. This figure included the death of 20-30 million Eastern Europeans from countries such as the Soviet Union and Poland. Nine million people (six million of them Jews) had been murdered under German orders in concentration camps. Germany was a morally bankrupt country.
Germany lay in ruins. Over one-quarter of all houses had been destroyed in the allied bombing raids, and in most cities only half of the buildings were left standing. Six and one-half million German soldiers and civilians had died, and millions of German soldiers remained in foreign prisoner of war camps. Grief over the death and/or uncertainty of the fate of loved ones made life in occupied Germany difficult.
Ten to 12 million Germans were expelled from East Prussia and the areas east of the Oder and Neisse rivers (approximately 50 miles east of Berlin) after these territories had been annexed by the Soviets. The expulsion of the German population, conducted by Russians, Poles and Czechs who had suffered under the German occupation, were accompanied by acts of revenge. In a hasty, forced departure, most people could only take a few belongings. The "Vertriebene" (expellees) flooded into Germany, and compounded an already catastrophic shortage of food, housing, fuel and medical supplies. The unusually harsh winter of 1946 increased shortages of resources necessary to assure a minimal subsistancy level for the German population. The black market flourished. People traded their belongings for coal, firewood and food, and cigarettes became a method of payment.
With the defeat of National Socialism, Germany was without any government. The victorious allies, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France divided Germany into four zones and within their zones established separate administrative structures. Berlin, the capital of the former Third Reich, was located in the Soviet zone; however, it also was divided into four separate sectors (see The Berlin Wall).
Despite the initial division of Germany into four different zones, the allies did not intend to create a divided Germany. At the Potsdamer Conference in July of 1945, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had decided on the 'Five Ds': demilitarization, democratization, decentralization, denazification and decartelization of Germany, but could not agree on the country's final boundaries. This issue was to be resolved at a future peace treaty. However, the advent of the Cold War made collaboration between the U.S. and the Soviet Union impossible, and Germany (see German/German border) as well as Berlin (see Berlin Wall) remained divided until the 2 + 4 Talks in 1990.