Post-War Germany: The Nazis are Weeded Out!

Post-War Germany: The Nazis are Weeded Out!

Mainly as a result of the rise of communism in Czechoslovakia the punishment of the perpetrators of the Romani Holocaust and the excesses accompanying the expulsion of the German-speaking population essentially did not happen. What happened to Nazi criminals in Germany?

As is well known, 33 of the highest Nazis were tried by the Allies at the Nuremberg Tribunal in what was at that time an unprecedented act of international justice. However the victorious powers soon began to fall out with each other, meaning that the planned series of trials in this format did not happen. As a result the following twelve tribunals with a total of 185 Wehrmacht generals, Nazi judges, doctors linked to the “euthanasia” of the mentally and physically handicapped, and captains of industry who had made use of slave labour by concentration camp inmates, took place only under the Americans.

On the initiative of the Americans denazification took place. In this process some three and a half million former members of the Nazi Party were divided in five classes, from which those whose involvement with the regime was minimal escaped without penalty. Others were forbidden to work for the state, were fined or imprisoned. 545 civilian trials were held under German administration, and given the shortage of unbiased judges and lack of time many of those who were younger or had been seriously injured in the war were not prosecuted.

At the start of 1947 the allies held ninety thousand Nazis and a further one million nine hundred thousand were not allowed to do anything other than labouring work. As is so often the case, due to corruption or connections many managed to obtain a Certificate of Good Standing, known colloquially after the washing powder as a Persilschein. It is also well known that many a member of for example the Sicherheitsdienst (the security service of the SS and Nazi Party) were recruited by western or eastern intelligence agencies to help in the cold war that was then just beginning.

In the Soviet occupation zone the punishment of Nazis took on a different appearance. People were not arrested only for their involvement in the regime, but also for belonging to the “wrong” social class. Of course nobody in the NKVD’s concentration camps received an objective assessment of their case, while even the worst Nazi could save his neck by working for the Soviet occupation authorities.

Under Chancellor Adenauer the process of denazification in the west was completely ended. From 1951 all former Nazis with the exception of the two worst groups could once more work in the civil service, a practical amnesty applying to almost eight hundred thousand people. Despite this, denazification was to a certain extent successful, at least in West Germany. After all, out of five and a half thousand Japanese politicians and soldiers who had committed dreadful crimes and were convicted after the war, every single one was fully rehabilitated in the 1950s. Two of the worst later even sat in Japanese governments.


Jaroslav Ostrčilík