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1946 Denazification Questionnaire 1946 Denazification Questionnaire with 131 Questions (GHI page)

Denazification in Post-World War II Germany

Book Essay on:
Constantine FitzGibbon, Denazification

(New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 211 pages.
UCSB: D802.G3 F5

by Miguel Melendrez
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
at amazon

About Miguel Melendrez

About Miguel Melendrez: I am a fifth year History Major and Athletic Coaching Minor. My history background involves many of the European countries, but Germany made an impression of me because of its recent history. I chose this topic to write on because I am beginning to understand how important it was for a country to have been nearly destroyed to trying to build from the ground up again, and also because I think I no longer associate Germany with just Hitler. I understand that Germany is a proud country that has a rich history that deserves to be looked into in more depth.

Essay (back to top)


Denazification is a first hand summary of Constantine FitzGibbon’s personal experience and research of post-World War II Germany following the surrender of the Nazi regime, after his time as an intelligence officer during the Second World War. The book gives the ways in which the Allies from the war wanted to “rebuild” German society, through political and organizational orders. The United States, France, Great Britain, and for a short time the Soviet Union, used questionnaires and tribunals in order to oust anyone who had been a Nazi or a supporter of the party.

In 1945 the entire country of Germany was in shambles from the bombings of the World War II, and it was obvious that the country was not going to be able to rebuild on its own. Germany’s leader and chancellor Adolf Hitler had been in charge of the Third Reich for twelve years, and had used his fascist ideals--a system of centralized government under a dictator who punished any opposition to keep control of Germany. A charismatic orator, this Fuhrer was able to gain the support of the middle and lower classes by propaganda to participate in his antisemitic policies.. Within his time as Germany’s dictator he was responsible for the mass murders of millions of Jews, and to a lesser amount Roman Catholics, non-Jewish Poles, Protestants, homosexuals, and any other group that he thought did not belong or was against the Nazi regime.

The book Denazification begins at the exact end of the World War II. Agreed upon by the Allied powers under the Potsdam Agreement in early 1945, denazification was set to clean out those who were accused of being a Nazi, supporting the party, or taking part in any Nazi organization. By this it meant anyone from the civilians who supported Adolf Hitler to those who captured the millions of victims and pulled their dead flesh and bones from the gas chambers and threw them into the mass burials at the concentration camps.

Over the next five to six years millions of Germany’s population were put through multiple questionings, trials, and punishment to rid them of their “Nazi” ties. While each of the Allies were put in charge of their own occupation zones of denazifying the Germans, FitzGibbon focuses most of his book on how the United States took part and conducted what they thought needed to be done with the ruins of Germany. Initially after the war, the Allies wanted to instill pastoralization on Germany, but the Soviets and Stalin disagreed, due in large part because his communist Soviet Union was based on industrialization. Since Germans did not have the resources needed to rebuild by themselves, its occupants spent countless hours on gathering the foreign aid and supplies needed to begin its “reconstruction” phase. Through the eyes of the United States, denazification was essential to these plans in order for not only a new and improved Germany, but the prevention of another Hitler-esque reign.

Before reading this book, I had several questions that I wanted to learn about the concept of denazification. What is its origin and definition? How did it affect society in the wake of the war? Which group was most affected by it? What people or groups were targeted? And lastly, but most importantly, was it successful?


After reading this book, I realized that this 3-5 year process was a more complex subject than I had originally thought. FitzGibbon gives throughout most of the book a black and white outlook on its effects on society during the late 1940s and 1950s. However, FitzGibbon renders a sentiment in which the denazification of Germany was successful only to a certain extent, as this “artificial revolution” cleaned up a lot of political and economic problems that Germany had at the end of the war, but left a sour aftertaste in the mouth of the German society for its American counterparts that were so eager to purify the unclean waters of Germany.

In support of this argument, FitzGibbon explains that the process of denazification was directed by the Allied Control Council. In its definition, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as “a proclamation in dissolving the Nazi Party, affiliated associations and supervised organizations, and all Nazi public institutions which were set up as instruments of Party domination, and prohibiting their revival in any form, should be promulgated by the Control Council” (pg. 75).

