Letter to the President of the Senate Recommending Legislation To Terminate the State of War With Germany.
Dear Mr. Vice President:
The progress which has been made in the recovery of Europe and in the strengthening of democratic institutions there makes it appropriate at this time to end the status of Germany as an enemy country. Bit by bit in recent years we have carried out a policy, agreed upon with our allies, of building up a freely elected German government, and returning to the German people an increasing degree of control over their affairs. This policy has been most successful. As a legal matter, however, we are still in a state of war with Germany. It therefore becomes desirable, in pursuance of our policy, to bring this state of war to an end.
Six years ago, when the wartime allies achieved complete victory over Germany, the country was destitute and there was no effective German government. Allied control was the only way to manage the prostrate country. We went forward with a clearly stated policy which anticipated that after a period of Allied occupation and reconstruction we would be able, together with our allies, to conclude a treaty of peace with a newly-established German government--a government truly representative of the German people, willing to assume its responsibilities as a member of the world community and anxious to work with its free neighbors in maintaining the peace and fostering the prosperity of Europe.
We have never deviated from this policy. Neither have our British and French allies. Unfortunately for all of us, however, and especially for the people of Germany, Soviet Russia has actively prevented the growth of a representative democratic government in a unified Germany, and has thus made impossible for the time being the arrangement of a final peace settlement. The Soviet effort has been, instead, to cut the eastern third of Germany away from the rest of the country and to develop it as a province of the new Soviet Empire.
As it became plain that we could not expect Soviet cooperation in rebuilding all of Germany as a self-respecting, democratic and peaceful nation, we were forced to change our approach. The ultimate fulfillment of our German policy had been delayed, but we were determined to do all we could to advance that policy in the part of Germany under our control. We were joined in our efforts by the British and French governments. Together with them, we gave the German people under our jurisdiction the chance to create their own government. Now, approximately two-thirds of the area of prewar Germany and three-fourths of the German people are free of Soviet control, within the present borders of the German Federal Republic. The Government of the Federal Republic rests on a democratic constitution worked out by representatives of the people themselves and approved by the Western Occupying Powers. Since its birth in September 1949, this German government has shown steadily increasing responsibility and readiness to take its place in the community of free nations and to do its share toward building peaceful and cooperative relationships with its neighbors of the West.
On their side, the occupying powers have shown faith in the German people and in the government of the Federal Republic by a continuing process of relaxing occupation controls on the one hand and increasing the scope of the Federal Republic government's responsibility on the other. This process has been accompanied by a changing attitude on both sides. The relationship of conqueror and conquered is being replaced by the relationship of equality which we expect to find among free men everywhere.
Last September, the governments of Great Britain, France, and the United States took another step in harmony with their developing policy when they joined in the following statement regarding continuation of a state of war with Germany:
"In the spirit of the new relationship which they wish to establish with the Federal Republic, the three governments have decided, as soon as action can be taken in all three countries in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, to take the necessary steps in their domestic legislation to terminate the state of war with Germany.
"This action will not affect the rights and status of the Three Powers in Germany, which rest upon other bases. It will, however, create a firmer foundation for the developing structure of peaceful and friendly relationships and will remove disabilities to which German nationals are subject. It is hoped that other nations will find it possible to take similar action in accordance with their own constitutional practices."
In this statement, our Government and the governments of the other Western occupying powers clearly recognized the desirability of bringing the existing technical state of war to a close, and pledged themselves to take action in collaboration with one another to that end. Since this declaration was issued, discussions have been held with the other friendly countries who are also in a technical state of war with Germany, and most of them have indicated their willingness to take similar action in the near future--thus lifting Germany from its present enemy status.
Ending the state of war with Germany will have many tangible benefits. Germans who wish to travel or do business here will receive the status accorded to nationals of other friendly governments. They will no longer be classed as enemies. While Germans have been permitted to have commercial relations with this country since the Presidential proclamation of December 31, 1946, declaring hostilities at an end, German citizens are still subject to certain disabilities, particularly with respect to suits in United States courts. General disabilities of this kind will be eliminated by the termination of the present state of war.
The termination of the state of war with Germany will not affect the status of the occupation. The rights of the occupying powers do not rest upon the existence of a state of war, as such, and will not be affected by its legal termination. The fights of the occupying powers result from the conquest of Germany, accompanied by the disintegration and disappearance of its former government, and the Allied assumption of supreme authority. We are not surrendering these rights by terminating the state of war. We do intend, however, in agreement with our allies, to grant the Federal Republic increasing authority over its own affairs, and eventually to see Germany restored as a fully sovereign nation.
Similarly, the termination of the state of war will not affect in any way the rights or privileges, such as the right to reparations, which the United States and its citizens have acquired with respect to Germany as a result of the war.
Furthermore, it is not intended that the termination of the state of war shall in any way change or alter the program, which Congress has authorized, of seizing, under the Trading With the Enemy Act, German property in this country on or before December 31, 1946, and using the proceeds to pay just and legitimate claims arising from the war in accordance with the War Claims Act of 1948. The vesting of German property under this program does not extend to property acquired since the resumption of trade with Germany on January 1, 1947, following the cessation of hostilities. It is limited to German property and rights located here before or during the period of hostilities.
Most of this Germany property has already been identified and vested. This government does not intend to embark on any new program in this field. However, some of the property already subject to vesting is believed to be cloaked or hidden and not yet discovered, and some is still under examination or subject to legal proceedings. Most of the property remaining uninvested is involved in problems of conflicting jurisdiction between this and other governments, which are in the process of settlement by negotiation under authority of legislation which was enacted in September of last year.
Should the vesting power lapse immediately, this government would find it difficult to wind up this program in an orderly way, or to carry out its commitments for the equitable settlement of intergovernmental differences relating to enemy property.
Completion of the vesting of wartime enemy property, even after the conclusion of peace, is commonly accepted practice in connection with the settlement of claims between the nations which were at war. Our peace treaties with Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania and Italy all authorize the continued vesting and retention of such property.
In the absence of treaty provisions, however, there may be legal obstacles to the continued vesting of German property, after the termination of the state of war, unless there are changes in our existing statutes. According to the terms of the Trading With the Enemy Act, many of its powers expire at the "end of the war," a phrase which the Act defines to mean the date of proclaiming the exchange of ramifications of a treaty of peace, or an earlier date fixed by Presidential proclamation. There is some doubt that the vesting powers of the Trading With the Enemy Act can be exercised after the termination of the state of war, unless expressly provided for in new legislation.
This doubt should be eliminated, and it should be made clear that the Congress intends the vesting of German property for the purpose of paying war claims to continue.
In these circumstances, I believe that the best method for terminating the state of war with Germany would be by the enactment of appropriate legislation in advance of the issuance of a Presidential proclamation.
Such action will give the German people a new demonstration of our desire to help bring them back to membership among the nations of the free world. It will represent another and logical step on the road which leads towards the eventual restoration of German independence.
I will appreciate it if you will lay this matter before the Congress for its consideration. For the convenience of the Congress, I am attaching a draft of a joint resolution that would be appropriate to achieve these objectives.
Very sincerely yours,
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Note: The White House release states that "a similar letter" was sent to the Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The text of the draft resolution was also made public.
On October 19, 1951, the President signed a bill which terminated the state of war between the United States and Germany (65 Stat. 451). See also Item 273.
Harry S. Truman, Letter to the President of the Senate Recommending Legislation To Terminate the State of War With Germany. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230332