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Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past: The Politics of Amnesty and Integration

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Overview

Of all the aspects of recovery in postwar Germany perhaps none was as critical or as complicated as the matter of dealing with Nazi criminals, and, more broadly, with the Nazi past. While on the international stage German officials spoke with contrition of their nation's burden of guilt, at home questions of responsibility and retribution were not so clear. In this masterful examination of Germany under Adenauer, Norbert Frei shows that, beginning in 1949, the West German government dramatically reversed the denazification policies of the immediate postwar period and initiated a new "Vergangenheitspolitik," or "policy for the past," which has had enormous consequences reaching into the present.

Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past chronicles how amnesty laws for Nazi officials were passed unanimously and civil servants who had been dismissed in 1945 were reinstated liberally -- and how a massive popular outcry led to the release of war criminals who had been condemned by the Allies. These measures and movements represented more than just the rehabilitation of particular individuals. Frei argues that the amnesty process delegitimized the previous political expurgation administered by the Allies and, on a deeper level, served to satisfy the collective psychic needs of a society longing for a clean break with the unparalleled political and moral catastrophe it had undergone in the 1940s. Thus the era of Adenauer devolved into a scandal-ridden period of reintegration at any cost. Frei's work brilliantly and chillingly explores how the collective will of the German people, expressed through mass allegiance to new consensus-oriented democratic parties, cast off responsibility for the horrors of the war and Holocaust, effectively silencing engagement with the enormities of the Nazi past.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Frei's intense use of primary soures will appeal to specialists familiar with the intricacies of postwar German politics.

Ethics & International Affairs

Frei puts an end to the polemical debate over the putative silences in the official political rhetoric of the 1950s by examining in exceptional detail exactly who said what, when, where, and why.

— Jeffrey K. Olick

London Review of Books - David Blackbourn

No one has written better. This is an important work: very well researched, reflective, sharp in judgment yet alive to complexity.... Frei's conclusions are alert to the moral and political complexity of our times.

American Historical Review - Jay Lockenour

Hailed as 'groundbreaking' and major[,]' [t]he German edition has been cited extensively in the literature since 1996. The power of the work lies not merely in the clear explication of the events... but also in Frei's balanced analysis of the positive and negative repercussions of the Federal Republic's 'policy for the past.'

Ethics and International Affairs - Jeffrey K. Olick

Frei puts an end to the polemical debate over the putative silences in the official political rhetoric of the 1950s by examining in exceptional detail exactly who said what, when, where, and why.

Holocaust and Genocide Studies - Bill Niven

This is a fascinating book about how West Germany spent the first years of its life undoing what had been done to overcome the legacy of Nazism.

New Republic

Frei has done a great service in documenting the depth and the breadth of indigenous West German opposition to bringing the criminals of the Nazi era to justice and to forcing compromised elites out of positions of responsibility in the crucial early years.... His case is impressive.

London Review of Books
No one has written better. This is an important work: very well researched, reflective, sharp in judgment yet alive to complexity.... Frei's conclusions are alert to the moral and political complexity of our times.

— David Blackbourn

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The value of this book, which makes for bitter but important reading, rests on the close analysis of sources in the dialectical process of constructing a democracy after 1945.

Die Zeit

The merit of Frei's work lies in the thorough historical investigation of three important aspects of political dealing with the Nazi past--achieving an original scholarly contribution that expands and deepens our historical knowledge, and one that cannot be overlooked.

The Washington Times

A painstakingly researched analysis of the early Adenauer era. Norbert Frei takes a hard look at the political, judicial and intellectual consequences of the emerging amnestysizing 'policy of the past' and disapproves.

Choice

Frei's intense use of primary soures will appeal to specialists familiar with the intricacies of postwar German politics.

Foreign Affairs

This thorough piece of research throws much light on the west German side of de-Nazification and the profound contrast to measures taken by the Allies.

