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VICTORS against the DEFEATED (3 of 7)

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Attempts at Denazification

The victors did not intend to let the Germans work on their own political views as the Italians were doing in emerging from Mussolini's fascism. The victors were not giving the Germans credit for being able to do so. At the Potsdam Conference they agreed that,

All members of the Nazi Party who have been more than nominal participants in its activities and all other persons hostile to Allied purposes shall be removed from public and semi-public office, and from positions of responsibility in important private undertakings. Such persons shall be replaced by persons who, by their political and moral qualities, are deemed capable of assisting in developing genuine democratic institutions in Germany.

And:

German education shall be so controlled as to completely to eliminate Nazi and militarist doctrines and to make possible the successful development of democratic ideas.

Taking down Adolf Hitler Street sign

With the US military looking on, Adolf Hitler Street is being renamed. Impatient occupation authorities did not see the German people as capable enough in remaking a new order – as the Italians had after the fall of Mussolini.

In the American zone virtually all adults were presented with a questionnaire, and for the Germans it was a sad joke. A parody spread that asked, "Did you play with toy soldiers as a child? If so, what regiment?" Aside from the Nuremberg war crimes trial, the Americans conducted court proceedings against 169,282 Germans. The British tried only 22,296 and the Russians 18,000.

National Socialist (Nazi) party membership had been around 12 million. At one point as many as three-quarters of the German population had been sympathizers or supporters of the party. Many had joined the National Socialists much as people would join a local club in the United States: because it was good business and good socially. And they were included in the American occupation's round up of Nazis. By Christmas 1945, the Americans forced around 141,000 Germans from their jobs. They dismissed 80 percent of their zone's school teachers, forced 50 percent of its doctors from practicing medicine and dismissed all those on the staff of public health – people whose services were important to the health crisis Germany was having.

One of those who suffered from the attempt at denazification by the Allies was John Rabe, who had been a hero to the Chinese at Nanjing. After he returned to Germany, sometime around 1938, he had been threatened and silenced by Hitler's secret police (the Gestapo). The war had reduced him to poverty and hunger, and after the war, having been a member of the National Socialist party in the thirties, he was subject to arrest. The Russians arrested him and interrogated him for three days and three nights. The British arrested him and interrogated him for an entire day. The British gave him a work permit, which they later denied him. And, unable to work, he was reduced to penury.

The Americans still associated Germany's aristocracy with evil – a carry over from World War I and Prussia's landed aristocracy, the Junkers. Roosevelt had retained it to the surprise of George Kennan, a diplomat who had been stationed in Germany and knew better. Along with so-called Nazis, the Americans were targeting people whose surname had the aristocratic von attached. And directors of companies that employed more than 3,000 persons were also suspect.

US occupation forces had the good and honest people common among citizens of the United States, but there were also the not-so-good who found themselves elevated to lowly positions of authority. Some in charge of German prisoners found opportunity and pleasure in treating Germans harshly. In some cases, inmates were not allowed visits from their family or their lawyer. The American occupation authority awakened to abuses and had to transfer a prison commander who had come to believe that he had license to give Germans a dose of their own medicine. Ernst von Salomon, a right-wing German nationalist writer suffered at the hands of a couple of sadistic guards who described themselves as "Mississippi boys." note2   According to von Salomon, some American guards were enjoying their power. And In what was perhaps an isolated incident, German men and women arriving at the prison were taken into a room and beaten, and women were raped while excited GIs watched through a window.

The Americans were made of the same biological material as the Germans. Indeed, most of them were genetically Germanic. But every country had its percentage of people willing to express their sadism if circumstances allowed it. At the end of the war, some Jewish inmates had the strength to tear apart a concentration camp commander. Their rage was understandable. The nations occupying Germany, on the other hand, had a rationale to live up to – justice through law.

Nuremberg War Crime Trials

Germans generally saw the Allies as ending the Nazi era with more of might makes right rather than justice. And that is how they viewed the war crimes trials that the Allies conducted at the city of Nuremberg. This was the trial of those accused of major war crimes, of crimes against humanity and conspiring to wage aggressive war. The trial was conducted by an international military tribunal, with four judges presiding: from the Soviet Union, France, Britain and the United States. It was the first trial of its kind, begun on November 20, 1945. It was a precedent in modern history and a new page in international law.

The highest ranking National Socialists – Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler had already killed themselves. Goering was tried but escaped by having committed suicide while in prison. The sentences were handed down on October 1, 1946. Ten of the defendants were sentenced to death. Seven were given sentences of imprisonment from seven years to life, and three were acquitted. The Russians were unhappy, having wanted death for all the defendants.

The hangings took place on October 16, and the executioner, Master Sergeant John C. Woods, perhaps purposely, perhaps not, made the hangings so that the condemned struck the framework of the scaffold, which lacerated their faces as they fell.

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