Nazism’s Lessons and Legacies

D.Khaznadji

This week’s readings once again come to complicate our idea of fascism. Once thing I noticed while reading was how the postwar process was not uniform. Germany’s confrontation with its past was not the ‘obvious’ path I had imagined: there were several stages. The early phase saw a willingness to move on quickly from what happened, only to have a international community later one that wished to spend more time on it. When one does think about it a little more it does make sense. It is expected to have many ideas on how to process something so huge. The second thing was, which I guess was inevitable in an increasingly globalized world (and in this case a world shaped by Cold War dynamics), how this process affected not just Germany alone, but other countries like the US and the USSR to name only them. 

I was also able to make several connections with past readings. Reading about how former Nazis were able to reintegrate into the highest echelons of German society after the war reminded of fascism’s capacity to adapt itself according to the world it lives in. I am here thinking of the Crumbaugh article on prosperity and freedom under Franco. There are several differences between the two of course but both articles present a world that is supposedly “over” fascism, and so the remnants of this movement must be able to disguise themselves. This again re-emphasizes what we talked about in the previous weeks: namely how the military victory in 1945 was not enough in eradicating fascism, but an ideological and intellectual victory is needed as well. 

About the Moeller article, one important thing to keep in mind was how the movie Judgement at Nuremberg was intended to an American audience with a specific goal in mind. Indeed, Moeller states that the movie was about what the United States “should not become”. In order to serve this particular goal, he carefully chose which cases from the actual trials he was gonna put on screen. I also thought the choice of setting the trials in 1935 and not 1941 was very interesting. As Moeller points out, this was done with the goal of illustrating a Germany that was not that different than the United States, highlighting the idea that what happened in Germany could just as well happen to America if we were not careful enough. The White House’s attempt to block the broadcast of the movie only reinforced this idea for me.

This connects with another idea seen in previous weeks: how history can sometimes be used to pick and choose certain episodes that fits an agenda, whatever it may be. Once again the circumstances here are different, but the process remains the same regardless of the purpose or the outcome. 

Post-War Guilt

Kathleen McKinnon

Post-war Germany was a case that was very difficult, how to deal with so many people that were complicit with the regime even if it was by not doing anything to stop it. How can a nation be rebuilt if it was so much at fault? The fluidity of collective and individual memory makes this an interesting example of where guilt can be laid and how to deal with people just being people and living their lives complicit with a ruling regime just to get some of the benefits that were offered. (Mary Fulbrook, “Voices of the Victims” 405). When the Nazis fell, there was a dichotomy to deal with of who is guilty and who was not into the bad stuff as much. There was a level of success for people in the regime and the achievements that they had now they need to be careful barging about post-war. For example, in the end, what seems to be the issue is how to move on from a past that many were complicit in but not with every evil intent of the regime may be sometimes that includes creating an image of distance between oneself and the past (Mary Fulbrook, “Voices of the Victims” 405).

It is clear that most people just as easily shifted their focus to other things, the liberal left, society/social norms that were frowned upon under the Nazis, etc. (Joachim Häberlen, “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography”,110). So that proves that many were not stuck on Nazi values, meaning then there is a struggle to remember what was thought to be good under the lens of later knowing that there was something wrong participated in, at least wrong for the new liberal standards brought by the west- at the time of East Germany there were other issues to be dealt with.

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.

Joachim Häberlen, “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography” Central European History Vol. 52, Issue 1 (March 2019): 107-124.

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.

Bibliography:

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.

Memory in the Postwar Era

Alison Miller

There were two things that stood out to me about the readings this week with regards to the question posed (that is, what did coming to terms with the past look like in postwar Germany). The first is how memory is narrated. How do we create a general memory of what occurred in history when memory itself is difficult to pin down and we often hesitate to interrogate those on the side of “wrong-doers.” Who is telling the story? For what purposes? In the Fullbrook article especially, she takes the time to interrogate how long it took after WWII before people felt comfortable with sharing their thoughts – what is the outcome in waiting so long to do so? How does memory change as we move further from events.

What I found even more interesting than that was this idea of memory being essentially “translated” by ghost writers, film-makers, the children of people who went through it, etc. What Fullbrook doesn’t touch on too much, but that I thought might be interesting, is what is lost when narratives are literally translated – what do we retain or lose when we translate peoples’ experiences from their original language into one we can understand? What cultural contexts do we miss by doing so? Sollors references the use of words like Gestapoherr, and the perceptions of the Americans.

