The Morgenthau Plan

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Podcast Transcript

In September 1944, despite over half a year still remaining in World War II, the Allies began preparing for an eventual post-war world.

One of the biggest questions being discussed was what to do with Germany. After two world wars with Germany in just a quarter century, no one wanted a third.

One American official developed a plan which would basically destroy Germany as a modern country to prevent them from ever making war again.

Learn more about the Morgenthau Plan and the attempt to destroy Germany on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


Several months after the invasion of Normandy, the writing was on the wall for Nazi Germany. While the war wasn’t yet over, and there was still a lot of fighting to be done, it was pretty obvious the direction the war was heading. 

The allies, who had been focused on winning the war, now began to give a little attention to what the post-war world would look like. 

Everyone was aware of the mistakes made after the first world war, which led to the second world war. 

That wouldn’t happen again because, this time, there wouldn’t be a negotiated surrender. The allies had always set unconditional surrender as their objective, and they were not going to deviate from that position. 

That implied an invasion of the German homeland and, eventually, occupation of the country. 

…but then what? 

What would happen to Germany? Would it remain a unified country? What would happen to its economy? Would the world be looking at a resurgent Germany again in a few decades, looking to start another war? 

These concerns might seem silly in hindsight, but they were not at all silly in the middle of the war. 

Enter into the story one Henry Morgenthau Jr. 

Morgenthau was the Secretary of the Treasury under Franklin Roosevelt. He took office in 1934 and served for 11 years through the early days of the Truman administration. 

Morgenthau was also Jewish. The highest-ranking Jewish federal official in American history at that point, and for a brief period, he was actually next in line for the Presidency after Harry Truman took office and the Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius Jr., resigned.

As Secretary of the Treasury, Morgenthau was not directly responsible for the conduct of the war, however, he did have a vested interest in the status of European Jews. 

While the Roosevelt administration did a horrible job admitting European Jewish refugees, Morgenthau was most certainly not responsible. He was a strong advocate for admitting European Jewish refugees.

Needless to say, Morgenthau was not a fan of Nazi Germany.

In 1944, as it increasingly seemed that there was a light at the end of the tunnel of the war, Morgenthau drafted a proposal for what should be done with Germany after the war. 

Needless to say, Morgenthau’s ideas for German were extreme to say the least. 

The memo he drafted became known as the Morgenthau Plan. 

While the memo isn’t that long, and I could read it in its entirety, it would take up a good chunk of the entire episode, so I’m going to read some of the highlights to show what Morgenthau proposed. It is longer than normal, but important to understand exactly what was proposed. 

  1. Demilitarization of Germany. : It should be the aim of the Allied Forces to accomplish the complete demilitarization of Germany in the shortest possible period of time after surrender. This means completely disarming the German Army and people (including the removal or destruction of all war material), the total destruction of the whole German armament industry, and the removal or destruction of other key industries which are basic to military strength.
  2. Partitioning of Germany. :
    1. Poland should get that part of East Prussia which does not go to the USSR 
    2. France should get the Saar and the adjacent territories bounded by the Rhine and the Moselle rivers.
    3. an International zone should be created containing the Ruhr and the surrounding industrial areas.
    4. The remaining portion of Germany should be divided into two autonomous, independent states,  
  3. There shall be a custom union between the new South German state and Austria, which will be restored to her pre-1938 political borders.
  4. The Ruhr Area. : Here lies the heart of German industrial power, the cauldron of wars. This area should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it can not in the foreseeable future become an industrial area. 
    1. Within a short period, if possible not longer than 6 months after the cessation of hostilities, all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action shall either be completely dismantled and removed from the area or completely destroyed. All equipment shall be removed from the mines and the mines shall be thoroughly wrecked.  
    2. All people within the area should be made to understand that this area will not again be allowed to become an industrial area. Accordingly, all people and their families within the area having special skills or technical training should be encouraged to migrate permanently from the area and should be as widely dispersed as possible.
    3. The area should be made an international zone to be governed by an international security organization to be established by the United Nations.  
    4. Restitution and Reparation. : Reparations, in the form of recurrent payments and deliveries, should not be demanded. Restitution and reparation shall be effected by the transfer of existing German resources and territories, e.g.
      1. by restitution of property looted by the Germans in territories occupied by them;
      2. by transfer of German territory and German private rights in industrial property situated in such territory to invaded countries and the international organization under the program of partition;
      3. by the removal and distribution among devastated countries of industrial plants and equipment situated within the International Zone and the North and South German states delimited in the section on partition;
      4. by forced German labor outside Germany; and
      5. by confiscation of all German assets of any character whatsoever outside of Germany.

