Legacies of Nazism: Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Post-War Justification and Reconciliation Myth Versus Post-War Pragmatic Reality

Wesley M.

Coming to terms with past Nazism (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) within postwar Germany still is difficult: the wish of purging Germany of the surviving Nazis proved somewhat impractical due in part to the difficulty of determining responsibility (extent of involvement) for their crimes and also the reality of Cold War politics necessitating leniency (cases where ex-Nazis would be useful to the war effort against Communism).

Mary Fulbrook’s book discusses the strategies that former Nazi supporters (innocent civilians and fanatical Nazis) used in order to cope with their past actions, inactions or just implied knowledge of the horrors that ended up being perpetrated within the Nazi state after 1945, in order to be able to reconcile themselves to the world that they lived in currently. For ordinary civilians not directly involved, strategies include self-justification of being separate from events due to distance (and thus being able to claim ignorance), moral self-distancing allowing for the person to be able to diffuse responsibility for whatever their role was, for the section on high-ranking Nazis, the strategies include the just following orders defense, compartmentalization, denial.[1] This contrast between innocent civilians and the actual responsible Nazis becomes quite apparent: civilians dealt with guilt “whether about their own survival or their failure to help others— former perpetrators composed defense strategies downplaying their own agency and distancing themselves from what they had known and done.”[2] She also looks at the way in which the survivors of the Holocaust dealt with their past afterwards, by explaining how the survivors stories became more important because as generational shifts occurred, people were more willing to listen, and some of the victims felt less like they were going to be discriminated against if they told their stories.[3]

The fact that the criteria that actually established the level of a citizens Nazi association (and thereby their level of guilt) the Fragebogen, was commonly viewed as being inefficient to determine guilt by those German civilians that actually had to take it, while conveniently allowing for the Western public to believe in the myth of the questionnaire’s efficiency at removing the Nazis from positions of power within Germany and punishing them for their crimes.[4]

West Germans used the myth of Vergangenheitsbewältigung to show they had become democratic. This is inadvertently discussed in Robert Moeller’s article on Judgment at Nuremberg, where he critiques how despite the democratic progress West Germany had made, there was actually very little focus in public on the reintegration of various Nazi officials which is troubling.[5] Moeller’s view the film as used by Kramer to comment on McCarthyism and racism in America with the Nazis representing a “yardstick for measuring the forms of injustice”.[6] Moeller discusses how narratives of the past can be used to accomplish various goals in terms of viewing current society.[7] Through this viewpoint it becomes apparent how the reintegration of Nazis was possible, as long as some of them are punished, those needed could be released for pragmatic reasons after enough time had past without major public backlash.

[1] Mary Fulbrook. Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018. 404-423. https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1878123&site=ehost-live.

[2] Fulbrook. Reckonings. 423.

[3] Fulbrook. Reckonings. 361-377.

[4] W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153. https://doi-org.proxy.library.carleton.ca/10.1111/glal.12188.

[5] Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 507-508.

[6] Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg”: 514.

[7] Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg”: 521-522.


Fulbrook, Mary. Reckonings : Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018. https://search-ebscohost-      com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1878123&site=ehost-live.

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

Sollors, W. “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153. https://doi-            org.proxy.library.carleton.ca/10.1111/glal.12188.

Fascism’s Appeal – Collectivization Resistance and Pragmatic Acceptance.

By Wesley M.

The appeal of fascism towards the citizens of a fascist country beyond the ideological aspects was that fascism attempts to brand itself as a positive way for people to connect with each other, in such a way that it would form bond that would be good for the collective society rather than individualism being encouraged. The other way fascists look to brand themselves positively is to be seen as an improvement to whatever ‘flawed’ system the country had dealt with before their rise to power with the professed goal of fixing whatever problems the country is facing currently through revitalization.

