Forcefully separated from their homes and possessions, they desperately needed immediate assistance to compensate them for their losses and in- tegrate them into West German society Fig. He emphasized that social policies to relieve the dire circumstances of the victims of Communist oppression, now at home in the Federal Re- public, depended on economic reconstruction and growth.
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In the first elec- toral session of the Bundestag —53 , West German politicians con- fronted the claims of both the victims of National Socialism and the victims of German defeat on the eastern front. Ghosts of these pasts, some Jewish, some German, often seemed to hover simultaneously in the halls of parliament, vying for recognition.
Deeply divided over compensation payments for Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis, West Germans were ultimately led by a resolute chancellor to a reparations settlement with the state of Israel.
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When it came to addressing their own suffering, however, West Germans revealed no similar ambivalence. Acknowledg- ment of their losses unified West Germans; it became central to defining the Federal Republic as a nation of victims. A comparison of public pol- icy debates over reparations for victims of Nazi persecution and mea- sures to assist expellees and returning POWs reveals much about how West Germans viewed their responsibility for the atrocities of the Third Reich and how they measured their losses.
In its early history, the West German parliament did not avoid the past; rather, it drew up balance sheets, calculated suffering, and, by accounting for the past, sought to put parts of that past to rest, while incorporating other parts into the foundations of the Federal Republic. In , Adenauer knew that he faced a Bundestag deeply divided along political lines.
The West German party, ultimately legally banned in , could therefore easily be dismissed as the repre- sentative of precisely those forces of totalitarian repression that reigned supreme in the Soviet Union. First arrested in July , he had spent nearly a decade in Nazi concentration camps, including almost eight years in Dachau. To bring home this message, British and American forces of occupation confronted Ger- mans with graphic representations of the evils committed by the National Socialist regime. And the Allies left little doubt that constructing a postwar German democracy would be possible only if Germany was rid once and for all of its military traditions.
Germans claimed that they could not be collec- tively guilty for crimes of which they were ignorant. The Allied empha- sis on German complicity implied possibilities for resistance that simply did not exist, and denied the realities of life in a terrorist state run by madmen. By the late s, the western Allies were inclined to agree. Because of the growing tensions of the Cold War, they now abandoned the pur- suit of a nation of potential war criminals, seeking instead to anchor re- habilitated West Germans in a western alliance.
True National Social- ist believers had no place in a western military alliance, but the Allies were now willing to accept that most West Germans did not fall into that category. Acknowledging a past in which some Germans had been perpetrators of horrifying crimes was a prerequisite for the West German state to win recognition as a sover- eign nation. In September , Adenauer sketched a way for West Germans to admit that crimes had taken place without pointing fingers at any specific criminals.
Unspeakable crimes have been committed in the name of the German people, calling for moral and material indem- nity. There were many among the German people who showed their readiness to help their fellow citizens at their own peril for religious reasons, because of a trou- bled conscience, out of shame at the disgrace of the German name. There is much evidence that the chancellor wanted to convince the Allies that Germany was will- ing to acknowledge past crimes in order to gain full acceptance as an equal, autonomous partner in the postwar western alliance.
In other ac- counts, and in his own recollections, Adenauer acted as he did on the basis of deeply held moral convictions, not as a response to Allied ex- pectations and pressure. Few other West Germans applauded the overture to Israel. A survey conducted in the Federal Republic by the U. In the final parliamentary debates over ratification of the treaty with Israel, he met with the steadfast in- transigence of the German Party DP , a relatively small political group- ing on the extreme right wing; of the German Communists, at the other end of the spectrum; and of some members of the CDU and CSU, the bases of his own ruling coalition.
Others, though os- tensibly in favor of victim compensation, opposed a collective settlement and fretted that a German-Israeli reconciliation would alienate potential German allies among Arab League member states. The KPD was also in the opposition, maintaining that the only true beneficiaries of reparations in Israel would be capitalists and financiers.
Social Democrats, at odds with the Chris- tian Democratic chancellor on many other issues in the early s, now joined with him to ratify the treaty with Israel. In the same year that it ratified the treaty with Israel, the West German parliament approved legislation that built on state initiatives, particularly in the American zone of occupation, and established a national framework for addressing the claims of these other victims of the Nazis. Legislation ultimately restricted legitimate victims to those who could document that their race or beliefs had caused their suffering and who lived in the Federal Republic at the end of or who had been deported by the Nazis or emigrated after but could prove residence within the borders of the German Reich.
Citizens of other nations who had returned to their homes—for example, Poles and Soviets, who had made up most of the slave labor force in Germany during the war—were ineligible; their claims for compensation could be processed only via national demands for reparations. Indeed, in con- sidering appeals to suspend the tremendously expanded bases for crimi- nal prosecution of male homosexuality introduced by the Nazis, the Fed- eral Constitutional Court Bundesverfassungsgericht concluded that the revised law in no way violated the West German constitution or under- mined the foundations of a democratic state.
