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Coping With the Nazi Past

Coping With the Nazi Past: West German Debates on Nazism and Generational Conflict, 1955-1975

Philipp Gassert
Alan E. Steinweis
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Coping With the Nazi Past
    Book Description:

    Published in Association with the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

    Based on careful, intensive research in primary sources, many of these essays break new ground in our understanding of a crucial and tumultuous period. The contributors, drawn from both sides of the Atlantic, offer an in-depth analysis of how the collective memory of Nazism and the Holocaust influenced, and was influenced by, politics and culture in West Germany in the 1960s. The contributions address a wide variety of issues, including prosecution for war crimes, restitution, immigration policy, health policy, reform of the police, German relations with Israel and the United States, nuclear non-proliferation, and, of course, student politics and the New Left protest movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-706-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Philipp Gassert and Alan E. Steinweis
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Philipp Gassert and Alan E. Steinweis

    Every generation of Germans since the end of World War II has been confronted by the challenge of working through the moral and historical implications of Nazism and the Holocaust. Germany’s problematic history of dictatorship and genocide has had profound consequences not only for the political system and the international relations of the two postwar German republics, but also for national identity, religious faith, education, legal practice, social policy, gender roles, and other dimensions of daily life.¹ As West and East Germans created new polities and set out to transform their societies, and as they sought domestic and international legitimacy,...

  5. Chapter 1 Critical Memory and Civil Society: The Impact of the 1960s on German Debates about the Past
    (pp. 11-30)
    Konrad H. Jarausch

    The intensifying insistence on the need to remember is beginning to produce a backlash that suggests it might be more constructive to forget. During the Viennese congress, “The Memory of the Century,” the British commentator Timothy Garton Ash and the French scholar Pierre Nora criticized the “flourishing global memory industry” as counterproductive to historical understanding and counseled merciful oblivion instead. One point of dispute was the asymmetry between the media’s attention to Nazi crimes and the general amnesia about Stalinist excesses, while another area of contention concerned the doubtful consequences of opening communist secret service files.¹ Along somewhat similar lines,...

  6. Chapter 2 The Return of the Images: Photographs of Nazi Crimes and the West German Public in the “Long 1960s”
    (pp. 31-49)
    Habbo Knoch

    Photographs of the Nazis’ crimes reentered the German public sphere between 1955 and 1965, bringing to an end a ten-year period in which those crimes were visually absent.¹ The German public had earlier had an intensive but short experience of the shocking photographs Allied photographers had taken in the liberated concentration camps.² They were confronted with this evidence of atrocity as part of an improvised information campaign that was halted in June 1945, and by early 1946 the photos had effectively disappeared from public view.³ These images of shame did not develop into symbols of liberation, as in the United...

  7. Chapter 3 Explanation, Dissociation, Apologia: The Debate over the Criminal Prosecution of Nazi Crimes in the 1960s
    (pp. 50-63)
    Marc von Miquel

    The major Nazi trials of the 1960s inspired more than a few intellectuals to reflect on how the past was being dealt with in the Federal Republic of Germany. Tübingen sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf was one such figure. He noticed a relaxing of the historical memory—or, perhaps more accurately, the historical forgetting—of the Adenauer era: “The long, stifling silence is breaking, and serious coping [will be] possible.”¹ In Dahrendorf’s opinion, the trials were having a widespread impact that should not be underestimated. That was true above all of the Auschwitz trial, which received significant coverage in all the major...

  8. Chapter 4 The “Comprehensive Investigative Proceedings—France”: West German Judicial Inquiries into Nazi Crimes
    (pp. 64-78)
    Bernhard Brunner

    The intensification of efforts to investigate and prosecute National Socialist crimes of violence is rightfully considered one of the hallmarks of the 1960s in the Federal Republic of Germany. But the decade was also marked by continuing and effective attempts to put an end to such trials. A conspicuous example is provided by one of the longest and most extensive judicial investigations of Nazi crimes undertaken by the West German justice system, the investigation of violent crimes committed by Germans in occupied France, the so-calledFrankreich-Komplex¹ or “Comprehensive Investigative Proceedings—France” (CIP—France).

    During the Nazi occupation of France, some...

