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Reviewed by:
  • Die Stalin-Note vom 10. März 1952: Neue Quellen und Analysen
  • Ruud van Dijk
Jürgen Zarusky , ed., Die Stalin-Note vom 10. März 1952: Neue Quellen und Analysen, Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte. München: Oldenbourg, 2002. 296 pp.

Over the past few years, a relative quiet has descended on scholarly debates about the German question during the early Cold War, at least compared to the early and mid-1990s when new archival evidence from Russian and German archives sparked a wave of fresh analysis. One reason for the recent lull is that most of the key materials for the 1945–1955 period in the files of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its ruling party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), have been thoroughly combed over by scholars. Most current research is directed at areas other than the top political and diplomatic levels. Fewer and fewer writers directly or even indirectly concern themselves with the "missed opportunity" thesis (for early unification).

A second reason for the drop-off in scholarly production on this long-standing Cold War question is that, after some early and exciting revelations, the flow of new documents from the files of the former Soviet Union was reduced to a mere trickle and then stopped altogether.

The new work since 1990 has advanced our knowledge a great deal, and it has moved historians away from traditional Western perspectives on this question. At the same time, divisions over the meaning of the new material remain rather deep, and we seem no closer to a consensus than when the Cold War was still on and we had to rely primarily on evidence from Western archives.

The volume under review illustrates the enduring splits among leading German experts on the issue of Soviet German policy under Josif Stalin. It also demonstrates the value of newly available documents from Soviet-era archives and reminds us of the need for further declassification, especially of documents from the decision-making (i.e., Politburo) level in Moscow. But the book also reminds us that insight—to say noting of a consensus interpretation—is unlikely to emerge just from having access to more archival materials.

The publication of Jürgen Zarusky's anthology was timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Stalin's March 1952 proposal for the unification of East and West Germany—the so-called Stalin note. The initiative for the volume came from Wilfried Loth, who, with the help of Russian historian Aleksei Filitov, arranged for the release and translation (into German) of fifteen Soviet documents on the genesis of Stalin's note. These documents reflect only the Soviet Foreign Ministry's role—in other words, they give us a perspective on how the note was drafted, but they do not show much, if anything, about the decision-making side of the process, and they allow us only to make inferences about Stalin's motivations when he ordered the note to be published.

Although experts have known about most of these documents for some time through the work of authors such as Stein Bjornstad and Gerhard Wettig, Loth deserves our gratitude for now providing complete versions. Loth's interpretation, however, [End Page 180]is unlikely to meet with general approval. Although he has slightly modified some of his earlier positions on Soviet Deutschlandpolitikin the early 1950s, he remains convinced that Stalin's regime earnestly sought serious negotiations with the West over Germany in 1951/1952 and that Stalin really preferred a united, neutral, bourgeois Germany over the existing situation that gave him direct control of roughly one-third of the country. This argument was extremely dubious when Loth made it in his Stalins ungeliebtes Kind: Warum Moskau die DDR nicht wollte(Berlin: Rowohlt, 1994) almost exclusively on the basis of East German documentation. The argument remains unconvincing even with the Soviet Foreign Ministry evidence thrown in.

In a response to the documents and to Loth's analysis, Herman Graml, like Loth a veteran of the Stalin-note debates, faults Loth on two main counts. First, according to Graml, Loth misreads the new documentation, or at least reads it selectively. Second, Loth...