So-called asocials, a flexible designation easily stretched by the Nazis to include anyone who did not conform to the racial, political, sexual, and moral criteria of the Third Reich, also did not qualify for compen- sation. Some who had resisted the regime and were persecuted on political grounds were recognized as vic- tims, but Communists who had opposed the Nazis were not eligible if they were suspected of supporting another system of totalitarian rule in the present.
There was also virtually no discussion of the one crime of National Socialism of which few Germans could have been ignorant: the involuntary importation from eastern Europe and the Soviet Union of workers, who were forced to labor for farmers and fac- tory owners in Germany and in other areas of eastern Europe occupied by the Nazis.
Of these, 22, were Russians. Only 1, were Germans, and of these, only were political prisoners. Most West Germans did not recognize the processes by which social marginalization had paved the way to mass extermina- tion. Indeed, West Germans defined racialism more narrowly than had the Nazis. In the casuistic thinking of the fifties, while Jews were perse- cuted because of their race, Poles were persecuted because of their na- tionality, not because the Nazis considered them to be racially inferior.
The Union of Those Persecuted by National Socialism Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Nazi-Regimes , an organization created in the late s to represent all victim interests, was quickly shoved to the margins because it was dominated by Communists, and no other or- ganization emerged to take its place. In addition to acknowledging at least some responsibility for the crimes of National Socialism, they made the past part of the West German present in the years — Debates over these initiatives, however, did little to illuminate the origins of Na- tional Socialism or to locate the Nazi state within the context of mod- ern German history.
Rather, they were aimed squarely at sealing off the past, prematurely closing a chapter that was defined as having started with mass extermination and ended in May Still, particularly in the first four years of its existence, the West German parliament and Ade- nauer, backed by the Social Democrats, sought to ensure that West Ger- mans did not entirely forget, avoid, or repress Nazi crimes.
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However un- satisfactory and incomplete their attempts to confront that past, the federal government and a majority of the West German elected repre- sentatives did not deny the weighty legacy of Nazi terrorism or the at- tempt to exterminate all European Jews. Establishing moral accountability made it possible for many West Germans to hope that the ledger could now be closed once and for all. For us Germans, less easily surmounted than the walls of an oriental ghetto were the walls of hate, scorn, and rejection that had already been built around us during the war and that still held us cap- tive after the war.
Germans had heard horrifying tales of German victimization and Soviet barbarism since the last years of the war.
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The message was clear: Whoever did not fight to the finish would face a similar fate. By means of such arguments, Jews were transformed into one group of victims among many. On the agenda of the same session in which Bundestag delegates debated the final form of the treaty with Israel were initiatives to address the problems of those fleeing from the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany and those expelled from eastern Europe.
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However, if Jews, expellees, and German POWs were equal at the level of rhetoric, the victims of National Socialism remained ghosts lacking faces, families, names, identities, or a powerful political presence. Rep- resented by others, they spoke for themselves only seldom. German vic- tims, in contrast, lived, breathed, organized, demanded recognition, and delivered speeches from the floor of parliament. What Germans had inflicted on others remained abstract and remote; what Germans had suf- fered was described in vivid detail and granted a place of prominence in the public sphere.
Expellees and POWs detained by the Soviets were both powerful sym- bols of the outcome of the war in the east, but they carried their suffer- ing into West Germany in different ways. In the immediate postwar pe- riod, the flood of some eight million expellees into the western zones of occupation caused enormous difficulties and often led to resentment and bitterness on the part of the local population. Germans barely able to meet their own needs as they emerged from the devastation and priva- tion of the war were now expected to find room for the citizens of the Thousand Year Reich from eastern Europe and eastern Germany.
Allied officials, concerned that expellee organizations might provide a locus for right-wing irredentist politics, forbade ethnic Germans from creating explicitly political bodies. By the late s, however, a network of groups had emerged, some organized by occupation, some by place of origin, some for the defense of cultural interests, some affiliated with churches.
Such ostensibly apolitical organizations proved fully capable of representing quite political interests. Regional organizations, Landsmannschaften, each with its own press organ and institutional structure, proliferated at a star- tlingly rapid rate, unifying in national coalitions and claiming between one and two million members by the early s. In the meantime, expellee organizations and their political representatives called for the government at both the national and regional levels to do whatever was necessary to enable their constituents to start over in West Germany.
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Their demands included the international recognition of the Munich treaty of and the inclusion of part of postwar Czechoslovakia in postwar Germany. However, they were also increasingly unwilling to challenge directly the Cold War status quo.
As for meeting the material needs of ex- pellees, this was the responsibility of the state that had started the war, not the states that had ended it, and by the early s the U. High Commissioner John McCloy also noted that in an expanding economy, expellees represented an advantage, not a liability. If the geopolitical demands of expellees won little support outside the Federal Republic, at home they became set pieces in a foreign policy reper- toire that was crafted for domestic consumption and that underscored the anti-Communist consensus at the heart of West German politics.