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Workers removing the signage from a former "Adolf Hitler Street"

Denazification (German language: Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the National Socialist (Nazi) ideology. It was carried out specifically by removing those involved from positions of influence and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with it. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the Second World War and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement.

The term denazification was first coined as a legal term in 1943 in the Pentagon, intended to be applied in a narrow sense with reference to the post-war German legal system. Soon afterward, it took on the more general meaning.[1]


Denazification in Germany was attempted through a series of directives issued by the Allied Control Council, seated in Berlin, beginning in January 1946. "Denazification directives" identified specific people and groups and outlined judicial procedures and guidelines for handling them. Though all the occupying forces had agreed on the initiative, the methods used for denazification and the intensity with which they were applied differed between the occupation zones.

Denazification also refers to the removal of the physical symbols of the Nazi regime. For example, in 1957 the German government re-issued World War II Iron Cross medals without the swastika in the center.

About 8.5 million Germans, or 10% of the population, had been members of the Nazi Party. Nazi-related organizations also had huge memberships, such as the German Labour Front (25 million), the National Socialists People's Welfare organization (17 million), the League of German Women, Hitler Youth, the Doctors' League, and others.[2] It was through the Party and these organizations that the Nazi state was run, involving as many as 45 million Germans in total.[3] In addition, Nazism found significant support among industrialists, who produced weapons or used slave labour, and large landowners, especially the Junkers in Prussia. Denazification after the surrender of Germany was thus an enormous undertaking, fraught with many difficulties.

The first difficulty was the enormous number of Germans who might have to be first investigated, then penalized if found to have supported the Nazi state to an unacceptable degree. In the early months of denazification there was a great will, especially among the Americans, to be utterly thorough, to investigate everyone and hold every supporter of Nazism to account; however, it turned out that the numbers simply made that goal impractical. It soon became evident, too, that pursuing denazification too scrupulously would make it impossible to create a functioning, democratic society in Germany, one that would be able to support itself economically and not become a burden on the victorious nations. Enforcing the strictest sanctions against lesser offenders would prevent too many talented people from participating in the reconstruction process. The Morgenthau Plan had recommended that the Allies create a post-war Germany with all its industrial capacity destroyed, reduced to a level of subsistence farming; however, that plan was soon abandoned as unrealistic and too likely, because of its punitiveness, to give rise to another round of German anger and aggressiveness.[4] As time went on, another consideration that moderated the denazification effort in the West was the concern to keep enough good will of the German population to prevent the growth of communism.[5] The denazification process was often completely disregarded by both the Soviets and the Western powers for German rocket scientists and other technical experts, who were taken out of Germany to work on projects in the victor's own country or simply seized in order to prevent the other side from taking them. The U.S. sent 785 scientists and engineers back to America, some of whom formed the backbone of the U.S. space program.[6]

In the case of the top-ranking Nazis, such as Göring, Hess, von Ribbentrop, Streicher, and Speer, the initial plan was to simply arrest them and shoot them,[7] but that course of action was replaced by putting them on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials in order to publicize their crimes while demonstrating that the trials and the sentences were just, especially to the German people. However, the legal foundations of the trials were sometimes questioned, and the German people were not entirely convinced that the trials were anything more than "victors' justice".[8]

A swastika at the Nazi party rally grounds being demolished with explosives, as part of the denazification initiative.

Many refugees from Nazism were Germans and Austrians, and some had fought for Britain in the Second World War. Some were transferred into the Intelligence Corps and sent back to Germany and Austria in British uniform. However, German-speakers were small in number in the British zone, which was hampered by the language deficit. The Americans were able to bring a larger number of German-speakers to the task of working in the Allied Military Government, although many were poorly trained.[9] They were assigned to all aspects of military administration, the interrogation of POWs, collecting evidence for the War Crimes Investigation Unit and the search for war criminals.


American zone

Eagle above the rear main entry to the Robert-Piloty building, department of Computer Science, Darmstadt University of Technology. Note the defaced swastika under the eagle.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 directed US Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower's policy of denazification. A report of the Institute on Re-education of the Axis Countries in June 1945 recommended: "Only an inflexible long-term occupation authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental revision of their recent political philosophy." The United States military pursued denazification in a zealous, albeit bureaucratic, fashion, especially during the first months of the occupation.[10] It had been agreed among the Allies that denazification would begin by requiring Germans to fill out a questionnaire (German language: Fragebogen) about their activities and memberships during the Third Reich. Five categories were established: Major Offenders, Offenders, Lesser Offenders, Followers, and Exonerated Persons. The Americans, unlike the British, French, and Soviets, interpreted this to apply to every German over the age of eighteen in their zone.[11]

