The Pittsburgh Press (December 20, 1943)
Background of news –
Split up Germany after the war?
By Bertram Benedict, editorial research reports
Some students of post-war problems are wondering if the Moscow Declaration in favor of an independent Austria after the war ought to be carried a step further, so that several other independent states would be cut off from the German Reich – not only to prevent Germany from beginning another war, but also to satisfy a demand in some sections of Germany for independence from Prussian domination.
The pre-Hitler German Reich dated only from 1871, and the large states within it had a much longer record of separate existence. They formed a single nation because of the economic advantages.
Between Napoleon and the Franco-German War of 1870-71, several large German federations were formed. If something like these were to be created now, care would have to be taken that the economic basis for separation was as firm as the political basis. After World War I, considerable sentiment arose in Austria for union with Germany simply because the new Austria was an unbalanced economic unit, aptly described as a head (Vienna) without a body.
When Napoleon burst upon the European scene, Germany, like Italy, was a mere geographical expression. Its map was a nightmare. What was called Germany lay within the Holy Roman Empire which was not properly an empire, no longer had any connection with Rome, and certainly wasn’t holy. The French dictator abolished it in 1806 and formed the Confederation of the Rhine, of which he was “protector.” Soon all the German states joined the Confederation except Prussia, Austria, Brunswick and Hesse.
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna organized the German states into a confederation of 38 states, all sovereign, with a complicated constitution. Austria presided over and dominated the German Confederation, and Prussia determined to replace Austria as the dominant force.
Between 1828 and 1842, Prussia consummated a customs union (Zollverein) in all the important German states except Austria. During the revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849, the Confederation was suspended, and an attempt was made at Frankfurt to form a new all-German political union. This movement collapsed in the face of Austrian opposition, and in 1851 the Confederation resumed.
Prussia was still successful in keeping Austria out of the customs union, although most of the South German states, largely Catholic, sided with Austria in resistance to Prussian influence.
In 1864, Prussia and Austria combined in war against Denmark, to redeem the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from Danish rule. The Confederation supported the war. Two years later, Prussia provoked war with Austria, ostensibly because of a dispute over the two redeemed duchies. Most of the German states, including Bavaria, Hanover, and Saxony, sided with Austria; Prussia declared the Confederation at an end. Austria was defeated in seven weeks. Prussia thereupon formed a confederation, under Prussian hegemony, of the North German states.
The South German states were to form their own confederation. However, Prussia concluded military alliances with them against France, and also brought them into a customs union with the North German Confederation. The southern states joined the North German Confederation in 1870 in war against France, and in 1871, William I was proclaimed German Emperor at Versailles. The new Reich consisted of 25 states, reduced by 1933 to 17.