West German Industry and the Challenge of the Nazi Past, 1945-1955

By Tweraser, Kurt | German Quarterly, April 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

West German Industry and the Challenge of the Nazi Past, 1945-1955


Tweraser, Kurt, German Quarterly


Wiesen, S. Jonathan. West German Industry and the Challenge of the Nazi Past, 4945-1955. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. 352 pp. $39.95 hardcover.

Jonathan Wiesen's brilliant book focuses on the first decade of postwar West Germany, when its industrialists were forced by the Allies and leftist interests to confront their past. Rather than providing a conventional political and business history, he turns to cultural history and analyzes the mentality of German industrialists. Two principal questions guide the author through mountains of diligently plowed evidence: how did business leaders come to terms with National Socialism and their own involvement in NS-crimes, and how did they accommodate themselves to political and economic democracy after twelve years of dictatorship?

Methodologically, Wiesen follows a theory of memory which sees it not as something passive and repressed-the conventional explanation of why the Germans ran away from their collective experience in National Socialism-but as a purposeful process taking place in an involved social context. As he puts his alternative approach: "Industrialists and other Germans in fact spent much time grappling with the legacy of National Socialism ... they certainly did not and could not forget the past... For industrialists, memory entailed the dual process of denying the sins imputed to German business and reinventing the 'new industrialist,' who would lead the German economy to prosperity and remodel embattled businessmen into corporate citizens" (5).

In seven copious chapters, Wiesen details the industrialists' apologies in the form of doctored company narratives and other textual productions. he discusses the impact of occupation, denazification and prosecutions at Nuremberg, as well as the Allied decartelization and deconcentration efforts, on the mentality of the industrialists. The industrialists' reaction to union demands for codetermination serves Wiesen to interpret continuity and change in their readiness, or lack thereof, to integrate their political-economic interests in a democratic political and social order. he focuses on the public relations activities of the Federation of German Industry and other business and cultural organizations and their marketing of the reworked images of business leaders and the industrialists' ambivalence about mass society, democracy and human relations. …

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