When the nearly complete list of Nazi Party memberships was turned over to the Allies (by a German anti-Nazi who had rescued them from destruction in April 1945 as American troops advanced on Munich), it became possible to verify claims about participation or non-participation in the Party.[12] The 1.5 million Germans who had joined before Hitler came to power were deemed to be hard-core Nazis.[3]

Progress was slowed by the overwhelming numbers of Germans to be processed, but also by difficulties such as incompatible power systems and power outages, with the Hollerith IBM data machine that held the American vetting list in Paris. As many as 40,000 forms could arrive in a single day to await processing. By December 1945, even though a full 500,000 forms had been processed, there remained a backlog of 4,000,000 forms from POWs and a potential case load of 7,000,000.[13] The Fragebogen were, of course, filled out in German. The number of Americans working on denazification was inadequate to handle the workload, partly as a result of the demand in the U.S. by families to have soldiers returned home.[14] Replacements were mostly unskilled and poorly trained.[15] In addition, there was too much work to be done to complete the process of denazification by 1947, the year American troops were expected to be completely withdrawn from Europe.

Pressure also came from the need to find Germans to run their own country. In January 1946 a directive came from the Control Council entitled "Removal from Office and from Positions of Responsibility of Nazis and Persons Hostile to Allied Purposes." One of the punishments for Nazi involvement was to be barred from public office and/or restricted to manual labour or "simple work". At the end of 1945 3.5 million former Nazis awaited classification, many of them barred from work in the meantime.[16] By the end of the winter of 1945–6 42% of public officials had been dismissed.[17] Malnutrition was widespread, and the economy needed leaders and workers to help clear away debris, rebuild infrastructure, and get foreign exchange to buy food and other essential resources.[3]

Another concern leading to the Americans relinquishing responsibility for denazification and handing it over to the Germans arose from the fact that many of the American denazifiers were German Jews, former refugees returning to administer justice against the tormentors of their relatives. It was felt, both among Germans and top American officials, that their objectivity might be contaminated by a desire for revenge.[18]

As a result of these various pressures, and following a 15 January 1946 a report of the Military Government decrying the efficiency of denazification, saying, "The present procedure fails in practice to reach a substantial number of persons who supported or assisted the Nazis," it was decided to involve Germans in the process. In March 1946 The Law for Liberation from National Socialism and Militarism (German language: Befreiungsgesetz) came into effect, turning over responsibility for denazification to the Germans.[19] Each zone had a Minister of Denazification. On 1 April 1946, a special law established 545 civilian tribunals under German administration (German language: Spruchkammern), with a staff of 22,000, enough, perhaps start to work but too many for all the staff themselves to be thoroughly investigated and cleared.[20] They had a case load of 900,000. Several new regulations came into effect in the setting up of the German-run tribunals, including the idea that the aim of denazification was now rehabilitation rather than merely punishment, and that someone whose guilt might meet the formal criteria could also have their specific actions taken into consideration for mitigation.[21] Efficiency thus improved, while rigor declined.

Many people had to fill in a new background form, called a Meldebogen (replacing the widely disliked Fragebogen), and were given over to justice under a Spruchkammer.,[11] which assigned them to one of five categories.[19][22][23]

  • V. Persons Exonerated (German language: Entlastete). No sanctions.
  • IV. Followers (German language: Mitläufer). Possible restrictions on travel, employment, political rights, plus fines.
  • III. Lesser Offenders (German language: Minderbelastete). Placed on probation for 2–3 years with a list of restrictions. No internment.
  • II. Offenders: Activists, Militants, and Profiteers, or Incriminated Persons (German language: Belastete). Subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment up to ten years performing reparation or reconstruction work plus a list of other restrictions.
  • I. Major Offenders (German language: Hauptschuldige). Subject to immediate arrest, death, imprisonment with or without hard labour, plus a list of lesser sanctions.

Again because the caseload was impossibly large, the German tribunals began to look for ways to speed up the process. Unless their crimes were serious, members of the Nazi Party born after 1919 were exempted on the grounds that they had been brainwashed. Disabled veterans were also exempted. To avoid the necessity of a slow trial in open court, which was required for those belonging to the most serious categories, more than 90% of cases were judged not to belong to the serious categories and therefore were dealt with more quickly.[24] More "efficiencies" followed. The tribunals accepted statements from other people regarding the accused's involvement in National Socialism. These statements earned the nickname of Persilscheine, after advertisements for the laundry and whitening detergent Persil.[25] There was corruption in the system, with Nazis buying and selling denazification certificates on the black market. Nazis who were found guilty were often punished with fines assessed in deutsche marks, which had become nearly worthless.[26] In Bavaria the Denazification Minister, Anton Pfeiffer, bridled under the "victor's justice", and presided over a system that reinstated 75% of officials the Americans had dismissed and reclassified 60% of senior Nazis.[27] The denazification process lost a great deal of credibility, and there was often local hostility against Germans who helped administer the tribunals.[28]

By early 1947, the Allies held 90,000 Nazis in detention; another 1,900,000 were forbidden to work as anything but manual labourers.[29]

By 1948, the Cold War was clearly in progress and the US began to worry more about a threat from the Eastern Bloc rather than the latent Nazism within occupied Germany.[30] The remaining cases were tried through summary proceedings that left insufficient time to thoroughly investigate the accused, so that many of the judgments of this period have questionable judicial value. For example, by 1952 members of the SS like Otto Skorzeny could be declared formally denazified (German language: entnazifiziert) in absentia by a German government arbitration board and without any proof that this was true.

The delicate task of distinguishing those truly complicit in or responsible for Nazi activities from mere "followers" made the work of the courts yet more difficult. US President Harry S. Truman alluded to this problem: "though all Germans might not be guilty for the war, it would be too difficult to try to single out for better treatment those who had nothing to do with the Nazi regime and its crimes."[31] Denazification was from then on supervised by special German ministers, like the Social Democrat Gottlob Kamm in Baden-Württemberg, with the support of the US occupation forces.

Contemporary American critics of Denazification denounced it as a "counterproductive witch hunt" and a failure; in 1951 the provisional West German government granted amnesties to lesser offenders and ended the program.[32]


While judicial efforts were handed over to German authorities, the US Army continued its efforts to denazify Germany through control of German media. The Information Control Division of the US Army had by July 1946 taken control of 37 German newspapers, six radio stations, 314 theaters, 642 cinemas, 101 magazines, 237 book publishers, and 7,384 book dealers and printers.[33] Its main mission was democratization but part of the agenda was also the prohibition of any criticism of the Allied occupation forces.[34] In addition, on May 13, 1946 the Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation of all media that could contribute to Nazism or militarism. As a consequence a list was drawn up of over 30,000 book titles, ranging from school textbooks to poetry, which were then banned. All copies of books on the list were confiscated and destroyed; the possession of a book on the list was made a punishable offense. All the millions of copies of these books were to be confiscated and destroyed. The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order was in principle no different from the Nazi book burnings.[35]

The censorship in the U.S. zone was regulated by the occupation directive JCS 1067 (valid until July 1947) and in the May 1946 order valid for all zones (rescinded in 1950), Allied Control Authority Order No. 4, "No. 4 – Confiscation of Literature and Material of a Nazi and Militarist Nature". All confiscated literature was reduced to pulp instead of burning.[Notes 1] It was also directed by Directive No. 30, "Liquidation of German Military and Nazi Memorials and Museums." An exception was made for tombstones "erected at the places where members of regular formations died on the field of battle."

Artworks were under the same censorship as other media;

"all collections of works of art related or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism will be closed permanently and taken into custody.".

The directives were very broadly interpreted, leading to the destruction of thousands of paintings and thousands more were shipped to deposits in the U.S. Those confiscated paintings still surviving in U.S. custody include for example a painting "depicting a couple of middle aged women talking in a sunlit street in a small town".[36] Artists were also restricted in which new art they were allowed to create; "OMGUS was setting explicit political limits on art and representation".[36]

The publication Der Ruf (The Call) was a popular literary magazine first published in 1945 by Alfred Andersch and edited by Hans Werner Richter. Der Ruf, also called Independent Pages of the New Generation, claimed to have the aim of educating the German people about democracy. In 1947 its publication was blocked by the American forces for being overly critical of occupational government.[37] Richter attempted to print many of the controversial pieces in a volume entitled Der Skorpion (The Scorpion). The occupational government blocked publication of Der Skorpion before it began, saying that the volume was too "nihilistic".[38]

Publication of Der Ruf resumed in 1948 under a new publisher, but Der Skorpion was blocked and not widely distributed. Unable to publish his works, Richter founded Group 47.

The Allied costs for occupation were charged to the German people. The newspaper that revealed that the charges included for example the cost for thirty thousand bras was banned by the occupation authorities for revealing this.[39]

Soviet zone

From the beginning, denazification in the Soviet zone took on the political tone of class warfare. As they moved into Prussia, amid the invasion, the Soviets killed, arrested, or put in internment camps the Junkers and other large landowners, not only for their reputation of being supporters of militarism and Nazism but also in order to seize their lands and redistribute it to small farmers. Many industries were expropriated, with entire factories carted off to Russia, or nationalized.[40]

In July 1945, the Soviets were the first of the Allies to install state (Länder) governments and the first to allow political parties.[41]

The Soviet secret service, NKVD, set up a number of infamous "special camps" where – among others – alleged Nazis were interned. However, people were sometimes arrested completely arbitrarily and did not receive a fair trial, with some not even receiving any trial at all. At least 43,000 died in the camps. Doing special tasks for the Soviet government could protect Nazi members from prosecution, enabling them to continue working.[42] [43] Having special connections with the occupiers in order to have someone vouch for you could also shield you from the denazification laws.[44]

The abandonment of stringent denazification in the West became a major theme of East German government propaganda, which often claimed that the West German government was nothing but an extension of the old Nazi regime. Such allegations appeared frequently in the official Socialist Unity Party of Germany newspaper, the Neues Deutschland. The 1953 June 17 riots in Berlin were officially blamed on Nazi agents provocateurs from West Berlin, who the Neues Deutschland alleged were then working in collaboration with the Western government.

The Berlin Wall was officially called the Anti-Fascist Security Wall (German language: Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) by the East German government,[45] and was ostensibly built to protect East German society from the activities of Nazis in West Berlin.[citation needed]

British zone

The British prepared a plan from 1942 onwards, assigning a number of quite junior civil servants to head the administration of liberated territory in the rear of the Armies, with draconian powers to remove from their post, in both public and private domains, anyone suspected, usually on behavioural grounds, of harbouring Nazi sympathies. For the British government, the rebuilding of German economic power was more important than the imprisonment of Nazi criminals.[46] Economically hard pressed at home after the war, they did not want the burden of feeding and otherwise administering Germany.[47]

In October 1945, in order to constitute a working legal system, and given that 90% of German lawyers had been members of the Nazi Party, the British decided that 50% of the German Legal Civil Service could be staffed by "nominal" Nazis. Similar pressures caused them to relax the restriction even further in April 1946.[48] In industry, especially in the economically crucial Ruhr area, the British began by being lenient about who owned or operated businesses, turning stricter by autumn of 1945. In order to reduce the power of industrialists, the British expanded the role of trade unions, giving them some decision-making powers.[49]

They were, however, especially zealous during the early months of occupation in bringing to justice anyone, soldiers or civilians, who committed war crimes against POWs or captured Allied aircrew.[50] In June 1945 an interrogation centre at Bad Nenndorf was opened, where ex-Nazis and suspected communist agents were tortured with beatings, whippings, thumb-screws, cold, starvation, etc.. A public scandal ensued but only one person was found guilty of neglect.[51]

The British to some extent avoided being overwhelmed by the potential numbers of denazification investigations by requiring that no one need fill out the Fragebogen unless they were applying for an official or responsible position. This difference between American and British policy was decried by the Americans and caused some Nazis to seek shelter in the British zone.[52]

In January 1946, the British handed over their denazification panels to the Germans.[53]

French zone

The French were less vigorous, for a number of reasons, than the Americans, not even using the term "denazification," instead calling it "épuration" (purification). They did not view it as critical to distinguish Nazis from non-Nazis, since in their eyes all Germans were to blame. At the same time, some French occupational commanders had served in the collaborationist Vichy regime during the war where they had formed friendly relationships with Germans. As a result, in the French zone mere membership in the Nazi party was much less important than in the other zones.[54]

Because teachers had been strongly Nazified, the French began by removing three-quarters of all teachers from their jobs. However, finding that the schools could not be run without them, they were soon rehired, although subject to easy dismissal. A similar process governed technical experts.[55] The French were the first to turn over the vetting process to Germans, while maintaining, of course, French power to reverse any German decision. Overall, the business of denazification in the French zone was considered a "golden mean between an excessive degree of severity and an inadequate standard of leniency," laying the groundwork for an enduring reconciliation between France and Germany. In the French zone only thirteen Germans were categorized as "major offenders."[56]

Brown book

In 1965, the National Front of the German Democratic Republic published what became known as the Brown Book: War and Nazi Criminals in West Germany: State,Economy, Administration, Army, Justice, Science. The book, among other things, mentioned 1,800 names of former Nazis who held positions of authority in West Germany. These included 15 ministers and deputy ministers, 100 generals and admirals of the armed forces, 828 senior judges and prosecutors, 245 leading members of the Foreign Ministry, embassies and consulates officials, and 297 senior police officers and Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution officials. As revealed by BKA official Dieter Senk in 1989, "today we know that [the] Brown Book didn't contain even approximately all the relevant names.... For example it mentions only 3 names from the BKA...." [57] The book had a controversial impact in West Germany. Reflecting this, a judge ordered the seizure of the volume from the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1967.[58]


For future German states

The culture of denazification strongly influenced the parliamentary council charged with drawing up a constitution for those occupation zones that would become West Germany.

This Constitution (German language: Grundgesetz, Basic Law), was completed on May 8, 1949, ratified on May 23, and came into effect the next day. This date effectively marks the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany.

For the future of Europe

The end of denazification saw the ad hoc creation initially of the Western Union (not to be confused with the commercial operation of that name) which would be institutionalised as the Western European Union in 1947 and 1955, with a broad socio-economic remit actually implemented in the strict domain of arms control.[59]

Responsibility and collective guilt

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, German civilians were sometimes forced to tour concentration camps and in some cases to exhume mass graves of Nazi victims.

Diese Schandtaten: Eure Schuld! ("These atrocities: Your Fault!") One of the posters distributed by U.S. occupation authorities in the summer of 1945.[60]

U.S. Army soldiers show the German civilians of Weimar the corpses found in Buchenwald concentration camp.

The ideas of collective guilt and collective punishment originated not with the US and British people, but on higher policy levels.[61] Not until late in the war did the U.S. public assign collective responsibility to the German people.[61] The most notable policy document containing elements of collective guilt and collective punishment is JCS 1067 from early 1945.[61] Eventually horrific footage from the concentration camps would serve to harden public opinion and bring it more in line with that of policymakers.[61]

Already in 1944, prominent U.S. opinion makers had initiated a domestic propaganda campaign (which was to continue until 1948) arguing for a harsh peace for Germany, with a particular aim to end the apparent habit in the U.S. of viewing the Nazis and the German people as separate entities.[62]

Statements made by the British and U.S. governments, both before and immediately after Germany's surrender, indicate that the German nation as a whole was to be held responsible for the actions of the Nazi regime, often using the terms "collective guilt" and "collective responsibility".[63]

To that end, as the Allies began their post-war denazification efforts, the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force undertook a psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of collective responsibility.[64]

The Public Relations and Information Services Control Group of the British Element (CCG/BE) of the Allied Control Commission for Germany began in 1945 to issue directives to officers in charge of producing newspapers and radio broadcasts for the German population to emphasize "the moral responsibility of all Germans for Nazi crimes."[65] Similarly, among U.S. authorities, such a sense of collective guilt was "considered a prerequisite to any long-term education of the German people."[64]

Using the German press, which was under Allied control, as well as posters and pamphlets, a program was conducted to acquaint ordinary Germans with what had taken place in the concentration camps. For example using posters with images of concentration camp victims coupled to text such as "YOU ARE GUILTY OF THIS!"[66][67] or "These atrocities: Your Guilt!!"[Notes 2]

A number of films showing the concentration camps were made and screened to the German public, such as Die Todesmühlen, released in the U.S. zone in January 1946, and Welt im Film No. 5 in June 1945. A film that was never finished due partly to delays and the existence of the other films was Memory of the Camps. According to Sidney Bernstein, chief of PWD, the object of the film was to:

... shake and humiliate the Germans and prove to them beyond any possible challenge that these German crimes against humanity were committed and that the German people – and not just the Nazis and SS – bore responsibility.[68]

English writer James Stern recounted an example in a German town soon after the German surrender.

[a] crowd is gathered around a series of photographs which though initially seeming to depict garbage instead reveal dead human bodies. Each photograph has a heading 'WHO IS GUILTY?'. The spectators are silent, appearing hypnotised and eventually retreat one by one. The placards are later replaced with clearer photographs and placards proclaiming 'THIS TOWN IS GUILTY! YOU ARE GUILTY!'[69]

Immediately upon the liberation of the concentration camps, many German civilians were forced to see the conditions in the camps, bury rotting corpses and exhume mass graves.[70] In some instances, civilians were also made to provide items for former concentration camp inmates.[70]


The U.S. conducted opinion surveys in occupied Germany. Tony Judt in his book Postwar: a History of Europe since 1945 extracted and used some of them.[71]

  • A majority in the years 1945–49 stated National Socialism to have been a good idea but badly applied.
  • In 1946, 6% of Germans said the Nuremberg trials had been unfair.
  • In 1946, 37% in the US occupation zone said about the Holocaust that "the extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was necessary for the security of Germans."
  • In 1946, 1 in 3 in the US occupation zone said that Jews should not have the same rights as those belonging to the Aryan race.
  • In 1950, 1 in 3 said the Nuremberg trials had been unfair.
  • In 1952, 37% said Germany was better off without the Jews.
  • In 1952, 25% had a good opinion of Hitler.

However, in Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question', Sarah Ann Gordon notes the difficulty of drawing conclusions from the surveys. For example, respondents were given three alternatives from which to choose, as in question 1:

Statement Percentage agreeing
Hitler was right in his treatment of the Jews: 0%
Hitler went too far in his treatment of the Jews, but something had to be done to keep them in bounds: 19%
The actions against the Jews were in no way justified: 77%

To the question of whether an Aryan who marries a Jew should be condemned, 91% responded "No". To the question of whether "All those who ordered the murder of civilians or participated in the murdering should be made to stand trial," 94% responded "Yes".[72]

Gordon singles out the question "Extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was not necessary for the security of the Germans", which included an implicit double negative to which the response was either yes or no. She concludes that this question was confusingly phrased (given that in the German language the affirmative answer to a question containing a negative statement is "no"):

Some interviewees may have responded "no" they did not agree with the statement, when they actually did agree that the extermination was not necessary.[73]

She further highlights the discrepancy between the antisemitic implications of the survey results (such as those later identified by Judt) with the 77% percent of interviewees who responded that actions against Jews were in no way justified.[73]

Gordon states that if the 77 percent result is to be believed then an "overwhelming majority" of Germans disapproved of extermination, and if the 37 percent result is believed to be correct then over one third of Germans were willing to exterminate Poles and Jews and others for German security.[73] She concludes that the phrasing of the question on German security lowers the confidence in the later interpretation.[73]

Gordon follows this with another survey where interviewees were asked if Nazism was good or bad (53% chose bad) and reasons for their answer. Among the nine possible choices on why it was bad, 21% chose the effects on the German people before the war, while 3–4 percent chose the answer "race policy, atrocities, pogroms"[73] However, Gordon highlights the issue that it is difficult to pin-down at which point in time respondents became aware of the exterminations, before or after they were interviewed: questionnaire reports indicate that a significant minority had no knowledge until the Nuremberg trials.

She also notes that when confronted with the exterminations there was an element of denial, disbelief, and confusion. Asked about concentration camps, very few Germans associated them with the Jews, leading to the conclusion that they did not understand how they had been used against the Jews during the war and instead continued to think of them as they were before the war, the place where political opponents to the Nazis were kept. "This naivete is only understandable if large numbers of Germans were truly ignorant of the existence of these camps".[74] A British study on the same attitudes concluded that

Those who said National Socialism was a good idea pointed to social welfare plans, the lack of unemployment, the great construction plans of the Nazis ... Nearly all those who thought it a good idea nevertheless rejected Nazi racial theories and disagreed with the inhumanity of the concentration camps and the 'SS'.[74]

Sarah Gordon writes that a majority of Germans appeared to approve of nonviolent removal of Jews from civil service and professions and German life.[73] The German public also accepted the Nuremberg laws because they thought they would act as stabilizers and end violence against Jews.[74] The German public had as a result of the Nazi antisemitic propaganda hardened their attitudes between 1935 and 1938 from the originally favorable stance. By 1938, the propaganda had taken effect and antisemitic policies were accepted, provided no violence was involved.[74] Kristallnacht caused German opposition to antisemitism to peak, with the vast majority of Germans rejecting the violence and destruction, and many Germans aiding the Jews.[74]

The Nazis responded by intimidation in order to discourage opposition, those aiding Jews being victims of large-scale arrests and intimidation.[74] With the start of the war the anti-Semitic minority that approved of restrictions on Jewish domestic activities was growing, but there is no evidence that the general public had any acceptance for labor camps or extermination.[74] As the number of antisemites grew, so too did the number of Germans opposed to racial persecution, and rumors of deportations and shootings in the east led to snowballing criticism of the Nazis. Gordon states that "one can probably conclude that labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination were opposed by a majority of Germans."[74]

Gordon concludes in her analysis on German public opinion based German SD-reports during the war and the Allied questionnaires during the occupation:

it would appear that a majority of Germans supported elimination of Jews from the civil service; quotas on Jews in professions, academic institutions, and commercial fields; restrictions on intermarriage; and voluntary emigration of Jews. However, the rabid antisemites' demands for violent boycotts, illegal expropriation, destruction of Jewish property, pogroms, deportation, and extermination were probably rejected by a majority of Germans. They apparently wanted to restrict Jewish rights substantially, but not to annihilate Jews.[74]


The West German political system, as it emerged from the occupation, was increasingly opposed to the Allied denazification policy.[75] As denazification was deemed ineffective and counterproductive by the Americans, they did not oppose the plans of the German chancellor Konrad Adenauer to end the denazification efforts. Adenauer's intention was to switch government policy to reparations and compensation for the victims of NS rule (Wiedergutmachung), stating that the main culprits had been persecuted.[76] In 1951 several laws were passed, ending the denazification. Officials were allowed to retake jobs in the civil service, with the exception of people assigned to Group I (Major Offenders) and II (Offenders) during the denazification review process.[77][78]

Several amnesty laws were also passed which affected about 792,176 people. Those pardoned included people with six-month sentences, 35,000 people with sentences of up to one year and include more than 3,000 functionaries of the SA, the SS, and the Nazi Party who participated in dragging victims to jails and camps; 20,000 other Nazis sentenced for "deeds against life" (presumably murder); 30,000 sentenced for causing bodily injury, and 5,200 who committed "crimes and misdemeanors in office."[79] As a result, several people with a former NS past ended up again in the political apparatus of Western Germany.

