How Germany Avoided a Generation of Fascists and Nazi Sympathisers Post-WWII

After the war was over there was the potential that Germany would have a generation of fascist Nazi sympathisers holding onto unfavourable lingering ideology due to the high levels of indoctrination the youth would have been subjected to. This was arguably not the case for the older German population. For instance, if we look at the membership figures of the Nazi party when they peaked in 1945 the number stood at 8 million members, accounting for just 10% of the population[1] and even though many Germans were actively engaged in various Nazi organisations such as the German Faith Movement (200,000 members, <0.3% population) or the DRV ‘German Cycling Association’ (61,131 members) it implies that relative to the rest of the population, not many Germans were particularly loyal to the Nazi Party. As a result, when Hitler’s regime toppled so too did their fascist ideals. However, the children who were brought up in the 1930s and were most susceptible to the Nazi philosophy and evidence does show that they were heavily influenced by Hitler’s powerful propaganda machine. The case remained that the Hitler youth knew nothing other than hateful rhetoric and mindset that the Nazis had indoctrinated them with. The Allied countries were, however, successful in reversing Nazi programming.

The process was given the name “Denazification” and interestingly relied on many of the methods employed by the Nazis to fulfil their purposes of indoctrination. The war crime trials post-war were utilised heavily during denazification and were publicized as much as possible to demonstrate the immoral and ultimately criminal activities that the Nazi’s were engaged in to attempt to alter the youth’s views. It is noted that some members of the Hitler Youth were also accused of war crimes, however, it is difficult to find evidence of these accusations being followed up with trials and punishments largely due none of the accused being above the age of 18 at the time of their alleged crimes. Certain parts of the Hitler Youth were nothing less than an extension of the Wehrmacht. In 1943 the 12th SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend was introduced and would be deployed in full scale battle including the Battle of Normandy[2]. Few members of the Hitler Youth, if any at all, were held accountable for their activities.

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SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend

In another similar vein to the methods adopted by the Nazi’s, the allies also implemented a strict censor on all German media including newspapers and the radio. This includes all mediums of written, visual, and audio news which were all taken under the control of the occupying government. In total, 30,000 Nazi books were banned (including Mein Kampf) and possession of any of the banned books was a considerable punishable offense.

During this period, the Americans also worked to help reconstruct Germany (along with other countries in Western Europe) through the implementation of the Marshall Plan which saw America give over $12 billion to help rebuild after the war[3]. The Marshall Plan was an attempt by America to create the notion that they weren’t conquerors. Rather, they wanted to give the German people the impression that they were their liberators. There were massive amounts of publications about the Holocaust during this time that worked alongside the Marshall Plan to further instil the feeling of liberation that the allies were pedalling.

In its abhorrence, the holocaust provided the allies with what can be looked upon as their ace in terms of denazification. They could easily convey and demonstrate that they were in the right and the Nazi’s were totally in the wrong. An incredible amount of literature including books and newspaper articles were produced, as were films such as “Die Todesmuhlen”, translating to “The Death-Mills” which was a film about the holocaust that was given a wide release throughout Western Germany. These publications and films documented the horrors of the concentration camps and the deplorable treatment of Jews. When doing this the allies pulled no punches and essentially placed much of the guilt onto the German people. It is true that the youth largely avoided significant punishment or consequences of their actions during the war trials post-war, they were reprimanded just as much as the rest of the population when it came to the blame. This instilled a strong sense of guilt amongst the German population, including the youth. This would prove to be very effective in quashing any lingering fascist thoughts. It could be argued that this forced self-reflection was a form of punishment.

Ultimately, it was the depression and destruction that Germany was plunged into after the war that proved most successful in nullifying Nazism. Most, if not all, of key leaders of the Nazi party were now all dead and the Nazis were the unquestionable losers. The issues that had once made the Nazis attractive to the people, such as jobs and pride were nowhere to be seen and the ideology that they had pressed upon people for over a decade was now effectively illegal.

Interestingly, shortly after the war Germany benefitted from an economic boom which coincided with when many of the Hitler Youth reached working age. This boom was a consequence of large amounts of industrialization being need but it could be argued that the personal, military-like qualities honed through the Hitler Youth aided the economic boom and that the legacy of the Hitler Youth may have some positives in the decades after the war.

[1] McNab, Chris (2011). Hitler’s Master Plan, Amber Books Ltd. pp 22, 23

[2] Butler, Rupert. Hitler’s Young Tigers: The Chilling True Story of the Hitler Youth. London: Arrow Books, 1986.

[3] https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/marshall-plan

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