To Forgive a Nazi

by: PSjoberg

Of all human history’s movements, Nazism is the one most unanimously synonymous with evil. Hitler’s Nazi regime appears the one thing in Western cultural consciousness that will be always unworthy of any sort of ‘historical fairness.’ Unlike with most other atrocious episodes throughout history, Nazism alone seems to be universally agreed to have been objectively horrible on all accounts – there is no such thing as an ‘anti-Nazi bias’; the anti-Nazi sentiment is widely regarded to be a sign of common sense and basic human decency.

Werner Sollors’ article, “‘Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Late’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text,” identifies a less straight-forward conceptualization of the Nazi ideology. Sollors discusses West Germans’ mass aversion to an American-administered questionnaire which was mandatory for all West Germans to complete in the immediate post-war years. That many West Germans equated this questionnaire with a ‘Nazi-esque’ purge initially calls into question the degree to which Germans wished to address their Nazi past. However, my view of Nazism as inherently evil (and thus my view of denazification as an inherently positive process) possesses me to receive this so-called ‘purge’ of West German society in the most positive light. This stirs the question in me: is it wrong to think a purge can be a positive thing?

Robert Moeller’s article, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg,” creates further questions about the legacy of Nazism in post-war West Germany. The fact that Konrad Adenauer “pushed hard to forgive and quickly forget the Nazi war crimes,” and the proclamation that, to West Germans, “Kramer and Mann’s errors seemed to be more numerous than the crimes of the judges on trial” both suggest an widespread cultural dismissal of Nazi war crimes. Moreover, Mary Fulbrook describes in her book, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice, a man named Rudi Zimmermann who carried out heinous crimes under the Nazi regime, but then became a well-integrated citizen of East Germany and had even joined the bureaucracy of the ruling Communist Party. This theme seems to permeate throughout all this week’s readings: a criticism of the treatment of Nazism by Germans in the post-war period.

Do these apparent dismissals of the long-lasting effects of Nazism in Germany demonstrate a more widespread guilt, and therefore blame, for Nazi war crimes across German society in the 1950s and 1960s? Or, do these readings simply paint Nazism in a more complex light than it is usually treated in Western culture? After all, the atrocities committed by Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and numerous other communist autocrats during the Cold War are often addressed with a more balanced approach than Hitler and his Nazi regime.

Do these readings demand a less black-and-white view of Nazism and its legacies? Or do they demonstrate that Nazism is more representative of widespread sentiments in early-20th century German society (and Western metropolitan society as a whole) than is commonly believed?

Sources:

Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314- 336, 361-377.

W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.

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