Denazification, Popular Culture, and Shifting Power

Declan Da Barp

Vergangenheitsbewältigung – refers to the process in which the post-war German state came to understand and process the Nazi past. It is clear in the work of Fulbrook, Sollors, and Moeller that this process was fraught with questions of culpability and guilt on the part of the perpetrators and of intense pain and social dislocation for the victims. The process was heavily generational with the progression of highlighting the accounts of survivors to an increasing awareness of the acts of those who enacted the Holocaust. Moreover, the cultural manifestations of the post-war period showed how this was not just a question for Germany to answer but one that the Americans, who in the context of the Cold war, aimed to “terminate Nazi rule forever” (Sollors, 141).

            The effect that the denazification process had on post-war German society can be observed when comparing Fragebogen and Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg. The works by Sollors and Moeller highlight how prevalent the past was within German culture but also the pains at which so many wanted to disassociate themselves from the Nazi past. The most striking example was the common nickname for those filling in exonerating Fragebogen being “Persil-Scheine,” a common laundry detergent (Sollors, 140).  While the images used in popular media, like Judgment at Nuremberg, illustrated the barbarities of the Nazi regime, creating a “Yardstick” of evil (Moeller, 514), it was a yardstick that no individual citizen felt they played a role in. This is evident in Fulbrook’s work, whether that be through the testimony of the schoolteacher who claimed to not know the truth of Auschwitz, or Helmut Hensel who was directly responsible for the deportation of Jew’s to concentration camps in his role as head of the Mielec Gestapo, or Dr. Hans Münch who worked closely with Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz, all were quick to obfuscate any responsibly they had. This continued well into the post-war period and the placement of many similar characters within the GDR and FRG delayed the process of denazification.

Works Cited

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.

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

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

One Reply to “Denazification, Popular Culture, and Shifting Power”

  1. I agree the Persil-Scheine is an interesting example, it shows me how much guilt can be a difficult concept to deal with not just in terms of who is guilty but what levels of guilt are acceptable to turn a blind eye to and how guilty someone must be to be unacceptable.

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