Tete Harens Tetens, The New Germany and the Old Nazis
(New York: Random House, 1961),
286 pages. UCSB: DD259.2 .T4

Book essay by Russell Matheny
February 2004
for Prof. Marcuse's upper division lecture course Germany since 1945
(course homepage)
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2004


Book Essay

Was resurgent Nazism ever a real threat to the Adenauer regime? In The New Germany and the Old Nazis, written in 1961, towards the end of Adenauerís term, T.H Tetens insinuates that Nazism in Germany is far from dead, and a danger to the Jews living there, and to the national security of the world. He is critical of the Adenauer regimeís toleration of former Nazis and is skeptical as to the whether the government will be able to prevent a second Nazi take over. Tetensí thesis is dated. I believe that Adenauerís lenient policies towards former Nazis were necessary for the stability of the nation. Nonetheless Tetens shines light on the reality that post-war Germany did not shed its Nazi past overnight.

Tetens writes about episodes of anti-Semitism that occurred during the nineteen fifties and the local Germansí responses to these episodes. Jews returned to their native towns from concentration camps or other countries to find their German neighbors still deeply prejudiced against them. "Kurt Leiser recognized people who thirty years before had been his classmates and playmates. Today they passed like strangers, and their rebuffs brought back the bitter realization that he could never be an accepted Offenburger" (Tetens, 3). One family, the Sumpts, returned to Germany and opened a bakery in a small town on the outskirts of Frankfurt, only to find the community aggressively anti-Semitic. They eventually had to shut down their business just to protect their lives. Tetens pays close attention to Germans who continue to embrace the Nazi faith and cites various episodes from the American and German media in which Germans made frightening remarks about the gassing of the Jews not being completed.

With such disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism in mind, itís no wonder Tetens is so critical of the reintegration of former Nazis into civilian society. SS officers who were supposed to serve long sentences or be executed for war crimes were pardoned and welcomed back as heroes (101f). He writes about former Nazis holding prominent positions in the government and military, and the threat he believes they pose to Germanyís Democratic future. "Surveying the entire political structure of the Bonn Republic, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that the Nazis have had quite a comeback almost everywhere. From chancellery down through every cabinet office, through the parties, the parliaments of the Laender, the police, the school system, and the press, former Nazis are deeply entrenched in many key positions" (37). He compares the circumstances in the Federal Republic to the circumstances of the Weimar Republic, inferring that the West underestimates the republicís vulnerability to resurgent Nazism or militarism.

But as disturbing as his stories are, Tetens canít seem to grasp or accept just how unfeasible it would have been to keep all former Nazis and war criminals locked up and excluded from mainstream society. "In the Bundestag debate October 23, 1952, Dr. Adenauer admitted that 66 percent of the diplomats in higher positions were former Nazis but added he could not build up a Foreign Office without relying on such skilled men" (48). The reality was, former Nazis made up a significant portion of the population and there was a high demand for their skills and professional experience. But beyond that what I feel Tetens overlooked was that Adenauer was the leader of the German people and the peopleís faith and confidence in their leader was essential to West Germanyís stability. If he acted relentlessly as the punisher of his countrymenís crimes he would have become extremely unpopular with the people. After all many citizens who were not originally members of the Nazi Party had no choice but to join the Party once Hitler came to power. While it may have been easy for Americans to demand the relentless punishment of all former Nazis, one must consider the unsoundness of this notion from Adenauerís position. All of these "former Nazis" whether they were members of the government, or soldiers, or SS officers, were the brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors of many Germans.

On the contrary, Adenauerís ability to placate the lingering racist Nazi contingencies of society, but preventing its resurgence, while simultaneously impressing the Western powers as a reliable ally, attests to his political brilliance. Though he may have seemed accepting of the Nazis domestically, internationally he went great lengths to give his regime the image of being anti-Nazi. "In talks with foreigners he (Adenauer) seldom forgets to mention that Nazism has completely disappeared and that the new Germany rests on a stable, democratic electorate" (56). For instance he made the decision to pay Israel reparations for Germanyís crimes against the Jews (Lecture 1/28).

Another fact Tetens fails to mention when making comparisons between the FRG and the Weimar Republic is that while the Weimar Republic was associated in the eyes of most Germans with economic depression, the FRG was associated with economic success. Google marcuse 133c to find where this has been published on the web. The inflation of the early twenties, and the effects of the world depression in the late thirties caused people to lose faith in the democratic political system of the Weimar Republic. Though Germans in the early fifties may not have been as accustomed to democracy, the wealth they achieved in the new system made it much easier for them to embrace it.

If the Weimar Republic was stained with defeat from the First World War, Hitlerís Germany was now certainly stained with defeat from the Second World War. Even more it was now associated with a defeat much more catastrophic than the First World War. Unlike the First World War in which the war remained far away in other countries, the Second World War brought aerial bombings of cities, and civilians, and an unprecedented occupation by foreign troops. In the midst of economic prosperity it is unlikely the German people would have wished for a return of the regime responsible for their fate in the war, or any Neo-Nazi government.

I was able to read his book with the hindsight of four more decades of German democracy in which Nazism didnít rise to power again, and Germany hasnít again become a threat to European and National security. Tetens' descriptions of Nazi activity in the Federal Republic arenít to be read lightly. However I feel the facts still stand, that despite the prevalence of Nazi sympathizers, the emergence of a Neo-Nazi government was never likely. The economic success of the new Germany made it possible for the German people to make the transition into democracy, without being harshly punished for their countryís crimes.

But despite Tetensí bias and the book's datedness, it does well in examining the realities of Adenauerís task of administering a tentatively democratic regime only a few years after the Third Reich. The book also deals with the fact that the Federal Republic contained a generation of Germans who could scarcely remember a non-Nazi Germany. The dark legacy of Nazism was much heavier in 1961 than it is today, thus my admiration for the early governments of the Federal Republic is greater than Tetensí. Nonetheless his book was an insightful reminder that despite Germanyís democratic success, the Third Reich didnít disappear over night.

Works Cited

Fulbrook, Mary. The Divided Nation: A History of Germany 1918-1990. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992

Marcuse. Lecture 1/28/04

Tetens, T.H. The New Germany and the Old Nazis. New York: Random House, 1961


essay by Russell Matheny, Feb. 2004; prepared for web by H. Marcuse, 3/23/04
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