Postwar Germany

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#11
The ways in which the 8 million Nazi Party members were treated after WWII is a most interesting topic. Most standard historical accounts embark upon the topic with a statement to the effect: ‘Denazification was an agreed aim of all the occupying powers…’ and this is where the first perceptual problems begin. ‘Denazification’, by its very signification, requires a basic working definition of ‘Nazism’. If the Four-powers did indeed agree to the policy outwith the diplomatic rhetoric in which it was initially dressed, it would be essential that all powers concerned held conforming conceptualisations of ‘Nazism’. The British identified Nazism as being deep within the German people, as both a consequence and continuation of German history and Prussian Militarism; it was an illness, a “disease that goes very deep.”If Nazism was not explicitly identified with the Germans, then there was no meaningful attempt to distinguish between them. The lack of ‘normality’ in German history and the experience of ‘everything except normal’ was a prevalent view in Britain. The overt omission of co-operation with anti-fascist groups (Antifas) reflects this distrust of ‘Germans’ as a whole. Given that the Soviets understood Nazism as a socio-economic system and, as such, postulated that the eradication of Capitalism along with the potential for a capitalist revival would mean that Nazism could not re-assert itself, denazification in the Soviet Zone was thus swift, severe and ultimately efficient (from a Soviet point of view). The Western Allies, whilst having more psychologically based interpretations of Nazism, endorsed a variety of approaches which ultimately oscillated between concepts of ‘retribution’ and ‘rehabilitation’, with some holding the view of ‘collective guilt’, particularly prevalent amongst the Americans. Roosevelt’s memo of 26th August 1944 to Secretary of War, Stimson, illustrates his conception of Nazism:
“The German people as a whole must have it driven home to them that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization.”
The Americans framed Nazism as being contrary or deviating from a concept of ‘civilisation’ that had developed in US universities over the previous few decades. This was counter-balanced by a recognition that the rehabilitation of Germany would benefit Western Europe. However, the prevailing attitude was expounded in April 1945 within the articles of JCS 1067 which reiterated Roosevelt’s sentiments that “[it] should be brought home to the Germans … that [they] cannot escape responsibility for what they have brought upon themselves.” As the Allied armies made their way further into Germany, the liberation of concentration camps reinforced these perceptions and confirmed to the Allies the righteousness of the punitive treatment intended within the framework of the occupation policy.

The implicit identification of ‘Germans’ as ‘Nazis’ and the declared aim of the destruction of “the National Socialist Party and its affiliated and supervised organisations”, the general concept of the ‘cleansing’ of Germany of Nazism provided the canvas upon which the ‘broad programme’ of ‘denazification’ was almost unthinkingly thrown without initial consideration of who would be specifically responsible for the implementation of just such a programme.

The initial problems facing the Allies in many ways deemed the aims unrealistic from the outset. Denazification took place amidst many other, often complex, and essentially immediate problems. The intense confusion of misplaced persons and expellees, widespread emotional distress – particularly amongst a staggering number of rape victims, – the debilitated transport and communications systems, many people without food and/or shelter, and problems of disease and malnutrition. The Allies, initially suspicious of all Germans, were especially sceptical of those Germans in a position to offer assistance in an administrative capacity. However, this ‘suspicion’ was frequently disregarded in the face of expediency when there was urgent need to repair, or replace infrastructures. These initial directives – which were in many ways contradictory – were replaced by a policy of ‘guilt-by-officeholding’ which carried 136 mandatory removal categories.

