The Allies decided to divide Germany into four zones of occupation for two main reasons. The first reason was the determination on the part of France and Russia, especially the latter, to prevent the rise of another German power capable of again invading its neighbors. Russian losses in World War II were horrendous. Over eight million Russian soldiers and millions more civilians died during the war against Germany. Major cities like Leningrad and Stalingrad suffered enormous destruction. German atrocities had reached proportions almost impossible to comprehend. Add to the psychological effect on the Russians of the German invasion memories of previous wars against Western European powers (e.g., Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, about which Russians never forgot, and still-fresh memories of World War I) and the Russian desire to prevent the resurrection of Germany as a major power in Europe, and one begins to understand the decision to carve Germany into multiple pieces after its defeat in World War II. France, as with Russia, was very serious about wanting to do whatever was necessary to prevent another rise of a powerful German nation. By dividing Germany among the victors of World War II, each of the four occupying powers would be assured of being able to restrain post-war Germany’s ambitions.
How Germany went from being divided into four zones of occupation to being cut in half between East and West was a product of Cold War concerns about the intentions of each side. As Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, whose own atrocities rivaled those of Germany, sought to impose communist systems on countries it occupied after the war, Western countries looked with increasing wariness towards the East. Also, France and Germany had been severely weakened economically by World War II, and the emergence of the United States as a major global power meant that it and it alone would be capable of facilitating the rebuilding of the western half of Germany. Both France and Russia remained wary of the potential rise of Germany, but France would eventually succumb to American concerns regarding the Soviet Union and agree not only to American supremacy in West Germany but to the establishment of an alliance intended to protect Western Europe against the Soviet Union. That alliance was (and remains) the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.