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In March 1945, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin met in Yalta. With Nazi Germany on the brink of defeat, the Allied leaders discussed the post-war reconstruction of Europe, specifically Germany's fate after the war had ended. Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union agreed that Nazism had to be banished from all areas of German society. Within months, Adolf Hitler was dead, Germany surrendered, and the seismic policy of denazification commenced.
Initiated by the Allies after the Second World War, denazification was the process of cleansing German society of Nazism.
During the Yalta Conference on 11 March 1945, the Allied leaders agreed that wiping out all traces of Nazism was paramount in the post-war reconstruction of Germany.
This affirmation was reiterated on 2 August 1945, when the Allied leaders met at Potsdam. During the Potsdam Conference, a declaration was made:
All members of the Nazi party who have been more than nominal participants […] are to be removed from public or semi-public office and from positions of responsibility in important private undertakings.1
One of the few post-war policies that the Allies agreed on, ridding Nazism from German society was essential in the post-war reconstruction of Germany and Europe. Long before the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, the Grand Alliance recognised that German society would have to be purged of Nazism and re-familiarised with democracy. While removing Nazi symbols, literature, and street signs was a fairly straightforward process, removing Nazi ideology from German society was more arduous.
Despite the difficulties involved, denazification was unquestionably essential:
Before the implementation of the Marshall Plan in 1948, United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. proposed an entirely different plan to deal with post-war Germany. This proposal – dubbed the Morgenthau Plan – sought to cripple Germany to prevent the country from waging war in the future. While the Morgenthau Plan had some impact – notably the dismantling of German heavy industry – the proposal was ultimately not adopted.
Understanding that an economically strong Germany was integral to European recovery and seeing the German people as fundamental to the denazification process, the Allies settled on the Marshall Plan.
A US foreign policy that sought to prompt the economic recovery of Western Europe by providing financial aid to countries.
As well as delineating the Allies' confusion on how best to deal with post-war Germany, the Morgenthau Plan and Marshall Plan also give us insight into the USA's anxiety about the spread of communism.
If the Morgenthau Plan had been adopted in Germany, it would have inevitably propagated the spread of communism due to the resultant weak economy. It's of no surprise that 'agreement with the Soviet Union [regarding the Morgenthau Plan] was fairly readily achieved'. 2
The Morgenthau and Marshall Plans sought to denazify Germany but went about it differently. The Morgenthau Plan aimed to cripple Germany and make the country compliant to the Allies. In contrast, the Marshall Plan sought to rebuild Germany to stimulate democracy.
Between 1945 and 1946, Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. During the 13 military tribunals, 200 members of the Nazi hierarchy were tried for war crimes.
While the terms often get conflated, the process of denazification was separate from the aims of Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Trials sought to punish Nazi war criminals for specific crimes. In contrast, denazification sought to cleanse German politics and society of Nazism.
In 1946, Great Britain, France, and the US introduced a questionnaire system to identify former Nazis. This questionnaire drew inspiration from the questionnaire used by the US forces in Italy in 1944.
Every adult living in an Allied occupation zone had to complete a 131-point form outlining what their occupation was in Nazi Germany. While dishonesty on the questionnaire was a punishable offence, many Nazis lied about their actions during the Third Reich and escaped sentencing.
The "Scheda Personale"
After the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, the US forces began to track down Fascists in the Italian military regime. Created by Major Aldo Raffa, the US army used a questionnaire called the 'scheda personale' to identify those associated with Mussolini's regime. Upon its success, it became the blueprint for the questionnaire used by the Allied forces throughout the denazification process.
In March 1946, the Allies set out five categories of culpability:
Let's discuss how denazification differed between Germany's four occupied zones.
Firstly, let's quickly examine the division of Germany after the Second World War.
As we can see from the map, Germany was divided into four zones, each controlled by one of the Allies: Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the USA. Berlin was also divided among the four Allies.
Despite the Allies agreeing on the five categories of culpability, denazification in the four German occupation zones varied drastically.
In East Germany, the Soviet Union took advantage of denazification to forward communism in the region. Unlike in the Western zones – which honoured fair and democratic elections – the East German parliament was filled with communists loyal to Moscow.
Denazification in the French zone focussed on cleansing the civil service, government organisations, and industry. France took advantage of German industry and resources; by doing this, they weakened Germany and strengthened their own faltering economy. To this end, they allowed Nazis from other occupational zones to come and work.
Denazification in the US occupation zone was comprehensive and strict. The Americans removed anyone actively associated with the Nazi regime from government positions; such overarching bureaucratic change led to a shortage of government workers. While the US sought to re-establish Germany as a functioning democracy, they considered German society untrustworthy and wholly guilty.
Denazification in the British zone focused on cleansing the German administrative organisations. The British process was far more moderate than that of the US. The British mainly aimed to reconstruct the German economy, allowing former Nazis to take on important government positions.
There were several problems with the denazification process. Let's look at a table outlining the issues.
|Cold War Politics||As Cold War hostilities between the US and the Soviet Union began to develop, the US realised they needed to gain favour among the people of West Germany. The alienating process of denazification went against this geopolitical aim. Consequently, in March 1946, the US gave control of the denazification tribunals over to the German people.|
|Punishment or Reintegration?||There was a fierce debate among government officials in the US regarding denazification. Some politicians believed the Germans should be punished, whereas others thought re-education was the way forward.|
|Escaping Punishment||France and the US declared youth amnesties for people born after 1 January 1919. Such amnesties meant that young Nazis – such as members of the Hitler Youth – were exempt from punishment.|
|Logistical Issues||In the US occupation zone, approximately 10 million Germans handed in questionnaires. Reading and processing the questionnaires took a considerable amount of human resources.|
|Bias towards countrymen||The development of Cold War hostilities caused the Allies to lose interest in denazification. The US and Great Britain gave control over the denazification process to the German people in 1946, with France following suit in 1951. This development was problematic because many Germans were reluctant to give harsh sentences to their peers.|
Set up in 1922, the Hitler Youth was a Nazi Party youth organisation.
The term amnesty refers to when a government elects to forgive those guilty of a crime.
The emergence of the Cold War saw the Allies lose interest in the denazification process; initially, control of the process was delegated to the Germans before being entirely abolished in 1951. Here is a brief timeline outlining the end of denazification.
|January 1946||The British handed over control of the denazification tribunals to the German people.|
|March 1946||The US handed over control of the denazification tribunals to the German people.|
|February 1948||The Soviets stated that denazification in the Soviet zone would end on 10 March.|
|May 1951||Denazification was abolished in West Germany.|
Denazification was the process of ridding Nazism from all areas of German society.
Initiated by the Allies after the Second World War, the denazification program sought to cleanse German society of Nazism.
Denazification was an integral step in the post-war reconstruction of Germany. It was necessary to cleanse Germany of Nazism so it could re-establish itself as a democratic nation.
The denazification process occurred between 1945 and 1951.
The denazification process saw former Nazis removed from positions of importance in Germany. Serious offenders were imprisoned, given hard-labour, and even sentenced to death.
What is Denazification?
Denazification was the process of cleansing German society of Nazism.
What year was the Yalta Conference?
What were the Nuremberg Trials?
Between 1945 and 1946, Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
How many questions were on the Allied Denazification questionnaire?
When were the 5 Categories of Culpability established?
What were the 5 Categories of Culpability?
1). Major Offenders
3). Lesser Offenders
5). Persons Exonerated
Which countries declared Youth Amnesties?
France and the USA
When did Britain hand over the denazification process to the German people?
When did the Soviet Union end their denazification efforts?
10 March 1948
When was denazification abolished in West Germany?
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