Denazification: Wikis


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

Denazification (German: Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the Nazi regime. 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.



Denazification in Germany was accomplished 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.

Many refugees from Nazism were Germans and Austrians, and some had fought for Great Britain in the Second World War. Many of these men now worked on the denazification process. Having served, and many having been wounded, on the front line, at the end of the war, these “refugees in uniform” had one final task to fulfill in British Army uniform. When the guns fell silent across Europe, they were transferred by the thousand into the Intelligence Corps and sent back to Germany and Austria in British uniform to begin the denazification process and rebuild post-war Europe. Their knowledge of the language became essential to the Allied Military Government. They were assigned to all aspects of military administration, the interrogation of POWs, collecting evidence for the War Crimes Investigation Unit and the hunt for Nazi war criminals.

Application in the Allied Occupation Zones


American zone

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

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 directed US Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s policy of denazification. The United States military initially pursued denazification in a committed though bureaucratic fashion. Five categories were established to identify anyone over the age of 18 residing in the US zone of occupation: major offenders, offenders, lesser offenders, followers, and exonerated persons. Ultimately, the intention was the "re-education" of the German people.

A report of the Institute on Re-education of the Axis Countries in June 1945 recommended: "Only an inflexible longterm occupation authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental revision of their recent political philosophy." Every adult had to fill out a form, called a Fragebogen, detailing his or her past[1]. On 15 January 1946, however, a report of the Military Government (classified as restricted) stated: "The present procedure fails in practice to reach a substantial number of persons who supported or assisted the Nazis." Therefore, on 1 April, a special law transferred the responsibility for the denazification process to the German administration which established 545 civilian courts (German: Spruchkammern) to oversee 900,000 cases.

The Law for Liberation from National Socialism and Militarism (German: Befreiungsgesetz) came into effect in 1946.[2] Many people had to fill out a new background form, called a Meldebogen, and were given over to justice under a Spruchkammer. [1]. They were assigned one of five categories[2][3].

  • V. Exonerated, or non-incriminated persons (German: Entlastete)
  • IV. Followers, or Fellow Travelers (German: Mitläufer)
  • III. Less incriminated (German: Minderbelastete)
  • II. Activists, Militants, and Profiteers, or Incriminated Persons (German: Belastete)
  • I. Major Offenders (German: Hauptschuldige)

The courts also relied on statements from other people regarding the accused's involvement in National Socialism. These statements earned the nickname of Persilscheine, after advertisements for a whitening detergent named Persil. [4].

By early 1947, the Allies held 90,000 Nazis in detention; another 1,900,000 were forbidden to work as anything but manual labourers.[5]

By 1948, with the Cold War clearly in progress, US attention was directed increasingly to the Eastern Bloc. 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: 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 in the justification for his refusal to alleviate the induced famine from which the German population suffered: “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.”[6] 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.

In the end the denazification program was recognized as "counterproductive witch hunt" and a failure by US authorities, and they abandoned and even reversed the program in 1951.[1]

Censorship in the American zone

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 theatres, 642 cinemas, 101 magazines, 237 book publishers, and 7,384 book dealers and printers.[7] Its main mission was democratisation but part of the agenda was also the prohibition on any criticism of the Allied occupation forces.[8] In addition, on May 13, 1946 the Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation on 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 offence. 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.[9]

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.[10] 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"[2] Artists were also restricted in which new art they were allowed to create; "OMGUS was setting explicit political limits on art and representation".[3]

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.[11] 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".[12]

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.[13]

Soviet zone

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.[14]

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: Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) by the East German government, and was ostensibly built to protect East German society from the activities of Nazis in West Berlin.[citation needed]

French and British zones

The French and British took a more measured approach and focused primarily on a removal of the elite, rather than pursuit of all those who collaborated with the regime.

Implications for the 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, called the Basic Law (German: Grundgesetz), 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.

