July 17

This Day in History

World War II

Jul 17, 1945:

Potsdam Conference convenes

On this day in 1945, the conference of Allied victors at Potsdam, outside of Berlin, begins, with U.S. President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in attendance.

The issues at hand for the Big Three and their staffs were the administration of a defeated Germany; the postwar borders of Poland; the occupation of Austria; the Soviet Union's "place" in Eastern Europe; war reparations; and the continuing war in the Pacific. Various disputes broke out almost immediately, especially over the Soviet Union's demand that the western border of Poland extend into German territory, granting Poland a zone of occupation. But the four zones of occupation that had been worked out at the Yalta Conference in February were finally agreed upon, to be created in both Germany and Austria and to be controlled by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. A council composed of representatives of the four great powers was also established to determine the fate of Germany and Austria as nations. The council was to pursue the Five D's: demilitarization, denazification, decentralization, deindustrialization, and democratization. It was also agreed that unconditional surrender would be demanded of Japan, despite a warning by the Japanese emperor that such a demand would be resisted.

Unlike previous Allied conferences, Potsdam was marked by suspicion and defensiveness on the part of the participants. Now that the war was over in the West, each nation was more concerned with its own long-term interests than that of its partners. Winston Churchill in particular was greatly suspicious of Joseph Stalin's agenda for the Soviet Union's role in Eastern Europe. Stalin refused to negotiate the future of those Eastern European nations now occupied by Soviet forces. When Churchill was informed that an election had ousted his Conservative Party from power, and that Labor's Clement Attlee was now prime minister, he returned to London. With Churchill gone from the final negotiations of the conference, the Iron Curtain could be heard descending across Eastern Europe.

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