Stalin Note
The Stalin Note, also known as the March Note, was a document delivered to the representatives of the Western allied powers (Britain, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) from the Soviet Occupation in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 on March 10, 1952. Soviet leader Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 put forth a proposal for a reunification
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

 and neutralization of Germany, with no conditions on economic policies and with guarantees for "the rights of man and basic freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, religious persuasion, political conviction, and assembly" and free activity of democratic parties and organizations.

This led to "The Battle of the Notes" between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, which eventually led to the West practically rejecting the Soviet offer by insisting that a unified Germany should be free to join NATO, a demand that Stalin found hard to accept as only a few years had passed since Germany alone had virtually destroyed the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War.

Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer was a German statesman. He was the chancellor of the West Germany from 1949 to 1963. He is widely recognised as a person who led his country from the ruins of World War II to a powerful and prosperous nation that had forged close relations with old enemies France,...

 and the Western Powers saw Stalin's move as an aggressive action that attempted to stall the integration of the German Republic into the West. However, some notable scholars, like Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

, are of the opinion that Stalin was making a sincere offer to reduce the threat of a confrontation with the United States, and that the rejection followed directly from the principles put forward in the NSC-68
National Security Council Report 68 was a 58-page formerly-classified report issued by the United States National Security Council on April 14, 1950, during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. Written during the formative stage of the Cold War, it was top secret until the 1970s when it was made...

, which recommended policies that emphasized military over diplomatic action. James Warburg
James Warburg
James Paul Warburg was an American banker and financial adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt. His father was Paul Warburg.- Biography :...

, then member of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It is charged with leading foreign-policy legislation and debate in the Senate. The Foreign Relations Committee is generally responsible for overseeing and funding foreign aid programs as...

, testified before the committee on March 28 and observed that the Soviet proposal might be a bluff, but it seemed "that our government is afraid to call the bluff for the fear that it may not be a bluff at all" and might lead lead to "a free, neutral, and demilitarized Germany," which might be "subverted into Soviet orbit".

Political background

After the end of the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Germany was divided into what became eventually a Western and an Eastern Sector. By 1949, Germany had a parliamentary democracy in the West, called the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG - natively BRD), and a communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

-dominated country in the East, called the German Democratic Republic
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

 (GDR - natively DDR). Opportunities for reunification of these two halves appeared unlikely from the Western standpoint because Stalin and the East German communists did not want to allow any free elections in the GDR. The SED
Socialist Unity Party of Germany
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany was the governing party of the German Democratic Republic from its formation on 7 October 1949 until the elections of March 1990. The SED was a communist political party with a Marxist-Leninist ideology...

 feared losing power if free elections were held. At that point in history, Germany had not yet signed a peace treaty for World War II because of the animosity between the three Western Powers and the Soviet Union. It would not sign one until the Two Plus Four Agreement
Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany
The Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, was negotiated in 1990 between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic , and the Four Powers which occupied Germany at the end of World War II in Europe: France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the...

 in 1990.

At the beginning of 1950, the USA began negotiations for a peace treaty with Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, which would also grant them military bases in Japan over a long period of time. This may have had an influence on Stalin's decision to support North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 when it attacked South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

, which was pro-USA, however this has not been proven. The Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 (1950–1953) surprised the USA and formed a deeper rift into the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...


In discussions about the reunification, East Germany stressed the importance of a peace treaty, while West Germany focused on the importance of free elections for all of Germany. Chancellor Adenauer did not believe that reunification was possible under the given conditions. He and his administration pursued a course that allied the FRG with Western Europe, particularly in relationship to military policy. Specifically, Adenauer felt that the FRG should maintain an army, which could be integrated into a larger West European military force. A European Defence Community Treaty was signed in May 1952, after the rejection of the Stalin note, but the proposed EDC
European Defence Community
The European Defense Community was a plan proposed in 1950 by René Pleven, the French President of the Council , in response to the American call for the rearmament of West Germany...

 never came into being, due to rejection of the Treaty by the French National Assembly.

Stalin and the GDR condemned the EDC, despite the fact that the GDR had created a pseudo-military force called the Kasernierte Volkspolizei. The Stalin notes can be seen as a way of drawing out the propaganda efforts of East Germany so that the reunification would fail.

On September 15, 1951, the East German government offered to discuss holding elections at a meeting with West Germany. However, the West German government refused to hold talks with the SED because this would have meant the actual recognition of East Germany as an equal country. Contact was always maintained through the Western Powers. Instead, West Germany wanted a commission of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 to check whether or not free all-German elections were possible.

