AskDefine | Define denazification

Dictionary Definition

de-Nazification n : social process of removing Nazis from official positions and giving up any allegiance to Nazism; "denazification was a slow process" [syn: denazification]denazification n : social process of removing Nazis from official positions and giving up any allegiance to Nazism; "denazification was a slow process" [syn: de-Nazification]

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  1. The process of the removal of Nazis from public office and positions of responsibility in Germany and Austria after World War II.


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Extensive Definition

Denazification (German: Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary and politics of any remnants of the Nazi regime. It was carried out specifically by removing those involved from positions of influence and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with it. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the Second World War and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement.


Denazification in Germany was accomplished through a series of directives issued by the Allied Control Council, seated in Berlin, beginning in January 1946. "Denazification directives" identified specific people and groups and outlined judicial procedures and guidelines for handling them.
Though all the occupying forces had agreed on the initiative, the methods used for denazification and the intensity with which they were applied differed between the occupation zones.
Denazification also refers to the removal of the physical symbols of the Nazi regime. For example, in 1957 the German government re-issued World War II Iron Cross medals without the swastika in the center.

Application in the Allied Occupation Zones

American zone

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 directed U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s policy of denazification.
The United States initially pursued denazification in a committed though bureaucratic fashion. Five categories were established to identify anyone over the age of 18 residing in the U.S. zone of occupation: major offenders, offenders, lesser offenders, followers, and exonerated persons. Ultimately, the intention was the "re-education" of the German people.
A report of the Institute on Re-education of the Axis Countries in June 1945 recommended: "Only an inflexible longterm occupation authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental revision of their recent political philosophy." On 15 January 1946, however, a report of the Military Government (classified as restricted) stated: "The present procedure fails in practice to reach a substantial number of persons who supported or assisted the Nazis." Therefore, on 1 April, a special law transferred the responsibility for the denazification process to the German administration which established 545 civilian courts (German: Spruchkammern) to oversee 900,000 cases. By 1948, however, with the Cold War clearly in progress, American attentions were directed increasingly to the threat of the Eastern Bloc; the remaining cases were tried through summary proceedings that left insufficient time to thoroughly investigate the accused, so that many of the judgments of this period have questionable judicial value. For example, by 1952 members of the SS like Otto Skorzeny could be declared formally "entnazifiziert" (denazified) in absentia by a German government arbitration board and without any proof that this was true. The delicate task of distinguishing those truly complicit in or responsible for Nazi activities from mere "followers" made the work of the courts yet more difficult. U.S. President Harry S. Truman alluded to this problem in the justification for his refusal to alleviate the induced famine from which the German population suffered: “though all Germans might not be guilty for the war, it would be too difficult to try to single out for better treatment those who had nothing to do with the Nazi regime and its crimes.” Denazification was from then on supervised by special German ministers, like the Social Democrat Gottlob Kamm in Baden-Württemberg, with the support of the U.S. occupation forces.
While judicial efforts were handed over to German authorities, the U.S. Army continued its efforts to denazify Germany through control of German media. The Information Control Division of the U.S. Army had by July 1946 taken control of 37 German newspapers, 6 radio stations, 314 theatres, 642 cinemas, 101 magazines, 237 book publishers, 7,384 book dealers and printers. Its main mission was democratisation but part of the agenda was also the prohibition on any criticism of the Allied occupation forces. In addition, on May 13, 1946 the Allied Control council issued a directive for the confiscation on all media that could contribute to Nazism or militarism. As a consequence a list was drawn up of over 30,000 book titles, ranging from school textbooks to poetry, which were now banned. All copies of books on the list were confiscated and destroyed; the possession of a book on the list was made a punishable offence. (See also Censorship in the Federal Republic of Germany)
By early 1947, 90,000 Nazis were being held in concentration camps, another 1,900,000 were forbidden to work as anything but manual labourers.

Soviet zone

The abandonment of stringent denazification in the West became a major theme of East German government propaganda, which often claimed that the West German government was nothing but an extension of the old Nazi regime. Such allegations appeared frequently in the official Socialist Unity Party of Germany newspaper, Neues Deutschland. The 1953 June 17 riots in Berlin were officially blamed on Nazi agents provocateurs from West Berlin, whom Neues Deutschland alleged were then working in collaboration with the Western government.
The Berlin Wall was officially called the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall ("Anti-Fascist Security Wall") by the East German government, and was ostensibly built to protect East German society from the activities of Nazis in West Berlin.

French and British zones

The French and British took a more measured approach and focused primarily on a removal of the elite, rather than pursuit of all those who collaborated with the regime.

Implications for the future German states

The culture of denazification strongly influenced the parliamentary council charged with drawing up a constitution for those occupation zones that would become West Germany. This constitution, called the Grundgesetz ("Basic Law"), was finalized on May 8, 1949, ratified on May 23, and came into effect the next day. This date effectively marks the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Efforts to end support for Nazism among German population

"In 1945 there was an Allied consensus—which no longer exists—on the doctrine of collective guilt, that all Germans shared the blame not only for the war but for Nazi atrocities as well.",9171,844961-1,00.html
Statements made by the British and U.S. governments, both before and immediately after Germany's surrender, indicate that the German nation as a whole was to be held responsible for the actions of the Nazi regime, often using the terms "collective guilt", and "collective responsibility.",M1 To that end, as the Allies began their post-war denazification efforts, the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) undertook a psychological propaganda campaign for the purpose of developing a German sense of collective responsibility. The Public Relations and Information Services Control Group of the British Element of the Allied Control Commission began in 1945 to issue directives to officers in charge of producing newspapers and radio broadcasts for the German population to emphasize "the moral responsibility of all Germans for Nazi crimes.",M1 Similarly, among U.S. authorities, such a sense of collective guilt was "considered a prerequisite to any long-term education of the German people."
Using the German press, which was under Allied control, as well as posters and pamphlets, a program acquainting ordinary Germans with what had take place in the concentration camps was conducted. A number of films showing the concentration camps were made and screened to the German public, such as "Die Todesmuhlen", released in the U.S. zone in January 1946, and "Welt im Film No. 5" in June, 1945. A film that was never finished due partly to delays and the existence of the other films was "Memory of the Camps," the object of which "was to shake and humiliate the Germans and prove to them beyond any possible challenge that these German crimes against humanity were committed and that the German people -- and not just the Nazis and SS -- bore responsibility." upon the liberation of the concentration camps many German civilians were forced to see the conditions in the camps, bury rotting corpses and exhume mass-graves.,M1 On threat of death or withdrawal of food civilians were forced to provide their belongings to former concentration camp inmates,M1
Despite those campaigns support for Nazism and genocide among German population continued to exist in certain degree.
  • A majority in the years 1945-49 believed National Socialism to have been a good idea, badly applied.
  • In 1946 60% of Germans said the Nuremberg trials had been unfair.
  • In 1946 37% in the U.S. occupation zone said about the Holocaust that "the extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was necessary for the security of Germans".
  • In 1946 1 in 3 in the U.S. occupation zone said that Jews should not have the same rights as those belonging to the Aryan race
  • In 1950 1 in 3 said the Nuremberg trials had been unfair.
  • In 1952 37% said Germany was better off without the Jews.
  • In 1952 25% had a good opinion of Hitler.

The radical left in Germany during the 1960s–70s and Nazi allegations

Because the Cold War had curtailed the process of denazification in the West, certain radical leftist groups such as the Red Army Faction justified their use of violence against the West German government and society based on the argument that the West German establishment had benefited from the Nazi period, and that it was still largely Nazi in outlook. They pointed out that many former Nazis held government posts, while the German Communist Party was illegal. They argued that "What did you do in the war, daddy?" was not a question that many of the leaders of the generation who fought World War II and prospered in the postwar "Wirtschaftswunder" (German Economic Miracle) encouraged their children to ask.
One of the major justifications that the Red Army Faction gave in 1977 for killing Hanns-Martin Schleyer, President of the German Employers' Association and perceived as one of the most powerful industrialists in West Germany, was that as a former member of the SS he was part of an informal network of ex-Nazis who still had great economic power and political influence in Germany.


The late confession of famous German writer Günter Grass, perceived by many as a protagonist of 'the nation's moral conscience', that he was a member of the Waffen SS reminded the German public that, even more than sixty years after the Third Reich had been destroyed, membership in Nazi organisations is still a taboo issue in public discourse. Statistically it is very highly likely that there are many more Germans of Grass' generation (also called the "Flakhelfer-Generation") with biographies not unlike his, who have never come clean about their involvement at the time.

Denazification in other countries

In practice, denazification was not limited to Germany and Austria; in every European country with a vigorous Nazi or Fascist party measures of denazification were carried out. In France the process was called épuration légale ("legal cleansing"). Prisoners of war held in detention in Allied countries were also subject to denazification qualifications before their repatriation.
Denazification was also practised in many countries which fell to German occupation, including Belgium, Norway, Greece or Yugoslavia, because Nazi-held puppet regimes had been established in these countries with the support of local collaborationists. In Greece, for instance, Special Courts of Collaborators were created after 1945 to try former collaborationist individuals. The three Greek quisling prime ministers, for example, were convicted and sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Other collaborationists after German withdrawal underwent repression and public humiliation, besides being tried (mostly on treason charges). Some left Greece, others took part in the civil war that ensued, fighting for one or the other side. The term 'quisling' is in itself an embodiment of the Norwegian denazification efforts——demonizing the most prominent of the individuals that did partake in partisan Nazi activities before or during the war. Vidkun Quisling was himself shot after being sentenced to death for high treason.

Further reading

  • Hentschel, Klaus with Ann M. Hentschel as translator The Mental Aftermath: The Mentality of German Physicists 1945 – 1949 (Oxford, 2007) ISBN 978-0-19-920566-0
denazification in Danish: Afnazificering
denazification in German: Entnazifizierung
denazification in Spanish: Desnazificación
denazification in French: Dénazification
denazification in Korean: 탈나치화
denazification in Croatian: Denacifikacija
denazification in Hebrew: דה-נאציפיקציה
denazification in Dutch: Denazificatie
denazification in Japanese: 非ナチ化
denazification in Polish: Denazyfikacja
denazification in Portuguese: Desnazificação
denazification in Russian: Денацификация
denazification in Slovenian: Denacifikacija
denazification in Swedish: Avnazifiering
denazification in Chinese: 去纳粹化
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