Denazification

Denazification (German: Entnazifizierung) was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of the Nazi ideology following the Second World War. It was carried out by removing those who had been Nazi Party or SS members from positions of power and influence and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with Nazism. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the war and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945.

Workers removing the signage from a former "Adolf Hitler-Straße" (street) in Trier, May 12, 1945

The term denazification was first coined as a legal term in 1943 in the Pentagon, intended to be applied in a narrow sense with reference to the post-war German legal system, however it later took on a broader meaning.[1] From 1945 to 1950, the Allied powers detained over 400,000 Germans in internment camps illegally in the name of denazification.[2]

In late 1945 and early 1946, the emergence of the Cold War and the economic importance of Germany caused the United States in particular to lose interest in the program. The British handed over denazification panels to the Germans in January 1946, while the Americans did likewise in March 1946. The French ran the mildest denazification effort. Denazification was carried out in an increasingly lenient and lukewarm way until being officially abolished in 1951. Additionally, the program was hugely unpopular in West Germany where many Nazis maintained positions of power, and was opposed by the new West German government of Konrad Adenauer.[3] On the other hand, denazification in East Germany was considered a critical element of the transformation into a socialist society and was far stricter in opposing Nazism than its counterpart. However, not all former Nazis faced harsh judgment. Doing special tasks for the government could protect some from prosecution.[4][5]