Somewhat ironically, the fascist goal of collectivization can be resisted by maintaining the very individualism that fascism is against through citizens resistance to the collectivization process. As Thomas Kühne points out in his article (discussing gender roles within the Nazi German military), the full collectivization that was encouraged (as comradeship) within the military conversely allowed for maintenance of self-identity.[1] The goal Nazi collectivization was to create ideal soldiers did not succeed wholeheartedly but was never the less very effective at creating loyal soldiers through the fascist idea of comradeship.[2]

Fascist collectivization could in fact be resisted through a citizen’s personal agency; however, the resistor would have to be careful about what issues they were resisting the regime on. For example, the collective bonds that some Nazi German soldiers created, actually allowed them a limited amount of agency, which could be used for slight resistance to Nazi regime’s more heinous policies (such as the mass executions of civilians or ethnic groups) as long as the resisting soldier’s were not seen to be blatantly going outside of his established side of gender role as a German male soldier.[3] Juxtaposing this military example of resistance with a civilian example, shown in article by Laurie Marhoefer, about how various lesbian women were able to resist Nazi-German gendered societal norms through a certain amount of discretion, probable lack of evidence (denouncements not holding up to scrutiny) or potentially even the lack of Gestapo interest.[4]

Fascism could be accepted or resisted, as Justin Crumbaugh explores in his article about the advent of tourism within Francoist Spain, incorporating tourism within the dictatorship actually allowed for the revitalization of both Franco’s image on the international stage as well as save Francoist Spain’s previously floundering economy, while not actually implementing the democratization that various world powers had previously demanded.[5] While the populace was pleased about the prosperous economy the tourism industry helped create, it also allowed for the citizens to see democratic ideals through the filtration of tourists ideas and worldviews from various democracies.[6]

[1] Thomas Kühne, “Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.” Central European History 51, no. 3 (September 2018): 402-403, 409. doi:10.1017/S0008938918000596.

Kühne. “Protean” 390–418.

[2] Kühne, “Protean” 402-403, 409.

[3] Kühne, “Protean” 414.: A number of soldiers refused to execute civilians and while locked as being weak by the more fanatical Nazis, they were not formally punished.

[4] Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: A Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939–1943,” The American Historical Review 121, no. 4 (October 1, 2016): 1167–1195, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/121.4.1167.; Lesbianism is not a legal crime in Nazi Germany, as Marhoefer explains in the article: Frequently accusations of gender norms being violated were compounded with assumptions of other criminal behaviours such as possible espionage.

[5] Justin Crumbaugh. Destination Dictatorship: The Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009). Accessed September 25, 2021. ProQuest Ebook Central. 26.

[6] Crumbaugh. Destination Dictatorship, 31, 33-34


Crumbaugh, Justin. Destination Dictatorship : The Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009. Accessed September 25, 2021. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Kühne, Thomas. “Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.” Central European History 51, no. 3 (September 2018): 390–418. doi:10.1017/S0008938918000596.

Marhoefer, Laurie. “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: A Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939–1943.” The American Historical Review 121, no. 4 (October 1, 2016): 1167–95. https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/121.4.1167.

Pragmatic Alliances – The Far-Right Working Together

Wesley M.

How does one explain the dangerous relationship between the far-right radicals in our current era and the movement of internationalism that are present nowadays? Well on the surface that question might seem like a contradiction in terms given that far-right radicals typically espouse their own country first policies and seem unlikely to be willing to support other countries over their own.

The answer obviously lies within the fact that many of the far-right movements in France, Spain, Germany) are all seeking the same thing: political power and legitimacy within their own countries because in order for each group to accomplish their own individual goals all must be in power first. Therefore, to succeed, they will need to pragmatically work together, seeking cooperation with each other, and that cooperation is the true danger.

Pragmatic alliances between their various extremist groups despite differing levels of power or differing views on certain issues is not historically unprecedented. For example, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were allied during the 1936 Spanish Civil War with Franco’s fascist army.[1] During World War II the Axis alliance between Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany was an alliance of fascist and authoritarian powers each with their own interests. Indeed, one of the most historically interesting alliances that the Nazis made is seldom talked about but perfectly reinforces the point of far-right pragmatism, is the alliance between Nazi Germany and the various anticolonial powers that worked with the Nazis. These anti-colonialists were united by either resentment towards their colonizers or because they preferred the totalitarian style of government they witnessed in Nazi Germany to the liberal democracies that they been dealing with under their colonizers, while the Nazis assisted them in order to strengthen their own war effort (post-Stalingrad) and seeking to thereby weaken their European enemies, while in fact being divided internally over actually assisting the anti-colonialists.[2]Despite this ‘alliance’ being made against the Allies, ultimately the anti-colonialists weren’t viewed as having an equal relationship with Nazi Germany because they were “dependent on the regime and its resources.”[3] thus reiterating the fact that just like now far-right groups can work together because they will have better luck at success despite not fully agreeing with each other.