Successive directives aimed to synthesise the policy more closely with overall occupational objectives. General Clay’s Law No. 8 of September 1945 extended denazification into the economic sphere and deemed that Nazis could only be employed in manual positions. The ‘Draconian’ consequences of this are very much emphasised by Bower, who suggests that the Law was “an example of systematic and meticulous imbecility” to which the British only agreed to please the Americans yet never implemented in their zone. The Law alienated many ‘followers’ by disregarding their personal motives for party membership. Bishop Wurm of Württemberg protested the Law to Clay claiming that it “persecuted Nazi Party members and their sympathisers” (surely, the overarching aims of denazification policy anyhow), and that the Church had a right to intervene. Yet, this ‘persecution’ that Bishop Wurm highlights was not so much a punitive measure than the Allies simply locating the burden of proof for the first time upon the accused. More significantly, German review boards were employed to process these claims thus handing over some of the burden to Germans for the ‘mechanised’ processes of denazification. Likewise, the Law for Liberation from National Socialism of March 1946 continued this shift of focus from the ‘structural’ to the ‘individual’. Employment restrictions on former Nazis, the arrest and subsequent internment of many thousands, coincided with numerous injustices to deny much needed expertise to the administrative sector. Given the widespread physical carnage suffered by Germany, the loss of such an accumulated mass of expertise could not have come at a more crucial time. Attempts to differentiate between varying degrees of Nazi – ‘nominal Nazis’ to ‘real Nazis’, ‘non-Nazis’ to ‘anti-Nazis’ – had previously been difficult, the necessary employment of individuals on account of ability, undermined the validity of the policy as a whole. The only means by which to process the requisite number of Nazis was by means of the Fragebogen.

The infamous Fragebogen were used to identify the extent of Nazism within each individual. Under the terms of the Law for Liberation from National Socialism, German citizens (over the age of 18) submitted highly detailed questionnaires to a bureaucracy of tribunals, known as Spruchkammern, that enquired into every conceivable aspect of professional and political activity in the previous decades. The Fragebogen allowed for the ‘mechanical’ division of the German population into categories: (1.) major offenders; (2.) offenders; (3.) lesser offenders; (4.) followers; and, (5.) exonerated. This provided the Allies with a population now categorised conveniently. In the British zone, 90% were classified as ‘exonerated’ whilst in the French and American zones, 52% and 35% were exculpated respectively. Alfred Grosser points out that the final category (Entlastete) translates as ‘exonerated’ or ‘discharged’ and does not signify or imply ‘innocent’. This suggests that the Allies still, to an implicit degree at least, held on to the earlier perception of ‘Germans as Nazis’ and reflects the overarching level of acceptance of widespread complicity even in the face of the individualistic nature of the process. However, once the new system was accepted, attempts to distinguish between categories failed. The Allies failed to grasp the multitudinous motives for joining (or not joining) the NSDAP. Whilst it was accepted that, for many professions, party membership was compulsory from 1937, this failed to account for ‘motive’, ‘complicity’ or ‘guilt’.


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avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#12
..../

The policy was deeply unpopular with the German people. As many as eight million people had been members of the Party or its “affiliated and supervised organisations.” Generally, the middle-classes complained that denazification was too severe, whilst working-class people complained that it was insufficient. There were allegations that the Allies were wrongly pursuing the ‘small-fish’ to the benefit of the ‘large-fry’. This is ostensibly accurate; the process of ‘exonerating’ as many as possible as quickly as possible allowed those ‘discharged’ persons to resume their professions. Unfortunately, the period when those ‘small-fish’ were charged as Nazis was the time when punitive judgement was highest. By the time the various Spruchkammer came to process those persons more implicated in Nazism, the attitudes toward the process had cooled significantly. These attitudes reflect both the level of Nazi support as well as potential for contemporaneous loss. The middle-classes were the (generally accepted) stalwarts of National Socialism and, in the post-war period, had considerably more to lose, whereas the Nazis had struggled to attain – and then retain – the support of the working class. It is also more likely that this latter group had suffered more material destitution throughout the war than the former. So, these condemnations of denazification may be more reflective of German society and class division than of the policy itself. The various criticisms of denazification gravitated, though not exclusively, around an ideological Left/Right division with many on the Right initially favouring a swift and mercurial purge of the public and economic spheres. When it became clear that Military Government were unwilling to fulfil this purification, any confederation with the policy offered the possibility of political embarrassment. Whilst the Left often joined with the Right in these criticisms, the obvious emphasis on the mass of ‘small-fry’ or ‘followers’ became a cause of criticism from this quarter.

The Nuremberg tribunals raised numerous questions concerning the moral superiority of the Allies. Specifically, their right to create charges ex poste facto, and directly challenged the concept of guilt and whether or not it can be transmitted down the military chain of command. The effects that duress and coercion have on notions of ‘guilt’ was also disputed. The sentencing of the upper echelons of the Nazi regime undermined the whole concept of ‘denazification’ by admonishing the guilty and presenting those criminals and the Nazi dictatorship as ‘totalitarian’ in nature. Hitler and his ‘henchmen’ managed, through absolute power and the coercion of the German nation, to manipulate German society and culture into the many crimes of the regime. The Prussian tradition of militarism, 'an army in search of a country', had tainted the Wehrmacht and the rest of German society.

