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Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past

Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past: The Politics of Amnesty and Integration

Norbert Frei
Translated by Joel Golb
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 365
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    Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past
    Book Description:

    Of all the aspects of recovery in postwar Germany perhaps none was as critical or as complicated as the matter of dealing with Nazi criminals, and, more broadly, with the Nazi past. While on the international stage German officials spoke with contrition of their nation's burden of guilt, at home questions of responsibility and retribution were not so clear. In this masterful examination of Germany under Adenauer, Norbert Frei shows that, beginning in 1949, the West German government dramatically reversed the denazification policies of the immediate postwar period and initiated a new "Vergangenheitspolitik," or "policy for the past," which has had enormous consequences reaching into the present.

    Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past chronicles how amnesty laws for Nazi officials were passed unanimously and civil servants who had been dismissed in 1945 were reinstated liberally -- and how a massive popular outcry led to the release of war criminals who had been condemned by the Allies. These measures and movements represented more than just the rehabilitation of particular individuals. Frei argues that the amnesty process delegitimized the previous political expurgation administered by the Allies and, on a deeper level, served to satisfy the collective psychic needs of a society longing for a clean break with the unparalleled political and moral catastrophe it had undergone in the 1940s. Thus the era of Adenauer devolved into a scandal-ridden period of reintegration at any cost. Frei's work brilliantly and chillingly explores how the collective will of the German people, expressed through mass allegiance to new consensus-oriented democratic parties, cast off responsibility for the horrors of the war and Holocaust, effectively silencing engagement with the enormities of the Nazi past.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50790-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Fritz Stern

    Most people know two things about modern Germany: that Hitler’s Germany, the most popular tyranny of the last century, initiated an unprecedented slaughter, the Holocaust, and that today’s Federal Republic is a democratic polity, peaceful and responsible. But we know or remember less about the process by which the country managed the transition from a state of horror to a state of constitutional order and stability.

    How Germans dealt with the legal and political legacies of the Nazi past remains an important and instructive issue. We live in a world in which questions about how to make the transition from...

    (pp. xi-xvi)

    Germany’s question of how to deal with the Nazi past is older than the West German republic. Again and again over the decades, it has been the object of heated public controversy, leading repeatedly in turn to alterations of both intellectual and political perspective. But the history of what became known as “overcoming the past” itself only became an independent subject of historical research in the 1990s—a development running more or less parallel to the emergence of great public debates over the Holocaust and the Germans, the Wehrmacht’s crimes in World War II, slave labor and reparations, as well...

  5. PART I A Legislation for the Past:: Parliamentary and Administrative Junctures

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-4)

      The German parliament, or Bundestag, has never been the scene of a general debate concerning the Nazi past—a debate held independently of specific legislative goals. Nevertheless, policies concerning that past were being shaped there from the very beginning. A taste of what would come was offered by the reactions to the short speech Social Democrat Paul Löbe delivered to open the new parliament on the afternoon of 7 September 1949: on two occasions hecklers interrupted the president—chosen by virtue of seniority—as he carefully broached the Nazi period. No one took special exception to Löbe’s mention of the...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Amnesty Law of 1949
      (pp. 5-26)

      The German Federal Republic, depicted as an innocent swaddled baby, is handed by the Western powers to a distinctly grandfatherly Mr. Germany. In 1949 this caricature illustrated the widespread view of the founding of the West German state as a totally new beginning.¹ The counterpart to this view was an equally widespread, fervently felt desire for a wholesale eradication of the huge number of guilty verdicts pronounced since 1945 in the framework of denazification. In the autumn of 1949, a fixed notion on the collective horizon of expectations was that the expiatory measures imposed by the Allies—measures accepted strictly...

