Pending a peace treaty, Allied leaders met at Potsdam in 1945 and divided Germany into four occupation zones–French in the southwest, British in the northwest, American in the south, and Soviet in the east. Berlin, deep in the Soviet zone, was also divided into four sectors
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg tried Nazi leaders as war criminals. The trial ended in 1946 with 19 convicted, of whom ten were hanged. Goering escaped hanging by taking poison. Civilian courts held denazification trials. Convicted Nazis were banned from public office and imprisoned.
The division of Germany into occupation zones made possible the future development of two separate German states. The breakdown of the alliance between the Western powers and the Soviet Union–which became known as the Cold War–further led to the partition of Germany. In 1947 the American and the British merged their zones for economic purposes, and the Germans were allowed to set up state parliaments in all three Western zones. These moves laid the foundations for the emergence of the West German state. In 1948 the Soviets showed their unwillingness to cooperate with the Western occupation powers in a reform of the German currency and in the joint administration of Berlin. A blockade of the Western-controlled sectors of Berlin by the Soviet occupation forces led to the organization of a massive airlift of supplies to those sectors by the United States and Britain. By the spring of 1949 the blockade had been abandoned by the Soviets along with attempts to force West Berlin to become part of a Soviet-controlled city.
The merger of the French zone of occupation with the other Western zones, along with the adoption of a constitution by representatives of the states forming the occupation zones, resulted in the proclamation on May 23, 1949, of the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. On October 7 of the same year, the Soviet zone was proclaimed as the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany.