Shifting Attitudes Toward the Holocaust in the Postwar Period – Andrew Devenish

The postwar decades of the 20th century were a time of great change, both in how perpetrators and victims were viewed by the public. As Germany split into a capitalist side and a communist side, its approach to justice also fractured, changing further once the two halves were reunited in the 1990s. As Fulbrook points out, East and West Germany took very different approaches to prosecuting Nazis that remained in their borders as well as abroad. West Germany was more lenient – it considered “I was just following orders” a valid defense and it prided itself on the ability to show mercy to perpetrators and move on from the horrors of the Holocaust and the war. However, East Germany took a hardline stance against those who committed crimes for the Nazi party, with harsher sentences and no credibility given to the defense of following orders. However, in their own way East Germany also valued the ability to move on from what had happened in the past, as “due consideration” as given to Zimmerman’s change as he became a productive member of society, as well as the apparently real remorse he expressed in his confessions of guilt. Then, once Germany was reunified and a brand-new system had to contend with trials of Nazi perpetrators, there was a renewed desire to see them brought to justice, despite the fact that there were so few left to prosecute after so long.

We can also see shifts in the public perception of such trials over time from audience reactions to Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg as outlined by Moeller, in addition to the insights into the justice systems of Germany explained by Fulbrook. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was great public interest in Germany for things like Anne Frank’s diary and the Eichmann trial in Israel, and Kramer’s film also assisted in bringing these issues back to the forefront of the public consciousness in Germany. Many German critics focused on the lack of authentic details in the film while praising its bravery and important subject matter, whereas in the years immediately following the war, many Germans were too occupied with their own hardships to take a proper look at what hap happened with the Nuremberg Trials. As time went on, the issues of the Holocaust and Nazi perpetrators became more important in the minds of Germans.

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