  9. Chapter 5 West Germany and Compensation for National Socialist Expropriation: The Restitution of Jewish Property, 1947–1964
    (pp. 79-95)
    Jürgen Lillteicher

    The “Aryanization” of property owned by Jews during the years of National Socialist rule was doubtless one of the most massive transfers of property in modern German history.¹ A large number of people and institutions had participated in the almost anarchic dispossession of the German Jews, and the process of confiscation later spread beyond Germany to the areas it occupied. Attempts after 1945 to reverse the material consequences of this gigantic spree of plunder faced a multitude of complex challenges and problems. For one, any program of restitution would be limited by the restricted legal means available. Further, restitution was...

  10. Chapter 6 The Modernization of West German Police: Between the Nazi Past and Weimar Tradition
    (pp. 96-112)
    Klaus Weinhauer

    In March 1964, a leading Hamburg police doctor summarized factors impeding a “mental renewal” of the police in West Germany. First, during the Third Reich the police saw itself “abused” and, following its traditional duty of obedience, embroiled in an innocent tragedy (even if the misdemeanors of some civil servants were undisputed). Among policemen it had been forgotten that the “moral balance sheet of the Bundeswehr, the judges, the educators, or the doctors is equally in deficit.” Second, police were “extremely sensitive to criticism. Not all police leaders understand that police affairs are not a preserve insulated from public scrutiny.”¹...

  11. Chapter 7 West German Society and Foreigners in the 1960s
    (pp. 113-127)
    Karen Schönwälder

    In 1966, the Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA), an umbrella organization of employers’ associations, held a conference on foreign labor in West Germany. In his opening remarks, BDA president Siegfried Balke proudly referred to a “similar event” the employers had organized in 1908.¹ He did not go so far as to quote from a 1908 paper arguing that as German workers were becoming more educated and better trained, it seemed desirable “to use undemanding foreign workers for the more primitive tasks.”² But Balke’s reference to the 1908 gathering does illustrate that the recruitment of foreign labor in the 1960s was...

  12. Chapter 8 The West German Public Health System and the Legacy of Nazism
    (pp. 128-143)
    Sigrid Stöckel

    Generally speaking, the 1960s form a crucial watershed in the evolution of attitudes toward Germany’s history in the twentieth century. But such a watershed is not apparent when one looks at developments in the field of social medicine. Instead, one sees a complex pattern of continuities and discontinuities with the past, especially the Nazi past. To understand the ways in which German medicine in the 1960s came to terms with its past, it is first necessary to outline these continuities and discontinuities. The main focus of this essay is not the German medical or public health system per se, but...

  13. Chapter 9 Don’t Look Back in Anger: Youth, Pop Culture, and the Nazi Past
    (pp. 144-160)
    Detlef Siegfried

    “Angry Young Men,” the famous label applied to a group of young British writers, might well have applied to their West German counterparts. Left-wing authors like Günter Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Martin Walser were widely seen as “angry young men” preoccupied with critical reflection on the German past and present. Anger was attributed to an entire generation during the 1960s, to those born between roughly 1938 and 1948 who became the protagonists of 1968.¹ The Nazi past, it is claimed, played a particularly important part in sparking a generational conflict that, in turn, gave a crucial impulse to West...

  14. Chapter 10 The Sexual Revolution and the Legacies of the Nazi Past
    (pp. 161-175)
    Dagmar Herzog

    We cannot make sense of the West German New Left’s conflicted relationship to the Nazi past and the Holocaust without understanding the New Left’s involvement in the sexual revolution of the 1960s to 1970s. Most recent publications about 1968 as a historical watershed have ignored or downplayed the New Left’s sexual politics, but in so doing they have missed the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the original motive forces of the student upheaval and the sources of its very particular pathos and fury in West Germany. They have also missed a chance to understand the ways the student...

  15. Chapter 11 The German New Left and National Socialism
    (pp. 176-193)
    Michael Schmidtke

    The generation that came of age in West Germany in the 1960s “was probably in fact the first in Germany that did not shy away from demanding explanations face to face—from their parents, from adults in general, within the family, [and] while watching television,” Jürgen Habermas observed in 1990. Student protest in West Germany, he went on to suggest, was an attempt to take account of “the collective avoidance of German responsibility [for] National Socialism and its horrors.”¹ The student protesters’ engagement with the Nazi past, political scientist Ekkehart Krippendorff has argued, should be seen as an attempt—possibly...