Criticism by the Red Army Faction

Because the Cold War had curtailed the process of denazification in the West, certain radical leftist groups such as the Red Army Faction justified their use of violence against the West German government based on the argument that the West German establishment had benefited from the Nazi period, and that, while having officially renounced the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes, it was still largely fascist in outlook in all other aspects. They pointed out that many former Nazis held government posts, while the was illegal. They argued that "What did you do in the war, daddy?" was not a question that many of the leaders of the generation who fought World War II and prospered in the postwar "Wirtschaftswunder" (German Economic Miracle) encouraged their children to ask.

One of the major justifications that the Red Army Faction gave in 1977 for killing Hanns-Martin Schleyer, President of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) and perceived as one of the most powerful industrialists in West Germany, was that as a former member of the SS he was part of an informal network of ex-Nazis who still had great economic power and political influence in West Germany.

Hiding one's Nazi past

Even today, membership in Nazi organisations is still not an open topic of discussion among most Germans. It was not until 2006 that famous German writer Günter Grass, often viewed as a spokesman of 'the nation's moral conscience', spoke publicly about the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen SS (even though his involvement appears to have been less than criminal; he was conscripted into the Waffen SS while barely seventeen years old). Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), on the other hand, has been open about his membership at the age of fourteen in Hitler Youth. Statistically it is likely that there are many more Germans of Grass's generation (also called the "Flakhelfer-Generation") with biographies similar to his.[80]

In other countries

In practice, denazification was not limited to Germany and Austria; in every European country with a vigorous Nazi or Fascist party measures of denazification were carried out. In France the process was called épuration légale (English: legal cleansing). Prisoners of war held in detention in Allied countries were also subject to denazification qualifications before their repatriation.

Denazification was also practised in many countries which came under German occupation, including Belgium, Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia, because satellite regimes had been established in these countries with the support of local collaborators.

In Greece, for instance, Special Courts of Collaborators were created after 1945 to try former collaborators. The three Greek 'quisling' prime ministers were convicted and sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Other Greek collaborators after German withdrawal underwent repression and public humiliation, besides being tried (mostly on treason charges). In the context of the emerging Greek Civil War however, most wartime figures from the civil service, the Greek Gendarmerie and the notorious Security Battalions were quickly integrated into the strongly anti-Communist postwar establishment.