    • CHAPTER 2 The “Liquidation” of Denazification
      (pp. 27-40)

      From its very inception, the Bundestag entertained the notion that discarding all remnants of denazification constituted an urgent political task. Nevertheless, nearly half a year went by before a chance to openly acknowledge the notion arose in the plenum. Proposals of this sort had already been tendered in September 1949 by the German Party, the Economic Reconstruction Association, and the FDP. But these remained on the back burner for some time in the Legal Committee—which was preoccupied with the amnesty law, considered top priority, and wished to clarify the question of authority in the matter of denazification.¹ Now suspecting...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Rehabilitation and Pensioning of the “131ers”
      (pp. 41-66)

      With the amnesty law and the symbolic verdict against a denazification process that was in any case dying, the political expectations confronting the first German Bundestag in regard to the recent past were by no means fulfilled. For, since 1948 at the latest, the decision had gradually evolved in the realms of politics and administration to annul another highly unpopular element of Allied occupation policy: the politically grounded dismissal of large sections of the public administration in place at the war’s end. From the German (bureaucratic) perspective, this sweeping measure was marked by a fatal mix of purgative aims and...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Amnesty Law of 1954
      (pp. 67-92)

      At the start of the 1950s, efforts to legally redress crimes of the Nazi period decreased drastically. In searching for an explanation for this fact, we should not overlook another—that alongside legal proceedings before the Allied military courts, West German courts initiated 17,000 preliminary investigations and obtained 5,500 convictions between 1945 and 1951.¹ Such statistics do not, however, explain the tempo and extent of the ensuing decrease: barely a decade later, facing an expiration of penalties for homicide and involuntary manslaughter (taking effect on 8 May 1960), the number of investigations would markedly rise—and this despite the long-standing...

  6. PART II A Past-Political Obsession:: The Problem of the War-Criminals

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 93-96)

      Well before the weapons fell silent, the determination of the Allies to pass judgment on the Hitler regime and its accomplices after the war had been viewed with considerable apprehension by the potentially accused—and not by them alone. In the war’s final phase, Goebbels had begun to incorporate Allied warnings of future punishment into his “steadfastness”-centered propaganda, the goal being to mobilize Germany’s last remaining readiness for combat; as a result, even among those Germans who personally had little to fear, a kernel of suspicion had been planted that any justice meted out by the victors was bound to...

    • CHAPTER 5 The War-Crimes Issue Preceding the Bonn Republic
      (pp. 97-120)

      Americans were the strongest proponents of the idea that the Third Reich kingpins responsible for war, plunder, and genocide should not simply receive perfunctory trials, that rather they should be held to account before an international court subject to scrutiny by the world’s public, thus pointing the way to an evolution of international law. Without the engagement of the United States, the Nuremberg tribunal would never have been established.² And as indicated, with the subsequent trials at Nuremberg and at Dachau, it was also the Americans who attempted to extend this idea of juridical punishment for Nazi crimes systematically. The...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Politicization of the War-Criminal Question (1949–50)
      (pp. 121-146)

      By the spring of 1949, the struggle to free the war criminals had already been elevated to a new organizational level. In Heidelberg, a “jurists’ circle” had been formed that, on account of its high-caliber membership, would soon emerge as a central coordinating body. The immediate reason for its founding may have been the termination of the subsequent trials at Nuremberg, with a concomitant dissolution of important institutional connections and a threatened rupture of the steady information exchange between the defense attorneys.² In this situation, Eduard Wahl, defense attorney in the I.G. Farben trial and, since 1941, professor of international...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Debate Under the Sign of Rearmament (1950–51)
      (pp. 147-176)

      Around 1948, former Wehrmacht officers began to discuss the possibility of a future German army; by the summer of 1950, the subject had made its way into quasi-official memorandums. In all such deliberations, restoring “military honor” played a central role. The officers’ essentially unanimous conviction was that not the Wehrmacht’s military campaign but rather the organization’s treatment by the victorious powers in the postwar period had deeply damaged this honor. For the dismissed professional soldiers, an awareness of sociopolitical demotion was as distressing as the material difficulties they now were facing.² The source of this awareness was, on the one...

    • CHAPTER 8 A “General Treaty” Instead of a “General Amnesty” (1951–52)
      (pp. 177-202)

      According to the Central Bureau for Legal Defense, the “number of Germans domiciled with the Western powers” was slightly less than 1,800 in the spring of 1951.¹ Such deliberately strained terminology had now become much more than an official legal tool—since the hysteria surrounding Landsberg, a willingness to call the war criminals by their name had dissipated throughout West German society. A prime example of the new euphemism was an interpellation, prompted by the Central Bureau’s tally, that Herbert Wehner formulated for the Social Democratic parliamentary faction: “German war prisoners in the West” read the extremely vague heading to...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Windup of the War-Criminal Problem
      (pp. 203-234)

      In spring 1952 the exact measures specified in the Transition Treaty for winding up the war criminal problem became public knowledge. It is true that no widespread cries of joy could be expected in response. But it is also true that the absence of a single influential voice being raised in appreciation of the Allies, or at least in respect for their concessions, was not a good sign. It did fairly reflect the West German political climate around a year before the general elections: sniffing a distinctly auspicious wind, the extreme right (which to a large extent still operated outside...