Due to the endeavors of the Western Powers, this commission met in December 1951. East Germany refused to let them enter, however. In their opinion, the possibilities of free elections should be investigated by a commission of the four Occupying Powers.

First Stalin Note

At a conference in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, the SED emphasized the importance of the two German states discussing a potential peace treaty. The Soviet leadership also encouraged the discussion of a peace treaty with the Western Powers. The Soviet government continued along this trajectory because they were afraid of the Western push for free elections and the integration of the West German armed forces into a larger Western coalition.

The government of the GDR appealed to the four powers to allow for negotiations of the peace treaty for Germany. After about two months, in August 1951, Stalin was able to present the first draft of the plan for a peace treaty. After working through numerous corrections and basic conceptual changes, the final version was ready seven months later.

On March 10, 1952, Andrei Gromyko
Andrei Gromyko
Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko was a Soviet statesman during the Cold War. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet . Gromyko was responsible for many top decisions on Soviet foreign policy until he retired in 1987. In the West he was given the...

 gave a diplomatic note about the solution of the "German problem" to representatives of the three western occupiers (the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

) and called for a four-power conference. The note included the following points:
  • A peace treaty
    Peace treaty
    A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, that formally ends a state of war between the parties...

     with all participants in the war with Germany should be negotiated with a single, united German government. The Allies must agree on the formation of this government.
  • Germany was to be re-established as a united state within the boundaries established by the provisions of the Potsdam Conference
    Potsdam Conference
    The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 16 July to 2 August 1945. Participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States...

  • All occupation forces were to be withdrawn within one year following the date on which treaty came into effect.
  • Germany would have democratic rights, such as having freedom of assembly
    Freedom of assembly
    Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests...

    , freedom of press, and freedom to have a multi-party system.
  • Denazification
    Denazification was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the National Socialist ideology. It was carried out specifically by removing those involved from positions of influence and by disbanding or rendering...

     would be ended. Additionally, former members of the German armed forces and of the Nazi Party, except for convicted war criminals, could join in establishing a peaceful and democratic Germany.
  • Germany was to become officially neutral and not enter into any kind of coalition or military alliance directed against any of the countries whose military forces had participated in the war against it.
  • Germany would have access to world markets and there would be no restrictions to these markets.
  • Germany was permitted to have national armed forces for its own defense and to manufacture munitions for these forces.

West German reaction

The FRG’s priorities were different from those of the GDR. Chancellor Adenauer’s main priority was the integration of the FRG into the West, and he saw reunification as a rather abstract goal. Specifically, his administration wanted to focus on the re-establishment of Germany into a free Europe, and felt that reunification was not possible until West Germany was securely established in Western Europe. He went so far as to believe that a reunification could only happen at the same time as a radical change in eastern Europe. If the integration of West Germany into the Western Alliance could not be managed, West Germany would be pulled unavoidably in with the Soviet Union. He felt that Germany alone would not be able to afford an army which could provide for the security of a neutral Germany. Thus, Adenauer assumed that two German states would co-exist for an undeterminate amount of time and he followed this goal in the background. For these reasons, Adenauer saw the March note as an annoyance and wanted to continue proceedings with the Western Powers as if there had never been a note at all.

Adenauer's view that Stalin's offer was not meant seriously was widely shared. But there were other views about how to react to the offer. The Minister of All-German Affairs
Minister of Intra-German Relations
The Federal Minister of Intra-German Relations was a federal cabinet minister of the Federal Republic of Germany...

, Jakob Kaiser
Jakob Kaiser
Jakob Kaiser was a German politician and resistance leader during World War II.Jakob Kaiser was born in the Franconian town of Hammelburg. Following in his father’s footsteps, Kaiser began a career as a bookbinder...

, had a "bridge theory," which suggested that Germany could be the mediator between East and West. While he agreed with Adenauer about the importance of free elections and the refusal of the Potsdam borders, he took the Soviet offer very seriously. In a radio address on March 12, 1952, Kaiser stated that the note had an important political significance, but he still thought it was important to approach it with caution. He asked that the suggestions of the Soviet Union be carefully explored so that no opportunity for reunification would be missed.

Similarly, other ministers and also members of the Free Democratic Party
Free Democratic Party (Germany)
The Free Democratic Party , abbreviated to FDP, is a centre-right classical liberal political party in Germany. It is led by Philipp Rösler and currently serves as the junior coalition partner to the Union in the German federal government...

