Denazification (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.
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.
The United States initially pursued denazification in a committed though bureaucratic fashion. Five categories were established to identify anyone over the age of 18 residing in the U.S. 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." 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. By 1948, however, with the Cold War clearly in progress, American attentions were directed increasingly to the threat of 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 "entnazifiziert" (denazified) 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. U.S. 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.” Denazification was from then on supervised by special German ministers, like the Social Democrat Gottlob Kamm in Baden-Württemberg, with the support of the U.S. occupation forces.
While judicial efforts were handed over to German authorities, the U.S. Army continued its efforts to denazify Germany through control of German media. The Information Control Division of the U.S. Army had by July 1946 taken control of 37 German newspapers, 6 radio stations, 314 theatres, 642 cinemas, 101 magazines, 237 book publishers, 7,384 book dealers and printers. Its main mission was democratisation but part of the agenda was also the prohibition on any criticism of the Allied occupation forces. 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 now 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. (See also Censorship in the Federal Republic of Germany)
By early 1947, 90,000 Nazis were being held in concentration camps, another 1,900,000 were forbidden to work as anything but manual labourers.
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, Neues Deutschland. The 1953 June 17 riots in Berlin were officially blamed on Nazi agents provocateurs from West Berlin, whom Neues Deutschland alleged were then working in collaboration with the Western government.
The Berlin Wall was officially called the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall ("Anti-Fascist Security Wall") by the East German government, and was ostensibly built to protect East German society from the activities of Nazis in West Berlin.
"In 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.
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. To that end, as the Allies began their post-war denazification efforts, the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) undertook a psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of collective responsibility. 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. Similarly, among U.S. authorities, such a sense of collective guilt was "considered a prerequisite to any long-term education of the German people.
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! or "These Atrocities: Your Guilt!" A number of films showing the concentration camps were made and screened to the German public, such as "Die Todesmuhlen", 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," the object of which "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. 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. On threat of death or withdrawal of food civilians were forced to provide their belongings to former concentration camp inmates
Sarah Ann Gordon in "Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question'" notes however that the surveys are very difficult to draw conclusions from. Respondents were for example given 3 options to choose from, for example question 1:
To the Question whether an Aryan who marries a Jew should be condemned 91% responded "No". To the question: "All those who ordered the murder of civilians or participated in the murderings should be made to stand trial." 94% responded "Yes".
Sarah Ann 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 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. She further highlights the discrepancy to the 77% percent who responded that actions against Jews were in no way justified.
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 Germany.
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 ("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 or Yugoslavia, because Nazi-held puppet regimes had been established in these countries with the support of local collaborationists. In Greece, for instance, Special Courts of Collaborators were created after 1945 to try former collaborationist individuals. The three Greek quisling prime ministers, for example, were convicted and sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Other collaborationists after German withdrawal underwent repression and public humiliation, besides being tried (mostly on treason charges). Some left Greece, others took part in the civil war that ensued, fighting for one or the other side. The term 'quisling' is in itself an embodiment of the Norwegian denazification efforts—demonizing the most prominent of the individuals that did partake in partisan Nazi activities before or during the war. Vidkun Quisling was himself shot after being sentenced to death for high treason.
Die Dresdner Bank 1945-1957: Konsequenzen und Kontinuitäten nach dem Ende des NS-Regimes [The Dresdner Bank, 1945-1957: Consequences and Continuities from the End of the Nazi Regime]
Oct 01, 2008; Die Dresdner Bank 1945-1957: Konsequenzen und Kontinuitäten nach dem Ende des NS-Regimes [The Dresdner Bank, 1945-1957:...