He urged that US President Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Stalin would do their part in dismantling the Nazi Party, a party whose roots are fascist and demonstrates its power and self-proclaimed superiority through decrees and regulations that establish the discrimination of people on grounds of race, nationality or political opinions (pg. 75). To support this statement, FitzGibbon points out the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, in which major Nazi criminals were tried and convicted of being war criminals, and were sent to be punished by either execution or imprisonment for their role in the Third Reich.

Under the Control Council, denazification had four steps of interlocking operations according to FitzGibbon. The first was as mentioned before with the Nuremberg Trials under the Allied Military Courts where the Germans were being arraigned by the Allies. The second step was a trial by military courts of major criminals in the other zones of occupation. Following that was the war criminals in the new German courts. This step in particular shows that the Germans indeed were getting help to learn to get back up on their feet and begin to run their country again. The last step of operation is the final denazification, whether it is through the accused elimination from public life or their reeducation and reinsertion back into it.

Indeed, the Allied powers did in fact attempt to construct a precise operation of denazification. FitzGibbon presents several documents in which even classification of the level of Nazism a person may be accused of. As discussed in class, the level that a person was accused of had a set amount of punitive years ahead of them. A major offender had ten years, regular offenders had five years and forced labor, lesser offenders had short sentences, and the followers were only fined. In order to keep the accuracy of these findings, Allied forces used several witnesses, questionings, trials, and other opportunities to gain any and every piece of information of any one German in order to arrive at an errorless decision. (Ch. 10)

In the second half of the book, FitzGibbon offers some estimates. In the United States occupation zone alone three million Germans were subject to punishment for their roles in the Nazi Party. In the classification of the Trial Tribunals, 130,000 Germans were convicted offenders (pg. 133-134). There is no doubt that the American zone did inflict a lot of punishment and convictions of the Nazi Party participants. The United States was determined not to allow for any kind of government by a political party that would follow in the footsteps of the Nazi Party.

On the other hand, FitzGibbon does say that when judging the success of denazification, “we are perhaps on the most slippery ground of all” (pg 171). Since the denazification demanded the occupancy of American troops in Germany, “non-fraternization” proved to be a mockery by former member of the psychological warfare branch of the United States Office of Strategic Services Saul K. Padover, whose first eyewitness accounts were of American military troops taking advantage of German women, and plenty of “secret sexual contact between soldiers and women in town” (pg. 85). In many ways, it not only made Germany’s female population seem inferior, but the entire German population inferior as well. It seemed as if since they were there for the betterment of the Germans, they had the power to conduct themselves in these selfish and inappropriate ways.

A major reason why it is difficult to decipher whether the denazification of Germany was successful was how many cases there existed of former Nazis who served under Hitler who either were able to retain their employment, or were dismissed only to later regain the same position. According to the laws and regulations of the Allied nations, denazification was intended to not leave any trace of the Nazi regime in case it somehow maneuvered itself into becoming what it was once before to regain power.

One example of this was in the German city of Aachen. Once the city was under Allied command, it began a search for its next mayor, ultimately ending in the choice of Franz Oppenhoff. A lawyer who had never been associated with the Nazis, and who disliked communism and was anti-democratic, he chose close friends into his administration. Interestingly enough, he hired a few former Nazis within his cabinet. The citizens of Aachen were stunned and frightened, because in their opinion the Nazis were about to reclaim the city, with the support of the Bishop who had appointed Oppenhoff, and the support of the United States, who sought assistance from the Bishop (pg. 88-89).

FitzGibbon offers the notion that a majority of the Germans developed a bitter taste toward the end of the denazification period. The Allies did support and help out the Germans substantially, but may have not had the proper organization to fulfill their cleansing of the Nazis. It was extremely difficult to judge whether a person was “Nazi enough” to condemn, and further, what type of punishment to inflict if indeed they were termed “Nazi”. And even so, the persecutions of jail time, fines, property confiscations, and denouncements held little value once the former Nazis regained employment of the high offices of the new German government. The Germans seemed to have, to certain extent, been held prisoners in their own country, and this is where I believe, a gray shadow is cast because how difficult it would be to prove the legitimacy of the accusations against former Nazis. In addition, FitzGibbon points out that, even just twenty years after the war, real case studies of the denazification era are incommodious to gather because of the unreliable evidence, reluctance, and even memory (selective or not) of the German population.