Nations and Nationalism

Frei's excellent study deserves to be read by anyone interested in the problem of how societies attempting the transition from dictatorship to democracy face - or do not face - a troubled past.

American Historical Review
Hailed as 'groundbreaking' and major[,]' [t]he German edition has been cited extensively in the literature since 1996. The power of the work lies not merely in the clear explication of the events... but also in Frei's balanced analysis of the positive and negative repercussions of the Federal Republic's 'policy for the past.'

— Jay Lockenour

Ethics and International Affairs
Frei puts an end to the polemical debate over the putative silences in the official political rhetoric of the 1950s by examining in exceptional detail exactly who said what, when, where, and why.

— Jeffrey K. Olick

Holocaust and Genocide Studies
This is a fascinating book about how West Germany spent the first years of its life undoing what had been done to overcome the legacy of Nazism.

— Bill Niven

Foreign Affairs
As Fritz Stern states in his preface, Norbert Frei "has an eye for complexity." This thorough piece of research throws much light on the West German side of de-Nazification and the profound contrast to measures taken by the Allies. The latter tried to promote extensive purges, whereas the new West German regime showed far greater leniency, especially through the amnesty laws of 1949 and 1954, and by trying to reduce the number of suspected war criminals singled out for trials. Frei's account is especially valuable because of his choice of cases and his skill in linking the "policy for the past" to the general history of the Federal Republic's evolution from a scarcely sovereign half-state under Allied supervision to an essential ally of the West in the Cold War. This transformation allowed many Nazi criminals to go unpunished. Ethically, it was highly debatable, but politically, it succeeded in forging a kind of unity around West Germany's new democracy and its leader, Konrad Adenauer. From a Machiavellian viewpoint, the policy paid off — especially in curing most Germans of antisemitism.
Library Journal
Frei's analysis of the relationship between the politics of the nascent West German state and what came to be known as the "unsurmounted past" (the issue of Nazi criminality) provides a new perspective on how former Nazis were reintegrated into mainstream German society. Frei (history, Ruhr Univ., Bochum) demonstrates that the legal debates about amnesty for former Nazis played a central role in the new republic's political machinations. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's effort to build political consensus also led to a concerted drive to end the denazification campaigns of the various allied commissions. Historians have long known that the Allies caused resentment with their ability to intervene in internal German affairs such as arresting German citizens independently of Bonn's wishes; less defined, until now, were the political dynamics that resulted from such intervention. Ultimately, Frei's analysis demonstrates how German resentment of the Allied occupation led to a widespread acceptance of the idea that Germany was being victimized by the occupiers and to the downplaying of the "burden" of recent history. Unfortunately for such an important subject, the translation from the original German is often awkward and convoluted. Recommended for specialized collections. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231118828
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 8/20/2002
  • Pages: 365
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Norbert Frei is professor of modern history at Ruhr-University Bochum. He is the author of many books on twentieth-century German history, including The Führer State.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Fritz SternIntroductionI. A Legislation for the Past: Parliamentary and Administratives Junctures1. The Amnesty Law of 19492. The "Liquidation" of Denazification3. The Rehabilitation and Pensioning of the "131ers"4. The Amnesty Law of 1954II. A Past-Political Obsession: The Problem of the War-Criminals5. The War-Crimes Issue Preceding the Bonn Republic6. The Politicization of the War-Criminal Question (1949-50)7. The Debate Under the Sign of Rearmament (1950-51)8. A "General Treaty" instead of a "General Amnesty" (1951-52)9. The Windup of the War-Criminal ProblemIII. Fixing Past-Political Limits: Judicial Norms and Allied Intervention10. The Hedler Affair and the Establishment of Criminal-Legal Norms (1950)11. The Rise and Banning of the Socialist Reich Party (1951-52)12. The Naumann Affair and the Role of the Allies (1953)ConclusionPostscript to the American EditionAcknowledgmentsNotesSources and LiteratureIndex

Columbia University Press

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