As you see, this would be a radical destruction of Germany as a state. 

Their land would be split up between their neighbors, and the remaining land would be further subdivided into two new countries and a further territory that would be under the control of the United Nations.

The Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, would be completely deindustrialized and reverted back to an agricultural state. Factories would either be dismantled and shipped to allied countries or demolished, as would all the mines, such as the productive coal mines in Essen.

Even forced German labor in allied countries was on the table.

Germany would basically be destroyed and kept down to ensure that it never rose again. 

Morgenthau even cheekily said there would be no reparations which might have been the problem with the Treaty of Versailles, which is true, but the alternative was even worse.

The reason why Morgenthau, along with his close collaborator in the Treasury Department Harry Dexter White, wrote the memorandum was because of a previous memo floated by the State Department.

The State Department proposed doing just the opposite. They wanted to get Germany back on its feet quickly so they could begin paying reparations as soon as possible.

Morgenthau was appalled because he saw this as giving Germany the ability to rearm and threaten Europe again within a decade.

Because Morgenthau was the Treasury Secretary, he really didn’t have any business inserting himself into foreign policy. However, he was so alarmed he told the Secretary of State Cordell Hull, “I appreciate the fact that this isn’t my responsibility, but I’m doing this as an American citizen, and I’m going to continue to do so, and I’m going to stick my nose into it until I know it is all right.”

Morgenthau lobbied and inserted himself into the planning for a post-war Germany on a committee consisting of himself, Secretary of State Hull, and the Secretary of War Henry Stimson. 

Hull was furious at Morgenthau’s intrusion into foreign affairs. He actually lost sleep and was admitted to the hospital. He eventually resigned in November 1944, officially for health reasons, but most people at the time attributed it to “the Morgenthau business.”

Roosevelt expressed his opinion about how to treat Germany in a letter he wrote to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, when he wrote, “There are two schools of thought, those who would be altruistic in regard to the Germans, hoping by loving kindness to make them Christians again and those who would adopt a much ‘tougher’ attitude. Most decidedly I belong to the latter school, for though I am not bloodthirsty, I want the Germans to know that this time at least they have definitely lost the war.”

Morgenthau presented his plan at the Quebec Conference where Winston Churchill in attendance. Churchill was not a fan of the proposal, saying that “England would be chained to a dead body.”

They didn’t agree on anything at the Quebec Conference, but they did agree that Morgenthau would continue to work with Churchill’s personal assistant, Lord Cherwell.

Morgenthau found an ally because Cherwell hated the Germans as much as Morgenthau did. 

Churchill eventually signed off on the plan, but it isn’t known if he was persuaded or if he had his arm twisted by six billion dollars worth of additional economic aid.

Despite Churchill giving personal support, the plan never became official policy in Britain. 

The Morgenthau Plan was reported on, in the September 21, 1944, edition of the New York Times, and as Cordell Hull predicted, it was used to great effect as German propaganda. 

The German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels heavily promoted the American plan. With the Americans avowing the complete dismantlement of Germany, it gave them a renewed reason to fight. 

The head of the American military, General George Marshall, complained to Morgenthau that German resistance had increased significantly. He said the Morgenthau plan was “worth thirty divisions to the Germans.”