Reading this book gave me a clarification on the subject of denazification, as I did agree to a certain extent with FitzGibbon that the denazification of Germany was not a complete success. The Americans along with the other Allied powers went in with the confidence and support to help out another country in a time of need, whether it was for political reasons or otherwise. Consequently, through the eyes of the Germans, denazification was more of an imperical adventure that it was a cleansing of Nazism. The Allies constructed precise steps that were going to systematically clean up Germany and rid them of the Nazis, but did not rid the country completely of Nazism in practice. The underlying problem was how to truly identify the exact persons who were causing the problems and how to properly deal with them adequately. The process did help restart the country economically and politically, but after all was said and done, it left a bad taste on to what extent the American units should have helped purify and regenerate what was once a strong country.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 6/20/07)

Book Review:

  • http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,844961,00.html
    'FitzGibbon, who served as an intelligence officer in Europe during World War II, has dug up the corpse of the "1,000-year Reich" and considers how Kiesinger's Germany could have risen from its grave... He discusses Allied punishment of war crimes, which was limited to a handful of the worst offenders. But his main concern, as the title implies, is denazification, the broader program of combined punishment and re-education variously applied to hundreds of thousands of Germans by the occupying powers. His book raises questions of conscience which, though they can never be satisfactorily settled, will perplex society and individuals as long as men are bound in loyalty to states that may commit crimes.
    Has our age been harsher and more painstaking in its corrective reprisals than others that have seen fanatically fought wars and revolutions? At the level of immediate outrage and intent, yes; in ultimate results, no. Taking a long view, FitzGibbon compares the performance of the Allied occupying powers with those of the English after the Stuart Restoration, Americans after Appomattox, and the European victors of Waterloo. In each case national character and historical tradition shaped policy. In 1660 the English Crown granted general amnesty, except for the clergymen, to all but a few of the Cromwellian regicides, although republican soldiers (allowing for technological limitations) had behaved nearly as atrociously toward the Irish as Hitler's armies in non-German Europe. Neither Robert E. Lee nor any other Southern leader was charged with war crimes (although Jefferson Davis was confined in a fort for two years). After Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, the real master of "liberated" France, was ordered to arrest Napoleonic Marshal Soult; the Duke asked him to dinner. Talleyrand, a busy Napoleonic executive, became the Bourbon King's loyal minister.'

Books and Articles:

  • Remy, The Heidelberg Myth: The Nazification and Denazification of a German University (amazon page)
  • Vogden, Denazification in Soviet-Occupied Germany (Harvard Univ. Press page)


  • The Library of Congress Country Studies, “The Nuremberg Trials and Denazification”
    This website contains a brief introduction into the Nuremburg Trials and the politics of denazification. With denazification, it covers the extreme purges by the United States and mentions the small percent of Nazis who went uncovered once the Americans switched their focus to the Cold War. Politically, the article includes the forming of new parties such as the KPD, SED, SPD, and others such as the Christian Social Union.
  • Howard Hobbs, “Higher Education In Nazi Germany: DeNazification Re-Examined”
    This website contains a conservative outlook on denazification through the media, and offers opinions of other journalists. Movies include Nasty Girl and Stunde Null. It focuses primarily on the role of higher educated Nazis, what they did during the war, and they involvement following the war, with Allies instituting re-education and re-orientation. The articles shows examples of how Nazi records and events were kept under secret to hide its dark past. It pins American evolution versus Soviet revolution.
  • Klaus P. Fischer, “The Question of German Guilt” http://mars.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/hitler/lectures/german_guilt.html.
    This website offers Klaus P. Fishers’s essay on how the Germans were affected in the aftermath of the War, and how they dealt and were dealt with during denazification. He starts with the time it took for the highest Nazi leaders to finally come clean. He leads into the division of Germany during its early reconstruction phase in the onset of the Cold War. He explains how Hitler’s influence is still around today-in politcs, social interaction, and everyday life.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 6/13/07; last updated:
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