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Historian Pens Book On Soviet Union

November 16, 1998

The impact of the Russian Occupation on Germany drawn from previously classified secret police files written after World War II is the topic of the most recent book written by UW-River Falls history Professor Ed Peterson.

"Russian Commands & German Resistance: the Soviet Occupation 1945-1949" draws on recently revealed Soviet documents that outlined the efforts and to subject Germany to totalitarianism after the end of the war and its failures that ultimately led to the collapse of East Germany.

The book is the fourth in a series by Peterson about pre- and post-war Germany that studies resistance movements.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union in 1989 presented Peterson with the long-awaited opportunity to research previously secret Soviet archives.

Each summer from 1990-1997, he researched in the state and party documentation made available in various parts of East Germany.

The work shows what was attempted by the apparently totalitarian Soviet State in East Germany and what Stalin had achieved by 1949. Although the new Communist government had apparently been a totalitarian victory, there were many limitations on what had been achieved with Russian tanks and Soviet secret police.

The Germans had been changed relatively little by the Soviets, Peterson found.

The limits of the Communist success helps explain the rapid fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany in 1989-90, Peterson concluded.

Since 1995, Peterson has spent each summer in East Germany to extend his research about the end of the Communist regime and the Fall of the Wall. The best source he has found has been the Secret Police (Stasi) files, which include what it did to try to prevent a revolution and how their reports on the discontent show that at least two years before the Fall, public discontent was a real threat to the regime.

The remarkable fact, Peterson said, is that since their reports were to be kept confidential, the secret police could tell the truth to their bosses. Further, even before the regime fell, secret police were saying that had their bosses listened to them, the East German regime could have been saved by appropriate reforms.

Peterson says he finds these reports so fascinating that he continues to research them and will return next summer to Berlin and Magdeburg. Making the summers complete, he assists his wife Ursula in her family histories research, also primarily in east Germany. This usually means in villages, from which ancestors had left in the 19th century.

Peterson's family relationships and military service in Germany after the end of World War II led to his research interest on Germany.

A member of the UW-RF history department since 1954, his first work was "The Limits of Hitler's Power," a study of the resistance to totalitarianism. Because his research in Bavaria had acquainted him with the state government in Munich and the communities of Augsburg and Nürnberg, he decided to continue the study of Bavaria during the American Occupation, in which he had served during the postwar period.

His second work, "Retreat to Victory," argued that the power of the American conqueror had also been limited, but that American occupation leaders had the good sense to let the defeated Germans pursue their own agenda, which resulted in a democratic and capitalist society, very supportive of the United States.

When that was finished in 1978, he applied to the East German government to study the Russian occupation. That request was denied, so he used memoirs and espionage gathered in the West to describe all parts of Germany in 1945, in "The Many Faces of Defeat." That third book described conditions also in the Russian and Polish areas.

Having taught World War II for so many years led Peterson to write his next book, "An Analytical History of World War II," which is used as a text.

For more information about Peterson's most recent book on the Soviet occupation of East Germany, contact him at 715/425-3164.

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