The Allies instituted a thorough going denazification process. The process was handed over to the Germans in 1948. The Allies attacked the militarism of the old Prussian junker class which the united German state was built around in 1870. A substantial number of NAZIs and war criminals were arrested, but realtively few actually procecuted. The German Government continues anti-NAZI policies to this day in Germany. The denazification process was not particularly successful in convicting NAZIs and war criminals, but in a larger sence in succeeded in helping to convert Germany into a democratic nation. About half the top leadership of the SS managed to survive or disaapear. This included Eichmann's deputies and the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen. The principle that membership in these and other convicted organizations was prima facie evidence of guilt was not sustainable after the immediate post-war years. The crimes of the NAZIs, including the Holocaust were of such magnitude and involved so many Germans and colaborators throughout Europe that normal juridical mechanisms could not possibly cope. Many high-profile defendants were judged at the Nuremberg Trials. Some of the most vicious pepertrators of attrocities were never tried or sentenced. These included Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff (considered as a possible successor to Heydrich), Hinrich Lohse (Rosenberg's commissioner of the Ostland). Even of those found guilty, the United States set up a clemency board which reduced numerous sentences. Most of the guilty simply blended into the German population after the War. The results of the post-War trials are revealing. There were about 3.5 million Germans charged before the denazification courts established by the Allies. Less than 1 million were actually brought to trial and of those brought to trial only 9,600 (including Schacht, Papaen, and Fritzshe) were ever encarcerated. And the courts by 1949 had freed all but 300. [Conot, p. 518.]
Germany at the end of World War II was prostrate. Its cities dating from medieval times were vast piles of rubble. The economy and transportation network was destroyed. Much of the male population was in prosoner of war camps. The Soviets in the east unleashed a rein of rape and pillage and began shipping factories that were niot destroyed back to the Soviet Union as reprations. The urban population was on the brink of starvation. Not since the 30 Years Wars has since destruction been visited on a European state. And it would lead to the division of Germany. The Thirty Years War divided Germany between aatholic south and Protestant north. The NAZI collaose would leadt to an east-west division. Some liken the catastrophe gto the fall of the Roman Empire. And to make matters worse, millions of desperate ethnic Germans from families who had lived for centuries in Eastern and Central Europe were being expelled and flooding back to what was left of Germany. It was the greatest mass population transfer in European history. Unlike NAZI policies, however, the victorious Allies were not uintent on genocide.
Stalin knew how he wanted to deal with the NAZIs--shoot them. In his first meeting with Churhill and Roosevelt he suggested shooting 50,000 German officers. Roosevelt thought he must be joking. Churchill did not and was agast. We know that such actions were drefinitely on his mind. This is what he did to Polish offucers after seizing easter Poland as a NAZI ally. (September 1939). Some of the bodies were later fond in the Katyn Forest by the Germans. His association with theAllies seems to have moderated him--to a degree. The Allied leaders at Yalta proclaimed their commitment to destroying the NAZI party as well as NAZI-tainted institutions, organizations, laws, and cultural influences from German life. The Allies reaffirmed this pledge at at Potsdam. The final resolution read, "all members of the Nazi party who have been more than nominal participants … are to be removed from public or semi-public office and from positions of responsibility in important private undertakings."
The Allies had expected die-hard NAZIs to fight it out in a Bavarian redoubt. The possibility of an underground NAZI resistance was a real possibility. This also did not occur. Here a variety of factors were involved. This probably reflect a middle-class German penchant for order. It also reflected the fact that the Soviets occupiers were experiencing in using the same kind of brutality that the NAZIs had used to control occupied peoples. Many Germans were horrified with both the destruction the NAZIs brought as well as the realization of the enormity of NAZI crimes.
And from anearly point, many Germans began to see not the NAZI underground, but the Western powers as a protector from Soviet Communism. This was solidified by the Berlin Air Lift, but Germans began to turn to the Western Allies at a very early point of the occupation.
