Coming to terms with the past in postwar West Germany was impossible until at least the seventies because the past was not really past. In fact, the way in which perpetrators and survivors were treated did not shift in favor of the latter until it was not overly inconvenient for it to do so. In regards to perpetrators, especially those of the right class, the kid gloves of the legal establishment remained resolutely on. This was because, despite the mass application of the despised Fragebogen, the establishment after the war was much the same as before and during, and until it generationally changed, ranks would continue to be closed. For example, Mary Fulbrook describes how, years after the war’s end, judges “could still appear to have more sympathy with former Nazis than with their victims” (323). The extreme leniency of the West German system when dealing with mass murderers was especially apparent when compared to East Germany where legal proceedings were swift and even low ranking perpetrators who expressed remorse could expect life imprisonment or death. In contrast, under the West German legal system, only those who went beyond what was officially required of them under Nazi rule were judged murderous, and therefore the murderous system of rule was not itself explicitly judged. Unlike East Germany, West Germany was uncomfortable with systemic indictment because the system had not been entirely dismantled to the extent that former Nazis continued to occupy positions of power. In regards to victims, they only began to gain the attention of the culture after their need for concrete material assistance had passed. As Fulbrook explains, “their public image was transformed from the initial state of diminution – the wretched, disease ridden, and dependant creatures who were widely seen as unwelcome burdens immediately after the war – to the more heroic status of ‘survivors’” (369). Victims were only heroized after it was convenient to do so, after they had stopped being needy refugees. Robert Moeller’s article on “Judgement at Nuremberg” describes how the German past could be used to talk about the American present. The past can indeed be useful, but sometimes it needs to be strategically forgotten until it truly is no longer the present.
One Reply to “Strategic Amnesia by Aimee Brown”
I was also pretty amazed when reading about some of the terms that former Nazis faced during trial. And reading the Fullbrook article it kind of made sense how she describes it taking generation before people’s minds would actually change about what really happened during the war. As it must have been so traumatizing, I can imagine the whole country both people affected and not receiving PTSD form the whole situation that they were put in for several years.