A man removes the sign for Adolf Hitler Street"

denazification: how Germany avoided generation of fascists

After WW2 Germany had a problem. A generation knew nothing else than Nazi ideology and posed a threat to German society – denazification was needed.

The situation in Germany post-WW2

After the war was over, there was a fear that Germany would have a generation Nazi sympathisers due to the indoctrination from the Hitler Youth.

Older German citizens were not as high risk. The membership figures of the Nazi party during their peak in 1945 stood at 8 million members, accounting for just 10% of the population[1].This is including those who were active 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, the majority of Germans were not particularly loyal to the Nazi Party.

As a result, when Hitler’s regime toppled so too did the fascist idealolgy amongst adults and denazification was not necessary.

However, German children who were brought up in the 1930s were most susceptible to Nazi philosophy and evidence shows that they were most susceptible and influenced by Hitler’s powerful propaganda machine.

After the war, there was the a generation ghat knew nothing other than hateful rhetoric and mindset that the Nazi party has indoctrinated them with. This posed a major threat to German society. The process of ridding young Germans of Nazi thoughts has been given the name denazification.

Hitler youth saluting Hitler
A group of young boys salute Hitler.

Why and how was Denazifiaction implemented?

The process was given the name “Denazification” and ironically 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 the denazification process. They were heavily publicised to demonstrate the immoral aspect of the Nazi Party’s criminal activities to alter the youth’s views.

Members of the Hitler Youth were also accused of war crimes themselves with certain parts of the Hitler Youth being nothing less than an extension of the Wehrmacht.For example, in 1943 the 12th SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend  was deployed in full scale battle. They notably fought in the Battle of Normandy[2].

However, there is little evidence how many fighters belonging to the Hitler Youth were charged given that many of the accusations of atrocities against those under 18 were pursued.


SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend

Another of the Nazi’s method adopted by the allies was to implement 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 offence.

The Marshall Plan 

During this period, the Americans, through the implementation of the Marshall Plan, worked to help reconstruct Germany with assistance other countries in Western Europe. The Marshall Plan 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.

On one hand the allies emphasised the murderous and criminal exploits of the Nazis. With the other, they emphasised how they were helping Germany come back stronger. 

The Holocaust and denazification

With its abhorrent details, the Holocaust provided the allies with what can be looked upon as their ace when it came to denazification. They could easily convey and demonstrate that they were in the right and the Nazi’s were in the wrong.

An incredible amount of literature, including books and newspaper articles were produced. Another Nazi technique the allies deployed was the production of films. Titles such as “Die Todesmuhlen”, which translates to “The Death-Mills” were given a huge release across West Germany and detailed the horrors of the holocaust.

These publications and films highlighted the horrors of the concentration camps and the deplorable treatment of Jews to Germany’s young. When it came to detail, the allies pulled no punches and placed much of the guilt onto the German people. While it is true that the youth largely avoided significant punishment or consequences in 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 responsibility amongst the German population – the young included – and this would prove to be very effective in quashing any lingering fascist thoughts. some argue that forced self-reflection was a form of punishment.

Post-war economic and emotional depression

The economic and emotional depression that followed the was, as well as the physical destruction of Germany also proved very successful in nullifying Nazism.

the majority of the key leaders in the Nazi party were now dead and there was no doubt as to who the losers were after 1945. The issues that had once made the Nazis attractive to the people, such as jobs and pride, were nowhere to be seen. 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 industrialisation being needed, but some commentators argue it was a knock-on effect from the Nazi regime. 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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