Admiral Dönitz, who Hitler chose to replace him as head of the German state, hoped that he could negotiate with the victorious Allies as the legitimate government of Germany. Admiral Dönitz attempted to form a Government. His goal was to prevent famine; restore communications, business and industry; provide for the homeless and begin rebuilding; and to save the currency and banking system. He also faced the problem of Germans streaming west, fleeing the vengence of the Red Arnmy. Dönitz unconditionlly surrendered what was left of NAZI Germany (May 8). Top NAZIs which Dönitz excluded ftrom his Government either committed suiside or surrendered to the Allies. The Allies soon made it clear that there would be no dealing with a post-Hitler NAZI Government. Allied authorities summoned Dönitz, Jodl, von Friedeburg and others to the steamship Patria (May 23). There American Major General Lowell W. Rooks, representing the Allied Control Commission, informed Dönitz and his colleagues that "... in concert with the Soviet High Command ... today the acting German government and the German high command, with the several of its members, shall be taken into custody as prisoners of war. Thereby, the acting German government is dissolved ..." Allied soldiers marched the members of the now disolved Dönitz government and OKW off at gunpoint, hands behind their heads to a prisoner of war cage. Admiral von Friedeburg, who replaced Dönitz as commander of the Krigsmarine, commited suicide. This was just the beginning, the Allied Commabd abolished the NAZI Government and asumed governmental authority throughout Germany. All governmental authority from Berlin to the smallest village was taken over by the Allied command. [Taylor]
The Allies as they moved into Germany and began the process of de-Nazification had some advantages to work with. Just as the Depression had destroyed the credubukiity of liberal denocracy and rge Weimar Republic, the disatervof World war II had destroyed the creditability of Hitler and the NAZIs. The death and destruction all around them was like nothing before in Germnany history except perhaps the Thirty Years War (17th century). But Germany had a well established tradition of parlimentary democravy and the rule of law (1871-1918). Even under the Kaiser, there was elections and an parliment with considerable power. This was even more true during thge Weimar Republic (1919-33). corespondent writes, "... one big and very significant difference to Japan was that Germany had already had a democratic system before the Nazis took over, a very turbulent and unstable one though.
And that's because one aspect about Germany that many do not understand very well is that, for a long time, it has been a politically, culturally and intellectually very diverse country for a long time. For a long time before the Nazis took over. That may be counter-intuitive as the first thing many people associate with Germany is the uniformity, the marching-in-goosestep character of the Nazi regime.
What most miss is that one reason the Nazis were so drastic about their “alignment” (“Gleichschaltung”) of the whole country is because that was the only way they thought they could bring a whole nation under control which, as they perceived it, was in deep chaos and trouble because of that lack of homogeneity and political and intellectual alignment in – again, as they perceived it – the face of existential threats from evil outside forces and, of course, evil corroding insiders. Which is what eventually led to the persecution and extermination of political enemies and, in their extremely distorted world view, 'un-German elements' on an epic scale." [Schaeffer]
The Allies instituted a thorough going denazification process. It was not entirely clear after VE-Day, just what direction the occupation would taken. But going after the NAZIs was a priority. At Yalta, the Allies decided on four occupation zones, one for each of the principal Allied powers (America, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). There was no agreed on process by the four countries. Thus each country set up their own process and there were differences which emerged. The French smarting from 4 years of German occupation and exploitation adopted policies to weaken Germany, The British were more pragmatic and were lenient in their pursuit of Denazification. The United States was somewhat ambivilent. Many American officials were at first prepared to assign a policy of collective guilt to the German people for NAZI war crimes. Ohers saw that if a democratic Germany was to be created, there was a need to detinguish between hard core NAZIs and the German people. This attitude became more oronounced as the Soviet Union began establishing communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe and instrangent in Berlin. came increasingly brutal in Eastern Europe. The Soviet approach was to establish compliant pro-Soviet Communists in positions of authority in their zone. They proceeded ro pursue repatriations. Enterprises not shiped back to the Soviet Union were nationalized.
The United States was somewhat ambivilent. Many American officials were at first prepared to assign a policy of collective guilt to the German people for NAZI war crimes. Ohers saw that if a democratic Germsany was to be created, there was a need to detinguish between hard core NAZIs and the German people. Thus the Americans established the most most elaborate procedures. Suspected individuals were required to fill out detailed questionnaires with information about their personal histories. They then were called before hearings before panels of German adjudicators. The American attitude began to shift as the Soviet Union began establishing communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe and instrangent in Berlin.
