Denazification (German: Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the National Socialist (Nazi) ideology. 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.
The term denazification was first coined as a legal term in 1943 in the Pentagon, intended to be applied in a narrow sense with reference to the post-war German legal system. Soon afterward, it took on the more general meaning.
Denazification in Germany was attempted 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 West German government re-issued World War II Iron Cross medals without the swastika in the center.
About 8.5 million Germans, or 10% of the population, had been members of the Nazi Party. Nazi-related organizations also had huge memberships, such as the German Labour Front (25 million), the National Socialists People’s Welfare organization (17 million), the League of German Women, Hitler Youth, the Doctors’ League, and others. It was through the Party and these organizations that the Nazi state was run, involving as many as 45 million Germans in total. In addition, Nazism found significant support among industrialists, who produced weapons or used slave labour, and large landowners, especially the Junkers in Prussia. Denazification after the surrender of Germany was thus an enormous undertaking, fraught with many difficulties.
The first difficulty was the enormous number of Germans who might have to be first investigated, then penalized if found to have supported the Nazi state to an unacceptable degree. In the early months of denazification there was a great will, especially among the Americans, to be utterly thorough, to investigate everyone and hold every supporter of Nazism to account; however, it turned out that the numbers simply made that goal impractical. It soon became evident, too, that pursuing denazification too scrupulously would make it impossible to create a functioning, democratic society in Germany, one that would be able to support itself economically and not become a burden on the victorious nations. Enforcing the strictest sanctions against lesser offenders would prevent too many talented people from participating in the reconstruction process.
The Morgenthau Plan
Kaufman’s ‘Germany Must Perish!’ was sent to major officials and journalists in 1941 with a highly successfully marketing campaign that caused reviews in major periodicals of the book to appear coupled with the fact that Goebbels made it a centrepiece of the Third Reich anti-jewish propaganda effort. It would not be unreasonable to assert that the three parties who had a central hand in conceiving and advocating the Morgenthau Plan; i.e. Henry Morgenthau, Harry Dexter White and Soviet Intelligence (with their leader in the USA being Rudy Baker [nee Rudolph Blum]), had read or were very aware of Kaufman’s book.
The book’s proposed campaign of revenge and extermination by the sterilization of the Germans played nicely into the feelings that were elicited in all three parties given the atrocity propaganda that was a staple of Allied and Soviet propaganda and the fact that all three of the parties concerned were Jewish.
The denazification process included the Secret Intelligence Program That Brought 16 hundred Nazi Scientists to America. German rocket scientist, doctors, including some of Adolf Hitler’s closest collaborators, including men responsible for murder, slavery, and human experimentation were taken out of Germany to work on projects in the victor’s own country or simply seized in order to prevent the other side from taking them. The U.S. sent 785 scientists and engineers from Germany to America, some of whom formed the backbone of the U.S. space program.
In the case of the top-ranking Nazi party leaders, such as Göring, Hess, von Ribbentrop, Streicher, and Speer, the initial plan was to simply arrest them and shoot them, but that course of action was replaced by putting them on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials in order to publicize their crimes while demonstrating that the trials and the sentences were just, especially to the German people. However, the legal foundations of the trials were sometimes questioned, and the German people were not entirely convinced that the trials were anything more than “victors’ justice.”
Germany as a nation suffered tremendously – its denazification program ensured that ideology of Nazism was buried before the country was handed back to Germany. The Germans were not entitled to decry foreign occupation or object to foreign military presence and that foreign presence remained for 13 years.