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The Potsdam Conference, 1945

Lesson Abstract
Students will participate in a simulation of the Potsdam Conference between the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.


U.S. President Harry Truman, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston  Churchill (replaced on July 26 by Prime Minister Clement Attlee), met in Potsdam, Germany, from July 17 to  August 2, 1945, to negotiate terms for the end of World War II. After the Yalta Conference of February 1945,  Stalin, Churchill, and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had agreed to meet following the surrender of  Germany to determine the postwar borders in Europe. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, and the Allied  leaders agreed to meet in July. While the Allies remained committed to fighting a joint war in the Pacific, they had difficulties reaching consensus concerning postwar reconstruction on the European continent.  

The major issue at Potsdam was the question of how to handle Germany. At Yalta, the Soviets had pressed for  heavy postwar reparations from Germany, half of which would go to the Soviet Union. However, President  Truman and his Secretary of State, James Byrnes, were determined to mitigate the treatment of Germany by  allowing the occupying nations to exact reparations only from their own zone of occupation. Truman and  Byrnes encouraged this position because they wanted to avoid a repetition of the situation created by the Treaty  of Versailles, which had exacted high reparations payments from Germany following World War I. 

One of the most controversial matters addressed at the Potsdam Conference dealt with the revision of the  German-Soviet-Polish borders and the expulsion of several million Germans from the disputed territories.  

Furthermore, the United States, Great Britain, and China released the “Potsdam Declaration,” which threatened  Japan with “prompt and utter destruction” if it did not immediately surrender (the Soviet Union did not sign the  declaration because it had yet to declare war on Japan). 

The Potsdam Conference is perhaps best known for President Truman’s July 24, 1945, conversation with Stalin,  during which time the President informed the Soviet leader that the United States had successfully detonated the  first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. Historians have often interpreted Truman’s somewhat firm stance during  negotiations to the U.S