The British were more pragmatic and were lenient in their pursuit of Denazification. They concluded that the priority was reestablish a functioning bureaucracy in their ocupastion zone.
The French smarting from 4 years of German occupation and exploitation adopted policies to weaken Germany,
The Soviet approach as it developed after the War was to establish compliant pro-Soviet Communists in positions of authority in their zone. They proceeded ro pursue repatriations. This would later interfere with their goal of establishing a strong socilist state. Enterprises not shiped back to the Soviet Union were nationalized. Denazification was especially most rigorous in the Soviet sector. Soviet and collaborating German personel thoroughly purged existing civil servants, teachers, and legal officials with substantial NAZI associations. The Soviets were particularly ardent about seizing the property individuals and groups identified as 'class enemies'. For the Soviets, this was part of the denazification process. Both NAZIs and non-NAZIS who owned factories or rural estates were denounced and their property confiscated. After going through this process, a number of these individuals were pardoned, some even rose to high positions in the DDR.
Eventually five categories were agreed to by the Allies (1946). They included: (1) major offenders; (2) offenders; (3) lesser offenders; (4) followers; (5) persons exonerated. Gradually political conditions changed, the most important was of course the Cold war. The commitment Denazify Germany wained. Amnesties were declared. The whole process was eventually turned over to the Germans themselves to pursue (1948).
Occupation forces arrested the high-profile top NAZIs. Some managed to flee or hide. No guidelines were issued by the Allies at Yalta or Potsdam. The Denazification process was was put in the hands ofthe occupation authoritiesl. Those suspected of NAZI involvement were required to fill out a questionaire. This in many instances served as the beginning point in investigations.
The Allies attacked the militarism of the old Prussian junker class which the united German state was built around in 1870. Yhis was not precisely an element of Denazification. Many of the Prussian junker class held the NAZIs in disdain. Central to the NAZI program, however, was the militarization of Germany. Demilitarization was an objective that was highup on the agenda of the allies as the War ground go an end. The Versailled Treary ending world War I attempted to demilitarize Germany. There was, however, no settled plan. The Mogenthau Plan involved a through going demilitarization. One person, however, intervened to prevent demilitarization--Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As he employed the NKVD to establosh Soviet-style police states in the countries occupied by the Red Army, it became clear to the Western Allies that a strong, but de-Nazified Germany Army would be needed to stem the advaance of the Soviet Union further west.
Part of the de-Nazification process was to punish war criminals. This involved both the trial of the top NAZIs by an international court and then the trail of lesser officials by natianal tribuna;s, both German and courts in the cuntries occupie by NAZI Germany where most of the war crimes were committed.
The Allies proceeded to arrest top NAZIs and war criminals. The two were not sunonamnous. The top NAZIs were tried at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1946). Realtively few Germans, even few NAZIs were actually procecuted. The German Government continues anti-NAZI policies to this day in Germany. About half the top leadership of the SS managed to survive or disaapear. This included Eichmann's deputies and the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen. The principle that membership in these and other convicted organizations was prima facie evidence of guilt was not sustainable after the immediate post-war years. The crimes of the NAZIs, including the Holocaust were of such magnitude and involved so many Germans and colaborators throughout Europe that normal juridical mechanisms could not possibly cope. Many high-profile defendants were judged at the Nuremberg Trials. Some of the most vicious pepertrators of attrocities were never tried or sentenced. These included Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff (considered as a possible successor to Heydrich), Hinrich Lohse (Rosenberg's commissioner of the Ostland). Even of those found guilty, the United States set up a clemency board which reduced numerous sentences. Most of the guilty simply blended into the German population after the War. The results of the post-War trials are revealing. There were about 3.5 million Germans charged before the de-Nazification courts established by the Allies. Less than 1 million were actually brought to trial and of those brought to trial only 9,600 (including Schacht, Papaen, and Fritzshe) were ever encarcerated. And the courts by 1949 had freed all but 300. [Conot, p. 518.]