The trials impacted broadly on the general problems of Denazification and emphasised the wider problem of what to do with German society by adding weight to claims that Germans were also victims of Nazi barbarity. The accusation of charge creation ex poste facto was juxtaposed from the trial medium directly to the utility of denazification critics. The prosecution’s, particularly the Anglo-American’s, recourse to a concept of conspiracy failed to convince many of the validity of the charges.

Outwith internal problems with denazification and its failure to achieve a general purge or replacement of old for new, the policy failed to engender any significant level of penance from the German people. Most people managed to justify their actions, appropriate the necessary testimonies in their defence and ‘forget’ the true nature of the past. As the policy came to focus on the individual, so too, Germans seem to have retained individual concerns: self-justification and naiveté; the obtaining of Persilscheine to ‘whiten the brown-shirt’; and the re-appraisal of past activities in a positive light. Most importantly, due to the many discrepancies, the crudity of Allied conceptualisation and approach, many of the (former?) Volksgemeinschaft closed ranks in a familiar sense of ‘common’ fate and identity and ‘common’ hostility to those outside the community – the Allies. It remains pertinent to assert that there remained the possibility of a process of self-denazification without the application of such a system by an outside force. Naturally, it becomes a difficult task to demonstrate such an assertion considering the secrecy and discretion encouraged by the various vigours of Allied denazification activities. However, this assertion would certainly suit the German self-image.

The lasting effects of denazification are more plainly discovered. The surveyed findings of the Fragebogen pay testament to both the extent of acceptance and internalisation of National Socialism, as well as the apparent failure of Allied denazification practices. As many as between 47% and 55% of Germans, even in the face of the daily hardships of 1945-1947, still believed in National Socialism. For these people, National Socialism was a good idea that had simply been badly managed by the Nazis. Approximately 18% of the population could be judged to be ‘unreconstructed Nazis’. Likewise, the Allensbach Institute surveyed public opinion and found similar traces of Nazism and a discreet belief in Hitler. They found variously that 1 in 10 Germans still believed Hitler to be the greatest statesman of the twentieth-century and more than 1 in 5 considered him an excellent statesman. Again, 1 in 10 saw Hitler as the statesman who had done most for Germany even when placed against the eminent Bismarck. Within the environment of denazification and the occupancy of past ‘enemies’, it seems most likely that a considered response would be likely to elicit a non-Nazi answer, which suggests that the above figures are potentially understated.

Konrad Adenauer’s religious framework of self-denazification projected National Socialism as basely ‘pagan’ and ‘atheistic’ in construct and his antidote was the replacement of one pseudo-religion with his own. Yet, Adenauer’s later Vergangenheitspolitik of the (discrete) amnesty of war criminals (by this time subtly referred to as “condemned soldiers”) for the sake of political integration and support, should not suggest the failure of denazification, the amnesties were merely the final stages of the process. These were simply the continuation of an apparently magnanimous and open-handed, yet politically astute process of widespread and (to remember Herz’s description) ‘mechanical’ amnesties initiated by the Allies. The expediency of political union with the western allies, particularly in the face of increasing East/West tension, permitted Adenauer to oversee the final atrophy of the denazification process – regardless of any remnants of National Socialists within the halls of power. Considering the political stability that Adenauer garnered from such moves, they may be seen as necessary components of both the denazification and the democratisation processes.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#13
... /

The permanent removal of a large proportion from any population is, to all extents and purposes, an ideal that has much in common with the National Socialist concept of Volksgemeinschaft. The amnesties allowed the overwhelming majority of (ex-) Nazis to be re-introduced, along with their productivity, back into the population. This has often been accepted as the failure of ‘denazification’. The amnesties, as ‘mechanical’ as they were, became a form of denazification in themselves by reintegrating the German population and vitiating the concept of Volksgemeinschaft within this context. The unprecedented physical extirpation of all Nazi institutions, organisations and points of collective action, was tantamount to the effective removal of the raison d’etre of Nazism as both a movement and a political force. Denazification successfully effected the removal of all points of collective obedience, loyalty and coercion, thus leaving many who had been Nazis, as well those who still were, as inconsequential individuals.

