Magazine article The Spectator

Pastures New

Magazine article The Spectator

Pastures New

Article excerpt

Exorcising Hitler: The Occuption and Denazification of Germany

by Frederick Taylor

Bloomsbury, £25, pp. 438,

ISBN 9781408812112

On 20 September 1949, five days after his election as Chancellor of the newly created German Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer addressed the Bundestag: 'Much unhappiness and much damage', he told the deputies, 'has been caused by denazification . . . many have atoned for a guilt that was subjectively not heavy.' The division of Germany's population into 'the politically flawless and the politically flawed' had to disappear and 'the government of the Federal Republic is determined . . . to put the past behind us.'

Adenauer spoke with the full backing of the US and British governments, and in accordance with the new imperatives of an emergent Cold War. Tribunals organised by the Allied occupying powers had established five categories for the German population ranging from the innocent to major offenders - the war criminals, and Nazi militants along with war profiteers. From 1949 onwards the fellow travellers or Mitlaufer, and the incriminated of a lesser degree (Minderbelastete), were rehabilitated.

Britain and the US needed a West Germany capable of playing its full role in opposing the Warsaw Pact, and building up the country's democracy required a degree of forgetfulness about the recent past. The Federal Republic of the 1950s would be socially conservative, economically prosperous and morally amnesiac. German politics was shorn of militarism, but its other abiding feature - authoritarianism - remained in place and would only be challenged when, in the 1960s, a new generation subjected their fathers' and grandfathers' records to a scrupulous audit.

The five years of occupation, bureaucratic confusion and economic hardship that preceded Adenauer's speech are the subject matter of Frederick Taylor's absorbing overview of how democracy was reintroduced to the defeated Germans. Interviews with those who lived through the last months of the war and the first years of peace lend a quality of lived experience to the administrative schemes presided over by the French, British and Americans in the zones into which the future West Germany was divided.

One particular merit of the book is its scrutiny of the eastern zone that became the GDR. The communist state prided itself on a purge that was more rigorous than West Germany's, but its political order was surely an object lesson in how totalitarianism of the left and the right mirror each other.

Extirpation of the Nazi past involved attempts at changing civilian minds as well as punishing guilty soldiers. …

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