 (FDP) felt that they should at least seriously test Stalin’s proposal so that the world public would not get the impression that reunification fell through because of West Germany. Also, this would quickly prove if Stalin really meant to keep his offer, and if he did not, then his deceit would be unmasked.

However, Adenauer felt that a "test" would have significant disadvantages:
  • A conference could be drawn out by the Soviet Union, while the relationship with the West would be delayed at first. If the West finally left the conference unnerved, Stalin could blame the failure of the talks on the West.
  • Because of the Second World War, it was essential that the FRG appear to be a reliable partner to the West. Agreeing with the offer would destroy this impression.
  • The GDR would also participate in the conference suggested by Stalin, besides the FRG. The GDR would be recognized by the western side by that fact, and Stalin would have already achieved one of his goals, without having given up anything.
  • Even if Stalin's offer were meant seriously, according to the historian, Andreas Hillgruber
    Andreas Hillgruber
    Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

    , Adenauer was worried about a neutral all-Germany. He believed that "the Germans" would not act responsibly in such a difficult situation between the East and the West. Adenauer also shared this with the Western Powers. For that reason, Adenauer was also against neutrality because Germany could not defend itself alone against the Soviet Union.

All in all, Adenauer, his ministers, the opposing Social Democratic Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD) and the population at large were in agreement: Stalin’s proposal was not sincere and the demand for free elections had to be maintained. However, there was still some uneasiness that the FRG could not do anything against the division of Germany.

East German reaction

In the GDR, the note was officially received with excitement. The party organ of the SED, Neues Deutschland ("New Germany"), gave it great importance "for the battle of the patriotic forces of the German people and the peaceful reunification", where patriotic forces meant principally communist forces.

The Prime Minister of the GDR, Otto Grotewohl
Otto Grotewohl
Otto Grotewohl was a German politician and prime minister of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 until his death. According to Roth , "He was a figurehead who led various economic commissions, lobbied the Soviets for increased aid, and conducted foreign policy tours in the attempt to break...

, indicated how the draft treaty was interpreted by the GDR in a government declaration on March 14. In it, he described the GDR as a democratic and free state and the FRG as undemocratic and fascist. Anti-peace and anti-democratic groups, however, could not be allowed to exist in a united Germany. In addition, a united Germany had to orient themselves with the five-year plan of the GDR. Finally, Walter Ulbricht
Walter Ulbricht
Walter Ulbricht was a German communist politician. As First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1950 to 1971 , he played a leading role in the creation of the Weimar-era Communist Party of Germany and later in the early development and...

, the general secretary of the central committee of the SED, unmistakably spoke about the interpretation of the note. It should be understood as an action against the "general war treaty" (meaning the Germany treaty), through which Germany would become dependent on the West. However, Germany could only develop freely and peacefully in a communist, so-called "world peace bloc".

The Western powers' response

The Western Powers were not completely surprised by the proposition offered by the March note, because Stalin had not yet tried to interfere with the Western integration of the FRG. However, the Western Powers did not want to begin negotiations with the Soviet Union until West Germany was securely integrated into the West. Therefore, the response from the Western Powers attempted to delay the start of negotiations for the Peace Treaty.

After the Foreign Ministers of the Western Occupation had finished their response, they asked Adenauer for his opinion on the matter, in case he had any small changes he wished to make. Although he mistrusted Stalin’s note, he asked that it not be outright rejected in the answering note. He didn't want to create the impression that the West had brusquely refused it.

On March 25, 1952, the first note from the governments of Great Britain, France, and the United States was sent to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

. It included the following points:
  • In order to begin negotiations on the Peace Treaty, the UN must check that all of Germany had free elections, then free elections would be held, and after that a government for all of Germany would be formed.
  • The borders from Potsdam (the Oder-Neisse line
    Oder-Neisse line
    The Oder–Neisse line is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście...

    ) were rejected, since these borders would only be in effect until a peace treaty was worked out.
  • Germany would have the right to enter into any alliances within the context of the UN Charter.
  • There would be full agreement of the Western Powers for Germany to be integrated into a defensive, European military alliance, which was understood to be a clear reference to the EDC. An independent German military would be a step back into a Europe that was controlled by militaristic and aggressive rivalry.

Second note

In the second Stalin Note, sent on April 9, 1952, the Soviet Union stood by its position that negotiations for the groundwork of a peace treaty and for the creation of a unified German government should begin. Stalin accepted that free elections could be the groundwork for a unified German government, but insisted that the four occupying powers oversee the elections rather than the United Nations. On the other hand, Stalin stayed firm on the idea that a reunified Germany should have the borders outlined by the Potsdam Conference
Potsdam Conference
The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 16 July to 2 August 1945. Participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States...