The remarkable candour with which much of the above literature is able to dispose of the topic (often with a brief and negative phrase regarding the failure of the policy) fails to serve justice on the longer lasting effects of the policy. More focussed studies criticise the wide injustice of the system – but fail to elucidate on the fact that the policy was founded upon both practical as well as punitive intentions. The expediency with which some eight to twelve million people were ‘rehabilitated’ (at least superficially) and reintegrated into post-war German society complete with an internalised acceptance of the total defeat of Nazism, cannot be denied regardless of the practical short-comings of an overly ambitious and ultimately ill-thought-out project. The psychological message that defeat and viable Allied power exerted over a multitude of ‘small-fry’ Nazis effectively extirpated National Socialism from the German population, as was the original aim when agreed during the war. To this extent, whilst unwilling to laudably congratulate the Allies on their success, it would certainly be somewhat misguided to berate denazification as a failure.

Should you like, I would be happy to recommend some literature on this topic.

ps - Sorry for rambling on a bit, its one of my pet topics (just don't tell anyone!!;)
 
Jul 2008
1,211
NE PA
#14
The same double standards could be said of the Allied forces. The vileness of the Axis war effort obscured the war crimes of the Allies. The victors were practically immune. Everyone seemed to accept that, from the Allied perspective, anything was acceptable in the battle with the Reich.
But what could be the solution? Try your OWN soldiers/statesmen?
 
Dec 2008
251
#15
I'm not convinced it was a good idea to create a "War Crime" as such. I subscribe to Churchill's view, which was "take out the back and shoot them".
seem to remember a bbc program some time ago, where an ex british spy was talking about doing just that. they went around post war europe in a tatra car looking for war criminals and executed them.
 
Nov 2008
639
Melbourne, Australia
#16
But what could be the solution? Try your OWN soldiers/statesmen?
All parties should be subject to international law. Surely we cannot accept that war crimes are of no consequence when found amongst the victorious power. In most wars, it is generally the ultimately victorious power which is the most malicious.
 
Jan 2009
81
British North America
#17
All parties should be subject to international law. Surely we cannot accept that war crimes are of no consequence when found amongst the victorious power. In most wars, it is generally the ultimately victorious power which is the most malicious.
While the Allies are guilty of firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Duisburg, Darmstadt, Würzburg, Kassel; not to mention the firebombing of Tokyo, Kobe and the dropping of the two atomic bombs, along with the savagery of infantry forces that were liberating former Third Reich controlled territories; savage beatings, murder, pillaging, rape. The Axis Forces had been guilty of horrendous crimes against civilian populations of the occupied territories, including against POW's.

However, all parties should have been tried for having committed crimes against humanity, both civilian subjects and military ones. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the conflict, I don't think that anything but a true non-revisionist account can implicate guilt.

I think while the American involvement in the rebuilding of post-war Germany, has created a much changed society, I think there was still potential room for failure of Germany to reconstruct on the account of the allied forces. While the East Germans today, have not been under the same guise of de-nazification as their West German counterpart; thus the rise of National Socialist sympathy in the former D.D.R.
 
Jul 2008
1,211
NE PA
#18
All parties should be subject to international law. Surely we cannot accept that war crimes are of no consequence when found amongst the victorious power.
I agree, for any conflicts post WWII. What I meant was I can't see any Allied nation being impartial enough (or stupid enough) to try to try its own soldiers or leaders for war crimes. Should the US have attempted to put Truman on the docket for giving the order to nuke Japan?
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#19
The Nuremberg Trials had two principal aims: one punitive, the other didactic. Notions of 'right' and 'wrong' are misleading ventures here.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#20
Should you like, I would be happy to recommend some literature on this topic.

ps - Sorry for rambling on a bit, its one of my pet topics (just don't tell anyone!!;)
avon,

Thank-you for your considered and extensive treatment of the subject. When I was over there in the early '70s, my German friends informed me that all of the policemen of that age-group were ex-Nazis. I wasn't shocked. It would have been a, uh, tenure sort of thing, I guessed. But when you think about it, a certain amount of un-blasé-ness is called for in regard to the police.

I would like those titles.