  7. PART III Fixing Past-Political Limits:: Judicial Norms and Allied Intervention

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 235-236)

      From its very onset, public political discussion in postwar Germany established a clear-cut normative demarcating line regarding the ideology and practice of Nazism. An important aspect of this demarcation involved legitimizing and correcting a set of policies for the past otherwise marked by amnesty and (re)integration. Against the twin backdrop of an extraordinarily wide-ranging effort at integration and an amnesty policy that cannot be considered anything but generous, the question of the nature and effectiveness of the norm-fixing process takes on special weight. The basic anti-Nazi consensus of the constitutions of the Länder and the Parliamentary Council offered a point...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Hedler Affair and the Establishment of Criminal-Legal Norms (1950)
      (pp. 237-250)

      Fifty-year-old Wolfgang Hedler was a former Stahlhelm man, then a Nazi Party member; before the war he had been a bank manager, after the war an employee of the church’s relief organization in Rendsburg. On 26 November 1949, he gave a speech in the Einfeld “German House” (near Neumünster) articulating more or less all the slogans and resentments current in radical right-wing circles. Contrary to what Paul Löbe had indicated at the Bundestag’s opening, the German Volk had by no means loaded a “massive weight of guilt” onto its shoulders; rather, it bore merely “minimal guilt,” since “supranational powers” had...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Rise and Banning of the Socialist Reich Party (1951–52)
      (pp. 251-276)

      In the first German Bundestag, there was little disagreement among the larger parties about the need, in case of doubt, to prescribe sanctions against organized right-wing extremism. As had already been made clear at the start of the debate over the reintroduction of criminal-legal statutes for political offenses, the SPD and the CDU were in wide agreement about interpreting the principle of a “defensible democracy” postulated in the Parliamentary Council² above all in terms of appropriate punishment. The readiness for administrative and policing measures increased under the pressure of rallies led by radical agitators, with crowds that had been growing...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Naumann Affair and the Role of the Allies (1953)
      (pp. 277-302)

      During the night of 15 January 1953, British security officers acting in Düsseldorf, Solingen, and Hamburg arrested six—in part high-ranking—former members of the Nazi Party.² According to the occupation authorities, the operation was aimed at the ringleaders of a group, observed for some time, that had formed plans for a Nazi “recapture of power in West Germany.” Issued in London, the official communiqué over the action named the individuals and their earlier functions, apparently in a deliberate order: “Dr. Werner Naumann (former state secretary in Goebbels’s propaganda ministry; in Hitler’s testament, Naumann was specified as Goebbels’s successor as...

    (pp. 303-312)

    Three factors characterized the policy for the past developed in Bonn’s opening years: a high degree of consensus among those promoting the policy; the sweeping nature of their measures; and the expeditious stringency with which these measures unfolded. From its onset the policy that was to be formulated—amnestying and integrating former supporters of the Third Reich on the one hand, completing a normative separation from Nazism on the other—was undisputed in its premises, generous in its accomplishments, and lasting in its effects. For approximately half a decade it would be a central aspect of legislative and executive action....

    (pp. 313-314)

    Five years have already somehow sped by since the publication of the original German edition of this book in September 1996. In the mid-1990s, part of the discipline of academic history in Germany was in the process of redefining itself as “cultural studies.” This was accompanied by a rediscovery of the significance of “collective memory,” and to a considerable extent the interest in “overcoming the past” shifted from the arena of practical politics to that of retrospective intellectual evaluation. In other words: the study appeared—unintentionally and despite very different motives—at just the right moment.

    I had only decided...

    (pp. 315-318)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 319-416)
    (pp. 417-460)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 461-479)