We rely heavily on firsthand experience in order to help construct a more consistent narrative of what happened, but memory is so vulnerable to a variety of different elements that it seems impossible to rely on individual memories to answer the question of ‘what happened?’. I suppose in order to compensate, by accumulating multiple testimonies we can glean a more general idea, as long as there is consistency between testimonies (but even how those testimonies are put together can change the way that the narrative is presented).  

The second thing is the role that outsiders play in forcing forgetfulness of events or a changing of those events. Moeller’s article discusses the censorship of the word gas in a television production of Judgement at Nuremberg, a movie very much concerned with how the Jews were killed by this very thing. This censorship enforces, I would argue, a type of forgetfulness. It softens the seriousness of the acts that were committed, and in a way reworks the events.

There is also concern over Soviet encroachment into Czechoslovakia as being a driver of forgetfulness of Nazi atrocities, as well as Fullbrook’s discussions over who gets interviewed or spotlighted as changing the ‘narrative’. Fullbrook also considers the fact that during the War, people likely knew exactly what was going on with regards to the Jews, but outside the war, under the spotlight, they must come up with an excuse to make themselves seem less like villains because there are now outsiders looking in.

Memory is such an interesting topic when we look at how history is recorded, and how reliable it is and who can work to change/influence it can change how we understand events.

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.

Reckoning with the Past in Postwar Germany

M. Guthrie

The question as to how to reckon with one’s past has recently come to the forefront of discussion here in Canada. With last week marking the recognition of the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Canadians were asked to consider the nation’s past and its treatment of Indigenous peoples. For this reason, I feel that it is not beyond the realm of imagination to consider how Germans have dealt with their own complex historical past. As noted in this week’s articles, responses to such a history can be and were quite varied. I felt this was exemplified well in Fulbrook’s chapters “Voices of Victims” and “Discomfort Zones,” in which she explored the responses of both victims and perpetrators in postwar Germany (and throughout Europe in general).

I was intrigued by this creation and implementation of narratives in which participation or levels of culpability were downplayed. Long have we heard speculation into what people knew about the Holocaust while it was happening, however Fulbrook begs the question: what exactly did these individuals do about it? The assumption of ignorance has continued far too long, and we now know that people did in fact have some semblance as to what was happening to the Jewish population during the period. Some even having significant involvement, such as the example of Dr. Münch (Fulbrook, 419). Rather these arguments of ignorance as innocence (or simply choosing not to speak at all) seems to have been explicitly designed as a kind of post-war protectionary measure for those involved – removing potential legal culpability or social repercussions. Additionally, I found this particularly reprehensible when contrasted with the accounts of those for whom the label of survivor meant “a sense of being forever different,” not to mention staggering trauma and survivor’s guilt experienced. (Fulbrook, 365).

However, there is little argument that the creation and upholding of these historical narratives has had direct implications on the attitudes held by the present state. While post-war responses in Germany have attempted to quell Nazism, there has likewise been the adoption of what Sollors terms “American occupation policies,” leading what some may perceive as the alienation of the unified German character (153). With the (re)emergence of fascism and alt-right movements becoming increasingly popular, it is important that we consider how historical narratives have served in furthering the “growing skepticism about democracy and the future of European integration,” at times providing fuel to the fascist flame (Häberlen, 123).

Works Cited

Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 404-423.

Mary Fulbrook “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 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.

Joachim Häberlen, “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography” Central European History Vol. 52, Issue 1 (March 2019): 107-124.

The Person Behind the Soldier

Emma C

With the topic of, “coming to terms in postwar Germany,” I can say that I learned quite a bit. What I took away from Fulbrook’s reading was how their actions truly affected some former Nazi’s. We are taught and see them as these ruthless killing machines, but Fulbrook’s reading brought the human aspect back. In particular in Zimmermann’s case we can see how after the war ended, he turned his life around and became an outstanding citizen. He got married and had four children, while working in a uranium mine and even earning the accolade, “activist of service (Verdienter Aktivist), someone who had met even more demanding criteria of sustained productivity, service and commitment.” As demonstrated throughout the trial Zimmermann truly felt remorse for the crimes he had committed and the lives he had taken. Reading about these trials allows us to see the person behind the soldier and see how truly remorseful they are and how they are trying to atone for their crimes.

What also stood out was the lengths that were taken to ensure the “denazification” of Germany. There was such a frenzy of wanting to rid Germany of any lingering Nazi’s or affects of the party in order to bring Germany back into the world’s good graces once again. There was such a fear around the resurgence of the Nazi ideals that after the war people filled out a survey where they were asked what party they voted for in 1932 and 1933, which could incriminate themselves. Everyday people who voted for the party could potentially be incriminated without having committed any true crime because people were so fearful or a resurgence.

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.

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