The Legacy of Nazi Occupation: Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

1
Appropriating victory and re-establishing the
state

Were the political regimes that followed the downfall of fascism also the product of the struggle against fascism? For the countries that had been fascist it was the inescapable question. The East German regime promoted it insistently; few in West Germany even acknowledged it. Political figures like Willy Brandt — who, as an exile, could invoke with some validity the heritage of opposition to Nazism — were rare, and between the ostracised communists, the naive idealism of the isolated youngsters of the White Rose or the military aristocracy who waited until 20 July 1944 to move against Hitler, the choice of heroic ancestors was problematic. In contrast, the Italian post-war First Republic was very explicitly legitimated as the child of resistance and anti-fascism, and protagonists of the resistance played a prominent role in post-war politics. For both Germanies and for Italy, the post-war state was in any case a completely new start, unrelated to the sinister character of the regime that preceded it. The occupied countries of Western Europe had become part of the fascist order only through military occupation. Domestic fascists, even in France, would never have come to power without the victory of their foreign allies.

For Belgium and the Netherlands, the end of the war logically implied the re-establishment of the pre-war regime, free from the opprobrium of aggressive fascism. At most, the pre-war regime could be held responsible for its innate weakness and for the defeat. During the occupation, the constitutional state had been suspended and replaced by temporary arrangements. The two national administrations continued their activities in a political vacuum, receiving their orders from the occupier, whilst the legitimate government was in exile. Liberation implied the return of the legitimate government and the end of the temporary circumstances of the occupation. For France, the situation was fundamentally different. Pétain's investiture had been a constitutional transition, and the 'French State' he directed from the provincial town of Vichy the creation of a new French regime. Here it was the successor and opponent of the regime that functioned under the occupation that

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