• Zero hour is an abstract term which marks the Third Reich's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945
  • The term also stands for a new beginning
  • The Potsdam Conference set the course for Germany's future 

The impact of World War 2 was devastating. Most German cities were dashed to the ground and the role of perpetrators and victims coalesced. The term zero hour marks the Third Reich's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, and the time up to the refounding of a German country in 1949. It represents the state of shock and the grief on both sides. In addition, it symbolizes Germany's midnight if one takes the high casualties, the loss of almost 25 percent of the national territory, the German expulsion of the eastern territories, lootings, and other crimes against German society into consideration. No one knew what to expect from the future, and some had low expectations concerning their time to come. Some committed suicide. Others lived in the here and now, blanking out the past and future. On the other hand, zero hour also stands for a new beginning. It was an attempt to draw a line under National Socialism. Most Germans slowly got out of their mass hypnosis, caused by effective indoctrination. Today, there is a division on whether or not the term zero hour is capable of representing the German period after World War 2. One reason is that different parts of the population made different experiences during this uncertain period. The countrymen were able to cope with the situation better than people who had to sleep in the ruins of their bombed cities.

Moreover, was it really possible to put an end to National Socialism? There may be no absolute answer, and some may argue that the ideologies of Manifest Destiny, which legitimized the westward movement in American history, were as evil as National Socialism if one takes the murdering and butchering of human beings into account. Both concepts had an evil background, and there is no need for mealy-mouthed excuses. However, others argue that the systematic and industrialized persecution and murder of minorities cannot be compared to any other event in world history. Therefore, it would be entirely impossible to reset Germany's history at zero. A mental frontier that cannot be crossed. Other, more reasonable voices say that National Socialism is part of German history and transfers a responsible approach to the nation's past rather than a feeling of guilt for generations to come. Feelings of patriotism were long suppressed in German society to avoid a similar repetition. Still, the human psyche is not connected to nationality. Within the context of the fact that such evilness can happen somewhere over there (or over there) too, the question remains if it makes any sense to suppress a healthy concept of patriotism capable of holding a society together.


Indeed, most people agree that zero hour is an abstract term, especially when it comes to an administrative act that ends the existence of a nation from without. Not a few people argue that a nation can't vanish into thin air, and in fact, it didn't. The Germany did not fell apart into the state before 1871 in which 39 individual states were found. The country was occupied and artificially divided into four zones. The political system changed once again by force. This time into two very different ideologies, depending on the occupied territory, and it should take a split Germany and almost half a century until reunification in which the nation was granted its full sovereignty again, aside from the "sovereign" status of East and West Germany. Modern Germany has lost parts of its former land area in comparison to its former size.

Germany's future was determined at the Potsdam Conference (July 17 - August 2, 1945). The "big three," more exact the heads of government of the United States (President Harry S. Truman), Russia (Joseph Stalin), and Great Britain (Winston Churchill and later replaced by Clement Attlee), met for the last time within the frame of war. The big three agreed on the D-4 Program, initiated by the United States, namely demilitarization, denazification, decentralization and deindustrialization. France agreed on the decisions of the conference on August 7. Germany was divided into four occupied zones and its capital Berlin into four sectors.
On August 30, 1945, the Allied Control Council formed the governing body of the Allied Occupied Zones in Germany. German civilians had to reply to questionnaires, but only a few main culprits were convicted. The little fish were the victims in the process of denazification. An exception to this rule was the Nuernberg Trials, a series of military trials carried out in Nuernberg from November 1945 to October 1946. They primarily sought to punish war crimes against humanity. Also, the Allies redrew the political map of Germany, and the state of Prussia was dissolved on February 25, 1947.

Major events during the years from 1945 to 1949 were the currency reform of 1948 in which the Deutsche Mark was introduced to replace the Reichsmark shortly after the Western zones combined to "Trizonia" and the currency reform which took place in the Soviet zone. The Berlin Blockade on August 4, 1948, to May 12, 1949, was a Soviet undertaking to get rid of the American, British and French forces in Berlin. The response was an operation that became known as the Berlin Airlift, in which daily goods for West Berlin were provided by air.


The Frankfurt Documents prepared the first steps towards the founding of a new German State. On May 8, 1949, the Basic Law was passed. After its ratification by all German states but Bavaria (Bavaria refused ratification and argued that the Basic Law was too centralistic), Konrad Adenauer announced the Basic Law on May 23, 1949, as an act of foundation for West Germany.

Sources / Quellenangabe


Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marixverlag, 2018.

Sabrow, Martin. "Die 'Stunde Null' als Grenzerfahrung " Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 16 January 2020.