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After the capitulation the Allies divided the largely devastated country into four occupation zones. The regions east of the Oder and Neisse rivers were subject to Polish or Soviet administration. More than 12 million refugees and expellees streamed from the East into the zones administrated by the victorious powers. The daily struggle for survival taxed people’s energy and pushed any attempt to come to terms with the Nazi regime and its crimes into the background.

Initially the Germans only had very limited possibilities of shaping their political future. A common policy towards Germany among the Allied powers collapsed with the emergence of the "Cold War". The Soviet Union pressed ahead with the restructuring of their zone along Soviet-Socialist lines, whereas the Western Allies tried to integrate their occupation zones into the confederation of Western democracies.