Collective guilt campaign

Allied troops commonly forced German civilians at gun point to tour concentration camps and in some cases to exhume mass graves of Nazi victims.
Diese Schandtaten: Eure Schuld! ("These atrocities: Your Guilt!") One of the posters distributed by U.S. occupation authorities in the summer of 1945 for the purpose of instilling a sense of collective guilt.[15]

In 1969 Time Magazine stated that

[i]n 1945 there was an Allied consensus—which no longer exists—on the doctrine of collective guilt, that all Germans shared the blame not only for the war but for Nazi atrocities as well.[16][17]

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."[18]

To that end, as the Allies began their post-war denazification efforts, the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) undertook a psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of collective responsibility.[19] The Public Relations and Information Services Control Group of the British Element of the Allied Control Commission 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."[20] Similarly, among U.S. authorities, such a sense of collective guilt was "considered a prerequisite to any long-term education of the German people."[19]

Using the German press, which was under Allied control, as well as posters and pamphlets, a program acquainting ordinary Germans with what had taken place in the concentration camps was conducted. For example using posters with images of concentration camp victims coupled to text such as "YOU ARE GUILTY OF THIS!"[21][22] or "These atrocities: Your Guilt!" 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.[23]

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.[24] On threat of death or withdrawal of food, civilians were also forced to provide their belongings to former concentration camp inmates.[24]


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.[25]

  • A majority in the years 1945-49 stated National Socialism to have been a good idea, badly applied.
  • In 1946, 6% of Germans said the Nuremberg trials had been unfair.
  • In 1946, 37% in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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".

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:

Some interviewees may have responded "no" they did not agree with the statement, when they actually did agree that the extermination was not necessary.[26]

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.[26]

The radical left in Germany during the 1960s–70s and Nazi allegations

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 and society based on the argument that the West German establishment had benefited from the Nazi period, and that it was still largely Nazi in outlook. They pointed out that many former Nazis held government posts, while the German Communist Party 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.


The late confession of famous German writer Günter Grass, perceived by many as a protagonist of 'the nation's moral conscience', that he was a member of the Waffen SS reminded the German public that, even more than sixty years after the Third Reich had been destroyed, membership in Nazi organisations is still a taboo issue in public discourse. Statistically it is highly likely that there are many more Germans of Grass' generation (also called the "Flakhelfer-Generation") with biographies not unlike his, who have never come clean about their involvement at the time.[27]

Denazification 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 fell to German occupation, including Belgium, Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia, because Nazi-held puppet 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 collaborators from the civil service, the Greek Gendarmerie and the notorious Security Battalions went unpunished and were quickly integrated into the strongly anti-Communist postwar establishment.

The term 'quisling' is in itself an embodiment of the Norwegian denazification efforts—demonizing the most prominent of the individuals who participated in partisan Nazi activities before or during the war. Vidkun Quisling was himself shot after being sentenced to death for high treason.

See also


  1. ^ a b Adam, pg 274
  2. ^ a b Junker, pg 68
  3. ^ Adam, pg 275
  4. ^ Adam, pg 275. Also see Katrin Himmler's book about the Himmler family
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ McClure article
  8. ^ Lochner interview
  9. ^ Read No Evil Time magazine, May 27, 1946
  10. ^ Note: In August 1946 the order was amended so that "In the interest of research and scholarship, the Zone Commanders (in Berlin the Komendatura) 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
  11. ^ Theodore Ziolkowski (1981-05-17). "Historical Analogy". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-04. 
  12. ^ Doris Betzl (2003-04-03). "Geburt als Skorpion, Tod als Papiertiger" (in German). Rezensionsforum Literaturkritik, No. 4. Literaturkritik DE. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  13. ^ Did the United States Create Democracy in Germany? the Independent Institute
  14. ^ Kai Cornelius, Vom spurlosen Verschwindenlassen zur Benachrichtigungspflicht bei Festnahmen, BWV Verlag, 2004, pp.126ff, ISBN 3830511655
  15. ^ Jeffrey K. Olick, "In the house of the hangman: the agonies of German defeat, 1943-1949", p.98, footnote 12(books google)
  16. ^ Time Magazine article
  17. ^ See also Guilt (law) and Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt.
  18. ^ Balfour, pg 264
  19. ^ a b Janowitz, 1946
  20. ^ Balfour, pg 263
  21. ^ Marcuse pg 61
  22. ^ Book Review of Hitler's Willing Executioners
  23. ^ PBS Story
  24. ^ a b Marcuse, pg 128
  25. ^ Judt Book Review
  26. ^ a b Gordon, Sarah Ann ((March 1, 1984)). Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question. Princeton University Press. pp. 199. ISBN 0691101620. 
  27. ^ Karen Margolis: Who wasn't a Nazi?

Further reading

  • Goldhagen, Daniel J. (1997). Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Vintage Books. ISBN 0679772685. 
  • Hentschel, Klaus (2007). The Mental Aftermath: The Mentality of German Physicists 1945 – 1949. Ann M. Hentschel as translator. Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-920566-0. 

Lewkowicz, N. The German Question and the Origins of the Cold War (IPOC:Milan) (2008)

External links


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