, and that, even more generally, an armed Germany could not be in an alliance directed aggressively against other states.

In the second Western note of May 13, 1952, it was again emphasized that a freely-elected all-German government must participate in the treaty negotiations. Additionally, the West accepted that a commission of the occupying powers could oversee the elections, but insisted that the commission not be made up of government officials but rather impartial participants. The matter of dispute remained: free elections first (West) or peace treaty negotiations first (Soviet Union).

Third note

A day before the official signing of the European Defence Community
European Defence Community
The European Defense Community was a plan proposed in 1950 by René Pleven, the French President of the Council , in response to the American call for the rearmament of West Germany...

 (EDC), the Soviet Union sent a third note, on May 24, 1952. In that note, Stalin criticized the creation of the EDC (which according to the Germany Treaty, should be in effect even after the reunification), and accused the Western Powers of delaying the negotiations for a peace treaty
Peace treaty
A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, that formally ends a state of war between the parties...

. In addition, the all-German government must remain under the control of the occupying powers at the treaty negotiations.

On their part, the West on July 10, 1952, criticized the centralization, the collectivization and the changes in the justice system of the GDR which the SED had previously passed. The note stated that the conference should not yet negotiate a peace treaty, but should decide about a commission to oversee the elections first. There was still a difference of opinion about whether the decisions of Potsdam could be the basis for negotiation - these decisions contradicted all the developments since 1945.

Fourth note

On August 23, 1952, the Soviet Union sent the last note. This note repeated their main positions and accusations. Additionally, although the Western Powers had conceded in allowing the occupying powers oversee the elections, the Soviet Union suddenly refused an international election commission entirely. Instead, both of the German states should be responsible for creating a commission with equal representation. However, this had already been refused by the West in 1951.

For this reason in their answer of September 23, 1952, the West limited themselves to repeating their previous views and to renewing the suggestion of forming a non-partisan commission of the four powers.

If after the first note of the West, the lack of success of the exchange of notes had already been internally determined, in the East as well as in the West, this view was also publicly expressed by the (rather polemic) contents of the last four notes. The signing of the two treaties with the West on May 26 and May 27, 1952, emphasized this even more.

Debate about the "missed chance"

As already seen, most observers and politicians were in agreement in the essential points. Afterwards, there have been several debates about whether a real chance for reunification had been missed in 1952. There are two main disputes:
  • The more concrete and easier to research question revolved around Stalin's motives, around how ready he was to permit a neutralized, democratic, unified Germany (and give up the GDR). Sceptics reject this. A completely independent Germany could be just as unpleasant in principle for Stalin as for the West. But above all, the existence of the GDR had great advantages for Stalin:
    • As one of four occupying powers of the Second World War, the Soviet Union enjoyed prestige, to begin with.
    • The Soviet right of occupation of East German soil was recognized in general by the Western Powers.
    • The GDR was an important Soviet bridgehead in the middle of Europe; and above all at a time when Soviet troops had again left Czechoslovakia
      Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

       and Poland
      Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

      . The GDR was important for holding together the system of the Soviet satellite states.
    • Because of its precarious situation, the GDR leadership were (for the most part) especially true vassals of the Soviet Union.
    • The GDR could be economically exploited and provide soldiers.
    • There is no comparison with Austria
      Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

       - from which the Soviet Union had withdrawn in 1955 - since Austria has a lesser strategic and economic weight than Germany. Beside, Austria had already had an all-Austrian government since 1945.

  • A more political and more speculative question is whether such a Germany would have been more desirable. The sceptics feel:
    • Stalin could have still tried to subjugate all of Germany in a roundabout way through reunification.
    • Without the Western Alliance, Stalin could have been able to conquer the western European countries little by little, as Hitler had treated Germany's neighbors.
    • Without integration with the West, West Germany or all of Germany would have fared worse economically.

Above all, there is debate about the behavior of the FRD and the Western Powers. The publicist, Paul Sethe, and the historians Wilfried Loth, Josef Foschepoth, Karl-Gustav von Schönfels, and especially Rolf Steininger
Rolf Steininger
Rolf Steininger is a German historian and university professor for contemporary history.Steininger studied English language and literature and history at the universities of Marburg, Göttingen, Munich, Lancaster and Cardiff. He received a doctor's degree in 1971 and habilitated at the University...

 belong to the critics. Their views are answered by Hermann Graml, Gerhard Wettig and Gottfried Niedhart.

