Recasting West German Elites: Higher Civil Servants, Business Leaders, and Physicians in Hesse between Nazism and Democracy, 1945-1955

Recasting West German Elites: Higher Civil Servants, Business Leaders, and Physicians in Hesse between Nazism and Democracy, 1945-1955

Recasting West German Elites: Higher Civil Servants, Business Leaders, and Physicians in Hesse between Nazism and Democracy, 1945-1955

Recasting West German Elites: Higher Civil Servants, Business Leaders, and Physicians in Hesse between Nazism and Democracy, 1945-1955

Synopsis

The rapid shift of German elite groups' political loyalties away from Nazism and toward support of the fledgling democracy of the Federal Republic, in spite of the continuity of personnel and professional structures, has surprised many scholars of postwar Germany. The key, Hayse argues, lies in the peculiar and paradoxical legacy of these groups' evasive selective memory, by which they cast themselves as victims of the Third Reich rather than its erstwhile supporters. The avoidance of responsibility for the crimes and excesses of the Third Reich created a need to demonstrate democratic behavior in the post-war public sphere. Ultimately, this self-imposed pressure, while based on a falsified, selective group memory of the recent past, was more important in the long term than the Allies' stringent social change policies.

Excerpt

The twelve years of the Third Reich continue to cast a long and dark shadow over Germany. Understandably, given the nature of the crimes committed, the Nazi era serves as a prism through which virtually every major development in contemporary Germany can, and often is, viewed. Thus, xenophobic nationalist movements that garner even minimal support, like the Republikaner party and the German People’s Union (DVU) elicit much more hand wringing than even higher electoral results for the National Front in France. Bundeswehr participation in post-Cold War nato military actions in the Balkans raised more eyebrows than Dutch or even Hungarian support. German reluctance to support an American attack on Iraq in 2003 stems more from collective lessons from the Third Reich and World War ii than from anti-Americanism. Aside from the merits of these specific issues, the recurrent debates indicate a sustained popular uncertainty about the persistence of German susceptibility to Nazism. As an American exchange student in West Germany and West Berlin in the early 1980s, I was puzzled by a curious paradox, one that pitted my understanding of German history against my personal experience. On the one hand, my study of the recent German past had prepared me to expect rigid anti-democratic social structures. What’s more, my research into the immediate postwar period strongly indicated that denazification and other progressive postwar reforms had failed, allowing Nazis to resume key posts in government, the judiciary, industry, and other spheres. in striking contrast, however, my actual experience demonstrated that West German democracy was not only alive and well, but that the range of attitudes and political engagement in the West German public sphere compared favorably to American center-right conformity and political apathy. Despite recurrent surges of anti-democratic fringe movements, including the neo-Nazis and skinheads whose visibility and violence flared up after unification in 1991, democracy is strongly imbedded in contemporary Germany. the successful democratization of West Germany, reinforced by its extension to the former German Democratic Republic, is one of the key developments that divides the twentieth-century history of Europe into two eras: the first characterized by turmoil and war up to

Notes for this section begin on page 12.

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