An Office of Strategic Service memo from December 11, 1944, which was the precursor to the CIA, reported, 

To take a recent example, the Morgenthau plan gave Dr. Goebbels the best possible chance. He was able to prove to his countrymen, in black and white, that the enemy planned the enslavement of Germany. The conviction that Germany had nothing to expect from defeat but oppression and exploitation still prevails, and that accounts for the fact that the Germans continue to fight. It is not a question of a regime, but of the homeland itself, and to save that, every German is bound to obey the call, whether he be Nazi or member of the opposition.

Moreover, because Moreganthau was Jewish, Goebbels was able to use the plan to reinforce the Nazi’s antisemitic propaganda. 

As you probably realize, the Morgenthau Plan never was adopted.

What happened?

First, there was a great deal of public backlash to the plan. Before he died in 1945, Roosevelt publically said, “About this pastoral, agricultural Germany, that is just nonsense. I have not approved anything like that. I am sure I have not. … I have no recollection of this at all.”

When FDR died on April 12, 1945, everything changed. 

Initially, it looked like Morganthau’s ideas might have been implemented. On May 10, Truman signed Joint Chiefs of Staff directive 1067 on the occupation of Germany which said,  “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.”

Morganthau was ecstatic at the directive, and there were several of his acolytes from the Treasure which were sent to Germany to help administer the economy.

However, this was short-lived. In July, it was replaced by JCS directive 1779 which reversed 1067 and said, “An orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.”

The person behind the new directive was Truman’s new Secretary of State, and opponent of the Morganthau Plan, George Marshall.

Morganthau demanded to attend the Potsdam Conference with President Truman where post-war Europe was to be planned and threatened to resign if he couldn’t go. Truman called his bluff and resigned on July 22.  

However, he didn’t give up his advocacy for the dismantlement of Germany. In October 1945 he published a book titled “Germany is Our Problem”. FDR had actually given his permission for the publication of the book the night before he died.

With the war over and everything out in the public, there was still support for the Morganthau Plan, and it was still in play. 

General Eisenhower actually gave out 1,000 copies of the book to American officers stationed in Germany. 

Armament plants that produced weapons were destroyed. However, it became obvious that there was no way Germany could feed itself. Adopting the Morganthau plan would result in the deaths of millions of people.

A study headed by former US President Herbert Hoover reported in 1947, 

There are several illusions in all this “war potential” attitude. There is the illusion that the New Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a “pastoral state”. It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it. This would approximately reduce Germany to the density of the population of France.

However, the biggest thing, which was the final nail in the coffin of the Morganthau Plan, was the start of the Cold War. As it became obvious that the real threat was going to come from the Soviet Union and not a revived Germany, it became obvious that a prosperous Germany was going to be necessary to help stop Soviet expansion. 

Germany was economically interlinked with the rest of Europe and simply couldn’t be dismantled without seriously damaging every country on the continent.

In April 1948, the Marshall Plan was adopted which explicitly sought to rebuild Germany, and the Morganthau Plan was consigned to the dustbin of history. 

As it turned out, Germany did reindustrialize and never became a threat again. It turned out the Germans were just as tired of war as everyone else was. Moreover, a prosperous Germany became one of the central forces behind the establishment of the European Union.

It is shocking how close the Morganthau Plan came to being implemented. 

While the desire of Morganthau and other wartime leaders to severely punish Germany was understandable, if it had actually been implemented, it would have been a disaster. 


The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

I have a couple of reviews today. The first review comes from listener, “Shouldn’t be this hard…”. over at Apple Podcasts in the United Kingdom. They write:

Excellent

Such a wide range of interesting topics, all delivered in an easy-to-listen-to voice, Gary avoids the trap so many fall into of making their podcasts too long! I’ve only just discovered this podcast so am still playing catchup with all the back issues- its great, you really should give it a try

The second review comes from Reklaw B in Australia. They write:

Thank you!

Your snippets of life and information are so very much appreciated. Keep up the great work!!

Thanks, Reklaw and This Shouldn’t be this hard. It is nice to see the Commonwealth representing.  Hopefully we will see more chapters of the completionist club opening in both your countries very soon.

Remember if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.

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Gary Arndt