Basically, I've learned that the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) was the only lawful successor of Nazi Germany. The GDR (German Democratic Republic) was not – that means they weren't recognized as such under international law.

According to my understanding, the FRG could lawfully speak not only for the people of FRG but also for the whole GDR.

My simple questions is: why was that so? Why was only the FRG the lawful successor of Nazi Germany and not both the FRG and the GDR?

  • Should there be a distinction here between "legal" and "lawful"? I know that they are synonyms in many cases, but is there not a distinction between a "lawful" successor (one that is allowed under the law) and a "legal successor" (as something that takes on the laws and obligations of its predecessor)? I may be adding meaning / making a distinction that doesn't exist, though?
    – owjburnham
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 15:14

3 Answers 3


When the two German states were founded in 1949, both considered themselves the only lawful representative of the entire German nation and thus the successor state to the German Reich. For the West German view, you can find an extensive overview on Wikipedia’s article covering the Hallstein Doctrine. For the GDR view, I present you article 1 of the initial 1949 GDR constitution which reads:

Deutschland ist eine unteilbare demokratische Republik; sie baut sich auf den deutschen Ländern auf.

Die Republik entscheidet alle Angelegenheiten, die für den Bestand und die Entwicklung des deutschen Volkes in seiner Gesamtheit wesentlich sind; alle übrigen Angelegenheiten werden von den Ländern selbständig entschieden.

Die Entscheidungen der Republik werden grundsätzlich von den Ländern ausgeführt.

Es gibt nur eine deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit.

Only the first and fourth paragraphs are important here, they translate to:

Germany is an inseparable democratic republic; it is made up of states (Länder).


Only one German nationality exists.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, the GDR shifted away from this idea of an exclusive mandate as they no longer considered a reunification possible. Instead, they strived for international recognition and criticised the Alleinvertretungsanmaßung (presumptiousness of exclusive mandate) of the Hallstein Doctrine that the FRG continued to uphold.

Following the transition of power from CDU to SPD in the FRG in 1969 with the new chancellor Willy Brandt, the FRG started to adopt a slightly new foreign policy which acknowledged the existence of a second German state (but continued to strive for reunification in principle and avoided terms typically associated with independent states; for example, instead of an ‘embassy’ they kept a ‘permanent representation’). Thereafter, the GDR relinquished its claims on West Germany bit by bit, removing all such evidence from its constitution in 1974. However, they still claimed partial successorship by claiming part of the territory and nation of the former Reich.

As for the two countries’ view of the events post 1945: the FRG always considered it a successor state of and thus identical according to international law with the Reich. A number of laws from prior to 1945 were retained – some even predating the First World War and dating back to the German Empire of 1871. While the GDR initially also held a similar view it shifted along with giving up its claims of representing the entirety of Germany to the view that the Reich had ceased to exist in 1945 and new states were founded on vacant territory.

This meant that the FRG would claim in the presence of other nations (e.g. at the UN) to be the successor state of the German Reich while the GDR did not pursue such a claim and rather considered itself newly founded. The FRG would honour international treaties predating its founding in 1945 (like for example the Concordate with the Holy See; the first one I thought of off the top of my head). The GDR would typically not consider itself bound by these.

The international community will typically consider you accordingly depending on how you act. If you claim to be a successor and honour your claimed predecessor’s responsibilities, other countries will accept you as such a successor. If you do not, they will not. Only if there are two simultaneous claims (e.g. Beijing versus Taipei) there might be trouble.


Prior to 1989, this might have been subjective, but the Reunification Treaty of 1989 made clear that the new Germany was a successor state to the BRD (FRG). The DDR (GDR) ceased to exist. This mirrors the post-war secession of the DDR from Germany.

However, it's not exactly so simple that the Communist bloc saw the DDR as the successor state. Russia in particular had fought Germany in both world wars, and explicitly wanted to distance themselves from that lineage. Creating the DDR as a new state with a blank slate was one way to dissociate them from that history.

  • I'm specifically asking about the time before 1989.
    – uuu
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:13

The GDR was viewed as a "puppet" or client nation without effectual autonomy outside of the Kremlin.

As Eli Rubin puts it in his book, Synthetic Socialism: Plastics and Dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic,

Many of the earliest histories of the GDR...advanced the Cold War view that East Germany was an inauthentic state, a puppet state, held in place only by the support of the USSR and by the terror imposed upon its unwitting citizens by the Ministry of State Security, the Stasi.1

Google Books excerpt

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