  16. Chapter 12 Public Demonstrations of the 1960s: Participatory Democracy or Leftist Fascism?
    (pp. 194-209)
    Elizabeth L. B. Peifer

    One of the greatest challenges faced by the Federal Republic of Germany was creating democrats in a democracy imposed by former enemies. Indeed, the failure of the first German republic to transform the country’s political culture and political values led to its collapse and ultimately to the crimes and atrocities of the Third Reich. To break the continuities of authoritarianism and militarism, the Federal Republic would have to develop a political culture that safeguarded against a repetition of the mistakes of the past. It would have to reshape the character of its people and make them productive, independent, and morally...

  17. Chapter 13 New Leftists and West Germany: Fascism, Violence, and the Public Sphere, 1967–1974
    (pp. 210-237)
    Belinda Davis

    The ’68 era remains close to the surface of public memory: it has given way to a virtual explosion of scholarly and popular treatment. Some Germans have noted cynically how ’68 has now become a third modern German past that, following on the transcendence of the Nazi and communist pasts, must be overcome.² The melding of these three pasts, and the raising of one through the other, follows consistently on contemporary practices within ’68, a shorthand for the era from about 1965 through 1977. During that period, Germans of all political stripes regularly instrumentalized the notion of “fascism” and the...

  18. Chapter 14 Conservative Intellectuals and the Debate over National Socialism and the Holocaust in the 1960s
    (pp. 238-257)
    Joachim Scholtyseck

    As the 1960s opened, a prosperous West Germany was taking its place among the community of civil societies. By the end of the decade, the country was beset by sociopolitical upheaval. Almost inevitably, the question arose whether this sudden change was in some way related to the National Socialist past. Had there been, as a growing chorus of critical voices charged, a far-reaching repression of all that concerned the Nazi regime and the Holocaust during the conservative postwar years?

    Defining the term “conservative” is a hazardous task, given the veritable babel of tongues in discussion of the subject.¹ This holds...

  19. Chapter 15 Catholic Student Fraternities, the National Socialist Past, and the Student Movement
    (pp. 258-275)
    Michael Hochgeschwender

    Probably no period, with the possible exception of the Nazi era, has had as major an impact on German academic fraternities as the late 1960s. All of the once powerful fraternity organizations lost membership¹ as well as political and social influence in the closing years of the decade. As a new reformist attitude gained ground, personal networks that had been built up over decades collapsed. Several factors were decisive in this process. The most important may have been an increasing stress on individualism. The reorganization of the West German party system must also be mentioned; one result was that Catholic...

  20. Chapter 16 Turning Away from the Past: West Germany and Israel, 1965–1967
    (pp. 276-293)
    Carole Fink

    After a period of emphasizing continuities and minimizing turning points, scholars are once more acknowledging the existence of “markers,” events that signify a process of transformation. Halfway through the Cold War, between 1965 and 1967, there was a pronounced shift in West German-Israeli relations. These two states, born at almost the same time out of war and partition, had developed a special bond during the early Cold War years. When international and domestic politics changed in the mid-1960s, so, too, would relations between Bonn and Tel Aviv along with the attitudes toward the past that underlay these ties.

    For sixteen...

  21. Chapter 17 Germany’s PR Man: Julius Klein and the Making of Transatlantic Memory
    (pp. 294-308)
    S. Jonathan Wiesen

    In 1962, a group of advertisers met with members of West Germany’s Federal Press Office to discuss strategies for improving the country’s international reputation.¹ Disturbed by the negative publicity accompanying the recent trial of Adolf Eichmann, these “image-persuasion” (Image-Beeinflussung) experts studied the results of a survey that had recently been conducted in dozens of countries.² Participants from around the world had been asked to discuss their impressions of Germany and its people. From Europe and Asia, to Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific, a plethora of negative stereotypes abounded. In Italy, Germans were seen as having “a weakened sense...

  22. Chapter 18 Auschwitz and the Nuclear Sonderweg: Nuclear Weapons and the Shadow of the Nazi Past
    (pp. 309-324)
    Susanna Schrafstetter

    In 1954, the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer forswore the development of nuclear weapons by the Federal Republic as a precondition for West Germany’s admission into NATO.¹ The Federal Republic’s renunciation of nuclear weapons can be seen both as a beginning and an endpoint. It was the last of the Allied restrictions on a defeated aggressor, it marked the integration of the newly established country into the military alliance of the West, and it indicated a step toward West Germany’s gradual assumption of sovereignty.² Gaining sovereignty and equality with other European states was a primary goal of Adenauer’sWestpolitik, which...

  23. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 325-327)
  24. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 328-333)
  25. Index
    (pp. 334-340)