The IMT trials were widely covered by the national and international press. Many Germans would have preferred to have had the defendants face a German tribunal rather than an international tribunl confirmed by the victorious Allied powers. This was of course what was to happen after World war I, but the Allies did not occupy Germany and there was no appetite in Germany for such trials. Thus nothing came of it. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands where he was protected.
The German people reacted in horror to the revelations, but the issues were less clear cut to many Germans than to people in other countries. The Allied plan was to follow the IMT trials of the top NAZIs with the trials of thousands of lesser officials and offenders.
At the end of the War, Europewas awash with displced prsons. Most by no mes all were in occupied Germany where people had been brought under various circucustances to work in war industries as German workers were condtripted to bolster Germany's faltring defenses. After the War the task of getting all these people home was a daunting unfertaking. And in some cases they could not go home. Many were afraid of returning to Soviet-occpied areas. Jews were not always welcome nor did they often want to return to their home countries. Among these throngs of refugees were thousands of German war criminals as well as foreign collaborators who were also afraid to go home where they were now wanted men. The top NAZIs were well-known figures extensively photographed and could not easily hide. Even so, as recognizable figure as Himmler was only taken into custody because he and the SS men with him acted strangely. (They were offended when the ordinary soldierts happening upon them did not treat them with the diffrence to which they were accustomed.) Many lesser figures were not well known and could often blend in with the ordinary citizenry. And the Allied investigartions were just beginning. So it was not yet clear who had done want. The Dearh Camps were so effective that there were vrtually no surviving witnesses to testify. In the immedate post-War chaos, mny war criminals decided to escape overseas to escape justice. They headed for South America, the Mideast, and even North America. Many South American countries had German communities. The Middle-Eastern countries (escpecilly the Egyptians) welcomed felloe anti-Semites.
And North American had Germn and othr ethnic communities. Movies often deal with the Odessa Organization which smuggled them out of Europe to safety. This is largely a myth. Mosr of the guilty escaped across the Alps into Italy and then overseas, but they did so without Odessa. [Steinachr] They did, however have help. The Internainal Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Vatican, and even secret services of the victorious allies either knowingly or unknowingly assisted in their escape. Interestingly, the collapsing NAZI regime or secret resisance after the War played very little role in their escape. Hitler and his acolytes like Himmer, Goebels, Göring expected Germans tio fight it out in the Reich. And Dönotz did not allow his U-boats to be used for escape. He did authorize missions to get advanced technology, including enriched uranium to the Japanese. The Vatican and Allied secret services assisted some because of their usefulness in the developing Cold War. Some had useful informaion about the Communists or knowledge of advanced weapons technology. One author writes, "At the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of refugees anddepoertees fron Central and Eastern Europe were on the move. To this day, their fate had largely been ignored .... The stampede of people made checks of personal documents and precise inspetions impossible; the Italian authorities also had little interest in keeping their univited guests inthe country ans so had little interest in finding fauklt with their papers. As a result, SS men and war criminals disppeared into the crowd ofvrefugees. The danger of being discovered shrank from month to month. The Allied Military Governmentbearly on 31 December 1945. After that, the checks of personal papers became even more casual." [Steinachr]
Licenses were requited to publish newspapers.
The NAZIs when they seized power in Germany were suspius of the school system (1933). Germany had one of the finest school systems in Europe with large numbers of educated, fair minded inducations whobbelieved in education, not political indoctrination, racism, and militarism. As a result, the Hitler Youth program was conducted outside the school system. Over the 12 years of NAZI rule, however the education system was throughly NAZIfied. Anti-Nazis and the uncommitted were removed and replaced with politically reliable true believers. Often the new teachers and administrators were not as qualified, but they were politically reliable. Textbooks were gradually replaced with books exposing NAZI ideology. The goal of education was replaced with indoctrinating young people to support the policies ofthe NAZI state inquestionly. Thus a major goal of the Denazification process was to reform the German education system.
The Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED) and East German educators in the Soviet Zone set out for a new beginning and to to create an anti-fascist democratic 'unity school'. The educators who began this effort were idealistic and convined that they were going to undo the damage done by 12 years of NAZI rule, both to young people and teachers. One author is convinced that they persisted in their mission even when they realized that they has become part of an evil state apparatus tht had similarities to the NAZI regime they so hated. [Blessing]
Few German POWs taken by the Soviets survived the Gulag. The United Srates undertook educate the POWs it held in America to what had occured in Germany and democracy.
Soon after VE Day and the formal establishment of military occupation zones, the victorious Allies began to think about the political future of a German state. This became part of the de-Nazification process. Only the Western Allies and the Soviets had very different ideas about thar\t future. The reintroduction of democratic political parties was one of the primary concerns of the Western Allies. The Soviets on the other hand were determined to establish a single party police state completely under their control similar to the peopl's re[unlics (Communist police states) they were establishing using the Red Army and NKVD throughout Eastern Europe.
Soviet authorities were the first to reestablish political parties. As all political parties except the NAZIs had been supressed, restoring party poltics was an important part of the de-Nazification orocess. Occupation authorities authorized the formation of political parties (June 10, 1945), only a noth sfter VE-Day. Soviet goals were not only to establish a compliant Socialist political movement in their zone, but also assist the emergence of leftist paries in the Western zones. One day later the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party--KPD) was reestablished (June 11). The leading roles were given to old KPD members who had eluded the Gestapo and had organized in Moscow. The Soviets chose Wilhelm Pieck to lead it as chairman. The Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Social Democratic Party-SPD) was also reconstituted under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl. The SPD in the Weimar era had been the major socialist party. The Soviets were disappointed that the SPD proved more popular than the KPD. Soviet solution to this problem was to force a merger betweem the SPD and KPD (April 1946). The new party was the
Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany --SED). And the Soviets ensured thsat the KPD had the dominant leadership positions within the SED. Former SPD members in the Western zones objected to this union, seeing it for wjat it was--a Communist takeover of the Socialist movement. As a result, as the SPF in the Western zones reconstituted itself, there would be no cooperation with the Soviet dominated SED.
With the defeat of the NAZIs, the Western Allies began to permit pary politics for the first time in more than a decade.
Roughly speaking partoes coalesed in three basic groupings, Left wing (Marxist, right wing (conservative Christia), and liberal (midway on the political spectrum). As all political parties except the NAZIs had been supressed, restoring party poltics was an important part of the de-Nazification orocess. While the Soviets woeked to merge the two principal leftist parties (the Socialists and Communiudts) in their zone, plotics in the Western Zones took a different direction. Here there were actual party politics and not managed poltics from above. And as a resulr, the pre-War split between Vommunists nd socialists continued. Kurt Schumacher, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), strongly opposed any rapprochement with the Communists (KPD). Schumacher was a SPD Deputy in the Weimar Reichtag before the NAZIs seized power. He was arrested and interned by the NAZIs as a political prioner. This continued separation meant that the part structure in the Allied and Soviet Zones devloped very differently. The Western SPD was in contrast to the Eastern SPD--anti-Communist. The Western SPD under Schumacher and, then after his death, Erich Ollenhauer, proceeded to resume what it had begun before the NAZIs, work to improve living conditions for the working class within a parliamentary democracy. Although anti-Communist, the SPD's leadership amd membership were ideologically Marxist ans as a major objective wanted to move toward a socialist economy. And this affected their foreign policy goals in the early years. They saw na eutral, de-militarized Germany as a kind of buffer between the Communist East and the capitalist West. And despite more than aecade of NAZI rule, there wa still considerable support for the SPD from its pre-NAZI working-class base. The conservative parties were even more divided than the leftists. The conservative parties were divided along both regional an religious lines. Christian conservatives were dibided during the Weimar era. A major pre-NAZI pary had been the Catholic Center Party. Christians were targeted during the NAZI era, especially Catholics. There was a long history of animosity between Cathloics and Protestants in Germany. Obe of the enduring impacts of Hitler and the NAZIs was to weaken