Limits of denazification

In the American occupation zone denazification was at first pursued with great effort and commitment. In 1946 the military government transferred the screening of defendants by law to German examining committees or tribunals. These tribunals sentenced the guilty to imprisonment, restriction of professional activities or fines. However, in the face of the escalating confrontation between East and West, the US military administration discontinued the denazification process in the spring of 1948. At this point in time the investigations against a large number of major offenders had not yet been concluded. The longer the trials dragged on, the greater the defendants' chances of a lenient sentence.

Cartoon on denazificaiton, 1948 (Haus d. Geschichte d. Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn)

Against the background of the cold war and the primacy of reconstruction, the legal and political investigation of the individual guilt of the Germans took on secondary importance. The political and moral effectiveness of the program is disputed - "factory for the mass production of followers" is how critics referred to the project, which, despite its shortcomings and omissions, was up to that time completely unique in history.

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