The critics alleged again and again that Adenauer, who came from Catholic Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

, didn't want reunification with the Protestant, Prussian East at all. The opinion of Adenauer in the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 (he wanted an independent Rhineland
Rhenish Republic
The Rhenish Republic was proclaimed at Aachen in October 1923 during the Occupation of the Ruhr by troops from France and Belgium between January 1923 and 1925...

 inside of the German Empire) was used against him. The allegations were wrong, but Adenauer could have had a political motive also: many of the traditional supporters of the SPD were in the GDR. With the East zone, Germany would have become more Protestant and more Social Democratic than the FRG of the three Western zones.

In essence, the debate had two peaks: at the end of the 1950s and then again after the opening of the archive of the Western Powers in the middle of the 1980s. Newer research since the 1990s also takes into account the archives of the former East Block and thus brings up further discussion. Finally, a book on the analysis of the Stalin notes was published in 2002. During the reunification itself (1989/1990), the debate about the Stalin notes played no part.

Discussion in the 1950s

The American historian, Ruud van Dijk, remarked that in the later discussions, much more sincerity was attributed to Stalin than in 1952. The clearer it became that the chances for German reunification were dwindling, the stronger the debate about whether or not an important chance had been missed in 1952. According to Manfred Kittel, the discussion increased in extent as the chances for reunification decreased.

Within journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

, it was Paul Sethe who criticized Adenauer's non-acceptance of Stalin's offer the sharpest. Sethe was the co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung in the beginning of the 1950s and had always spoken out in his commentaries for at least checking into the seriousness of Stalin's notes. Thus he saw the neutralization of Germany as an appropriate price for reunification. He completed the thesis of the "missed chances" in his book, "Von Bonn nach Moskau" (From Bonn to Moscow) and thus he lay the cornerstone for a debate about the Stalin notes that lasted for decades.

The idea of the "missed opportunity" received attention through a debate in the Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

 on January 23, 1958. The CDU
Christian Democratic Party
Christian democratic parties are those political parties that seek to apply Christian principles to public policy. The underlying Christian democracy movement emerged in 19th-century Europe, largely under the influence of Catholic social teaching, and it continues to be influential in Europe and...

Christian Social Union
Christian Social Union may refer to:*Christian Social Union of Bavaria, a political party in Bavaria, Germany*Christian Social Union , a nineteenth and early twentieth-century organization within the Church of England...

 had a government coalition with the small DP
German Party
The German Party is a name used by a number of German political parties in the country's history. The current incarnation is represented only at the local level in Germany. However, from 1949 to 1961, a German Party was part of the ruling coalition in the Bundestag...

, when two former Ministers asked to speak, Thomas Dehler
Thomas Dehler
Thomas Dehler was a German politician. He was the Federal Republic of Germany's first Minister of Justice and chairman of Free Democratic Party .-Early life:...

 (FDP) and Gustav Heinemann
Gustav Heinemann
Gustav Walter Heinemann, GCB was a German politician. He was Mayor of the city of Essen from 1946 to 1949, West German Minister of the Interior from 1949 to 1950, Minister of Justice from 1966 to 1969 and President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974.-Early years and professional...

 (first CDU, now SPD). Both of them had left the government in the dispute with Adenauer at that time. They accused Chancellor Adenauer of not having done enough for reunification.

Discussion in the 1980s

The debate came up again in the 1980s, when the Western archives were opened for historians. The archives of the Soviet Union and the GDR were not yet accessible to researchers at that time. The historian, Rolf Steininger, asked in his article, "Eine Chance zur Wiedervereinigung?" (A Chance for Reunification?) in 1985, which is based predominantly on Western sources, whether an important chance had been missed at that time. Steininger and others disputed the question whether it would have inevitably led to a divided Germany and whether the course of Adenauer was the best possible way. His argument is based on three assumptions:
  • Stalin's offer was meant seriously
  • The Western powers intended to sound out Stalin's offer
  • Adenauer attempted to stop any attempt in this direction

The historian, Hermann Graml, on the other hand, justified the actions of the Western Powers. Quite the opposite and also on the basis of the Western archives, he attached little importance to Adenauer's influence on the negotiation. Graml interpreted the note itself and the "planned" failure of the negotiations as more or less that the Soviet Union wanted to create an alibi for being able to push forward on the integration of the GDR into the Eastern Block.
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