long-established class and religious differences. The NAZI term as 'Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer" The Führer was now gone, but the German Volk (people) were now more united than ever before. And Christians of different demoniations began to see their common values. The result was a unified Christian conservative party holding traditional Christian middle-class values. Their common political orintation was to oppose atheist Marxism (communism and socialism). Rregional political groupings began foring in the cities (Berlin, Cologne, and Frankfurt am Main). Representatives met and agreed to form the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union--CDU) (December 16, 1945). Along with political parties, the Allies also permitted the organization of free trade unions which as brfore the NAZIs were associated with the new political parties. Some of the unions were oriented toward the leftiust partoes, especially the SPD. There were also Christian labor unions. They provided electoral support, but also influenced the developing CDU, meaning conservative movement. Unlike the Marxist unions, they did not dispute the idea of private ownership, they advocated state control for many principal industries. This gradually shifted during the 1950s as the German Economic Miracle began to take hold and the potential rewards of a market economy began to influence more workers. The trade union component did tend to move the CDU party view to the left, a free market vision with an important social component. A somewhat dofferent tact developed among Bavariam Chriustins. The Christlich-Soziale Union (Christian Social Union--CSU) was founded (October 1946). The CSU remained separate from the CDU wit a more clearly conservative ideology. In between the SPD and the CDU ideolgically were the liberals. German liberals before the NAZIs were divided ideologically between a conservative national wing and a more leftist wing with social concerns. There was also a groups of voters who identified with the liveals becaus e they had no clar-cut ideolgy. The liberals tended to side wijth the CDU, but lcked the Christian orintation. They rejected the idea of economic planning advicatd by the SPD. Several small independent liberal groups appeared in southwestern Germany as well as Hesse, Hamburg, and Berlin in the north. These groups united to form Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democratic Party--FDP) (November 1948). This occured as Stalin was blockading West Berlin. Theodor Heuss, the FDP leader, became the first federal president of the German Federal Repunlic.
The Denazification process was not particularly successful in convicting NAZIs and war criminals. Some authors have criticized the Denazification process for not pursuing a more thorough procedution of war criminals. [Bower] But in a larger sence, the Allied occupation was a spectacular success in helping to convert Germany into a democratic nation.
Vergangenheitsbewältigung is the German term meaning roughly 'coming to terms with the past'. (Vergangenheit = past; Bewältigung = coming to terms with, mastering, wrestling into submission). One source suggests the best translation as "struggle to come to terms with the past". It is a struggle which mist be addressed in any attempt to understand Post-War Germany.
A reader writes, "I think it was shameful that more Nazis were not given some sort of punishment. There must have been a vengeful attitude by the Poles and Jews. The Russians were harsher in their dealings, I believe. Many German prisoners just 'disappeared', and many were not returned to West Germany until long after the War. I have often wondered whether the convicted Nazis should have been required to wear a badge of shame on their clothing, in response to the humiliation they inflicted on the Jews." I think our reader is right that the NAZIs did get got off lightly. I must say, however, that the Germans unlike the Japanese after the War lived up to what they did. The calculation has to be made over the future and the past. Today Germany is democratuicv and peace loving. My guess is that few in 1940 would have thought that possible. And there has been 65 years of peace in Europe and no indication that there will ever be another War--a tremendous achievement. Sometimes justice has to take a back seat to the larger good. America and Britain made a deal with Stalin to fight the NAZIs even though Stalin was guilty of enormous war crimes and atrocities. Sometimes statesmanship requires distasteful compromises.
Blessing, Benita. The Antifascist Classroom: Denazification in Soviet-occupied Germany, 1945-1949.
Bower, T. The Pledge Betrayed: America and Britain and the Denazification of Postwar Germany (1982).
Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg (Carroll & Graf: New York, 1986), 593p.
Fitzgibbon, C. Denazification (1969).
Griffith, W.E. The Denazification in the United States Zone of Germany (1966).
Schaffer, Michael. Quora post (October 26, 2014).
Seeliger, R. (ed.), Braune Universitaet: deutsche Hochschullehrer gestern und heute: eine Dokumentation nos. 1–6 (1964–68).
Steuinacher, Gerald. Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fed Justice (2011).
Taylor, Frederick. Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany.
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