Motadel’s argument about the danger of contemporary far-right groups is that even if they don’t get along or aren’t fully allied they are still dangerous if they can agree on certain issues such as “which enemies to confront, which institutions to weaken, which values to assault.”[4] Therefore the far-right still has the potential to undermine the various legitimate democratic voices that are currently blocking their path to power.

[1] David Motadel, “Opinion | The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It,” The New York Times, July 3, 2019, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html.

[2] David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877, 869-870.

[3] Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment”: 873.

[4] Motadel, “Opinion”.


Motadel, David. “Opinion | The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It.” The New York Times, July 3, 2019, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html.

Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire”, The American Historical Review, Volume 124, Issue 3, June 2019, Pages 843–877, https://doi-org.proxy.library.carleton.ca/10.1093/ahr/rhy571.

Oversimplification, incorrect labels causes a resurgence of populism confused with fascism

Wesley M

            The central linking argument for this week’s readings and podcast is that the terms fascism and populism are often (either because of intentional bias or just genuine ignorance), commonly conflated within public discourse resulting in the majority of people incorrectly believing that the two terms mean the same thing; an authoritarian dictatorship, instead of their very different definitions. This incorrect labelling is in fact distracting from the real current issue: the fact that populism is resurging throughout Europe and North America and appears to be quickly gaining ground primarily due to discontent while more traditional political parties seek to maintain their relevance.

One of the most interesting things about these readings is that scholars are also divided on the issue of whether populism or fascism can be applicable terms for what we are dealing with in the world today. As the podcast of Professor Rogers Brubaker, the book by Robert Paxton, and the articles by Cas Mudde and Victoria de Grazia all show their own unique perspectives on this issue through their own separate discussions of the history of fascism as well as several deconstructions of the meaning of fascism and/or populism. Despite some minor differences in argument or focus, all of those mentioned above, appear to share the belief that populism can in fact be an accurate representative term for contemporary events around the world, but only if the term is used correctly.[1]

In contrast the article by Federico Finchelstein seeks to downplay the possible underlying correlation between the two terms by arguing against Paxton’s view on Trump not being a fascist, by viewing populism as being a post-fascism response to the perceived failures of neoliberal democratic institutions.[2] Professsor Brubaker discusses how the politicians failing to respond adequately to recent crises (2008 crash, Eurozone, 2015 refugee crisis, 2015-2017 terrorist attacks, Brexit) have allowed for those issues to become united and in turn strengthened populism’s appeal to the discontented masses, who don’t understand the danger populism due to not understanding what populism actually means.[3]

The best way to explain the danger of confusing populism and fascism with each other is by looking at the five steps of the fascist cycle: “(1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.”[4] populists and fascists being different is irrelevant because the terms being conflated together has allowed their original meaning to become joined in the public’s opinion and as the past years demonstrate populists being elected could gradually erode that country’s democracy, which in turn could ultimately create a dictatorship. So the best way to prevent this is to give an accurate explanation of the terms to show why populist leaders are able to appeal to the public.[5] This may allow the opposition to effectively counter them than just sticking them with the fascist/populist label.

[1] Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000:; Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), 23.; Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 581.; Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

[2] Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).: 11-12, 18-19.; I wonder if Paxton’s viewpoint is changed following the capital riot on January 6, 2021?

[3] Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes).

[4] Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 23.

[5] de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism”.


My name is Wesley M. I’m a 4th year undergrad History student (this is my 6th and final year).

I’m very interested in European history of any time period (medieval, early-modern, modern, contemporary). My specific interest is looking at how power works, why certain populist leaders are permitted by their societies to accomplishes their agendas (no matter how controversial or damaging to the country they may in fact be), and most importantly how those autocratic or populist feaders maintain their influence and legitimacy. I’ll put it another way, that might resonate better by quoting a rather famous author “Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”[1]

I’m interested in learning more about how the far-right is able to maintain itself when the majority are not behind them in this class.

In my spare time I enjoy reading, writing, playing chess, and hanging out with my dogs.

[1] George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. 1998. New York: Bantam, 2000. 131-132.