See also


  1. Taylor, Frederick (2011). Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 253–4. ISBN 978-1408822128. 
  2. Taylor (2011), p. 226.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Taylor (2011), p. 255.
  4. Taylor (2011), pp. 119–123.
  5. Taylor (2011), pp. 97–8.
  6. Taylor (2011), pp. 258.
  7. Taylor (2011), p. 230.
  8. Taylor (2011), p. 231.
  9. Taylor (2011), pp. 300, 267.
  10. Taylor (2011), p. 253.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Adam, pg 274
  12. Taylor (2011), pp. 249–52.
  13. Taylor (2011), pp. 261–2.
  14. Taylor (2011), p. 266.
  15. Taylor (2011), p. 267.
  16. Taylor (2011), p. 268.
  17. Taylor (2011), p. 278.
  18. Taylor (2011), pp. 271–3.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Junker, pg 68
  20. Taylor (2011), p. 281.
  21. Taylor (2011), p. 282.
  22. Adam, pg 275
  23. Control Council Directive No. 38, Articles 7–13 (October 12, 1946)
  24. Taylor (2011), p. 283.
  25. Adam, pg 275. Also see Katrin Himmler's book "The Brothers Himmler", about the Himmler family
  26. Taylor (2011), p. 290
  27. Taylor (2011), p. 284.
  28. Taylor (2011), p. 285.
  29. Herbert Hoover's press release of The President's Economic Mission to Germany and Austria, Report No. 1: German Agriculture and Food Requirements, February 28, 1947. pg. 2
  30. Taylor (2011), p. 277.
  31. Steven Bela Vardy and T. Hunt Tooley, eds. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe ISBN 0-88033-995-0. Subsection by Richard Dominic Wiggers, "The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II" pg. 281
  32. JAMES L. PAYNE. "Did the United States Create Democracy in Germany?". Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  33. McClure article
  34. Lochner interview
  35. Read No Evil Time magazine, May 27, 1946
  36. 36.0 36.1 Cora Goldstein "PURGES, EXCLUSIONS, AND LIMITS: ART POLICIES IN GERMANY 1933–1949, Archived December 23, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  37. Theodore Ziolkowski (1981-05-17). "Historical Analogy". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-04. 
  38. Doris Betzl (2003-04-03). "Geburt als Skorpion, Tod als Papiertiger" (in German). Rezensionsforum Literaturkritik, No. 4. Literaturkritik DE. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  39. Did the United States Create Democracy in Germany? the Independent Institute
  40. Taylor (2011), pp. 236–241.
  41. Taylor (2011), pp. 279–280
  42. Benz, Wolfgang (2005). Demokratisierung durch Entnazifizierung und Erziehung. bpb. p. 7. 
  43. Kai Cornelius, Vom spurlosen Verschwindenlassen zur Benachrichtigungspflicht bei Festnahmen, BWV Verlag, 2004, pp.126ff, ISBN 3-8305-1165-5
  44. Taylor (2011), p. 256.
  45. "Rare East German Photographs: The Other Side of the Berlin Wall". Spiegel Online. 2011. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  46. Wierskalla, Sven (2007). Die Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes (VNN) in der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone und in Berlin 1945 bis 1948. Grin Verlag. p. 103. 
  47. Taylor (2011), p. 299.
  48. Taylor (2011), p. 265.
  49. Taylor (2011), pp. 307–8.
  50. Taylor (2011), pp. 293–5.
  51. Taylor (2011), p. 305.
  52. Taylor (2011), pp. 302–3, 310.
  53. Taylor (2011), p. 303.
  54. Taylor (2011), pp. 317–321.
  55. Taylor (2011), p. 321.
  56. Taylor (2011), p. 322.
  57. Dieter Schenk, Auf dem rechten Auge blind. Die braunen Wurzeln des BKA (Kiepenheuer & Witsck, Köln 2001), p 289
  58. Ditfurth, Jutta (2007). Ulrike Meinhof: Die Biography. Ullstein. ISBN 978-3-550-08728-8.  pp 274–5 (greek version)
  59. Treaty of Brussels 11.5.1955
  60. Jeffrey K. Olick, "In the house of the hangman: the agonies of German defeat, 1943–1949", p. 98, footnote 12(books google)
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 61.3 Francis R. Nicosia,Jonathan Huener (Eds.) "Business and industry in Nazi Germany", Berghan Books, 2004: pp. 130,131
  62. Steven Casey, (2005), The Campaign to sell a harsh peace for Germany to the American public, 1944–1948, [online]. London: LSE Research Online. [Available online at] Originally published in History, 90 (297). pp. 62–92 (2005) Blackwell Publishing, "Indeed, in 1944 their main motive for launching a propaganda campaign was to try to put an end to the persistent American habit 'of setting the Nazis apart from the German people'"
  63. Balfour, pg 264
  64. 64.0 64.1 Janowitz, 1946
  65. Balfour, pg 263
  66. Marcuse pg 61
  67. Book Review of Hitler's Willing Executioners
  68. PBS Story
  69. Therese O'Donnell Executioners, bystanders and victims: collective guilt, the legacy of denazification and the birth of twentieth-century transitional justice, Legal Studies Volume 25 Issue 4, pages 627–667
  70. 70.0 70.1 Marcuse, pg 128
  71. Judt Book Review
  72. Gordon, Sarah Ann (March 1, 1984). Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question. Princeton University Press. pp. 202–205. ISBN 0-691-10162-0. 
  73. 73.0 73.1 73.2 73.3 73.4 73.5 Gordon, Sarah Ann (March 1, 1984). Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question. Princeton University Press. pp. 199–200. ISBN 0-691-10162-0. 
  74. 74.0 74.1 74.2 74.3 74.4 74.5 74.6 74.7 74.8 Gordon, Sarah Ann (March 1, 1984). Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question. Princeton University Press. pp. 201–208. ISBN 0-691-10162-0. 
  75. Frei, Norbert (1996). Vergangenheitspolitik: Die Anfänge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-Vergangenheit. C.H.Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-63661-5. 
  76. Steinweis, Alan E.; Rogers, Daniel E., eds (2003). The Impact of Nazism: New Perspectives on the Third Reich and Its Legacy. University of Nebraska Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0803222397. 
  77. Art, David (2005). The Politics of the Nazi Past in Germany and Austria. Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–55. ISBN 978-0521673242. 
  78. Gesetz zur Regelung der Rechtsverhältnisse der unter Artikel 131 des Grundgesetzes fallenden Personen – 11 May 1951 (Bundesgesetzblatt I 22/1951, p. 307 ff.)
  79. Amnesty and Amnesia(Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past: The Politics of Amnesty and Integration by Norbert Frei) review by Jeffrey Herf The New Republic 2003
  80. Karen Margolis: Who wasn't a Nazi?
  1. Note: In August 1946 the order was amended so that "In the interest of research and scholarship, the Zone Commanders (in Berlin the Komendantura) may preserve a limited number of documents prohibited in paragraph 1. These documents will be kept in special accommodation where they may be used by German scholars and other German persons who have received permission to do so from the Allies only under strict supervision by the Allied Control Authority
  2. Eric Voegelin, Brenden Purcell "Hitler and the Germans", Footnote 12, p. 5 "In the summer of 1945, the Allies publicly displayed horrifying posters and reports from the Dachau and Belsen concentratrion camps with the accusatory headline 'Diese Schandtaten: Eure Schuld!' ("These atrocities: Your guilt!). See Christoph Klessmann, Die doppelte Staatsgrundung:Deutsche Geschichte, 1945–1955, p. 308

Further reading

External links

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