Walter Ulbricht’s article of 28 February, 1948, announcing the end of denazification and the formal integration of former National Socialists into East German society
“Long Live the SED, the Great Friend of Little Nazis!” This quote, a 1946 slogan coined by a former National Socialist out of enthusiasm for the Socialist Unity Party’s (SED) approach to denazification, is a testament to the curious way in which the German communists meted out punishment to their former enemies. The Allied powers had agreed upon the need for denazification at Yalta, and the process was initially carried out quite radically within the Soviet zone of occupation through wide-ranging internments, deportations, and the forcible expropriation of land & industry for purposes of nationalization and collectivization. Despite such measures, however, the denazification process in the Eastern sector was actually less extensive and marked by far less retribution than one might expect. The need for post-War reconstruction in war-ravaged Germany was so drastic that some segments of the SED leadership were eager to simply get the process over with and to begin integrating former Party-members back into society, so badly were former Nazis’ skills and expertise needed by the authorities. The decision to start allowing NS-Parteigenossen to play a role in building the new Germany had been made as early as June 1946, based on the caveat that participation would be limited only to politically re-educated ‘inactive’ (or ‘little’) Nazis – those low- or mid-ranking members who had demonstrably joined the Party more out of pragmatism or fear than conviction. Under the direction of the Soviet authorities the Eastern zone’s denazification process was officially declared ended in February 1948, with the article transcribed below (written by Walter Ulbricht, at that time Deputy Joint Chairman of the SED) serving as the communists’ formal announcement of the end of denazification and the restoration of equal rights to former NSDAP members. Ulbricht’s claim that the Eastern zone’s National Socialists had now embraced “democratic socialism” and had become “honest participants in reconstruction” was a signal to these ‘little Nazis’ that the regime was ready to integrate them back into the social fold, so long as they worked hard and buried their prior convictions. Many eagerly complied, flocking to the new party (the National Democratic Party of Germany) which was specifically set up under Soviet approval to nominally represent their interests in regional electoral bodies.
On Disbanding the Denazification Commissions
First published in Neues Deutschland, February 28, 1948
We welcome the order by the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Military Government, Marshal Sokolowski, to disband the Denazification Commissions in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. The content of the order is an agreement with the recommendations of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the bloc of anti-fascist democratic parties. At its last meeting of the party executive, the SED states that following the establishment of the basic structures of the democratic system and at the beginning of the reconstruction period, the Denazification Commissions should conclude their activities, and the work of the sequestration commissions should now come to an end as well.
The disbanding of the Denazification Commissions in the Soviet Occupation Zone is possible because the purge of the administration has been completed, because the factories of the war criminals with or without Nazi Party membership and the banks have been turned over to the people, and because the property of the large landowners, who were among the major forces of militarism, have been transferred to the peasants. In this way the supporters of fascism have been stripped of their powerful economic positions.
In contrast to certain “politicians” in West Germany, we believe it was not the working people and the middle class who were the supporters of fascism; rather it was the corporate and bank bosses and the large landowners who brought the fascists to power in order to better exploit and repress their own people and other peoples. Therefore the fascist criminals were punished and expropriated in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, in agreement with the anti-fascist and democratic parties, the unions, and other people’s organizations. The ordinary Nazi Party members were not called before the Denazification Commissions, however. On 21 February 1947, a year ago, the Chairman of the SED, Wilhelm Pieck, had already declared:
The majority of those, “who were taken in by the Nazi swindle and became members of the Nazi Party… belong to the working population… Of course their behavior must be judged by a different standard than that of the war criminals or the Nazi activists.”
Wilhelm Pieck further demanded that everything be done to let these people know a new way must be taken in order to lead Germany out of misfortune:
They are primarily the working masses, whom we do not want to push away; rather we want to draw them in as closely as possible and get them actively involved in the work of reconstruction. Real life shows us that there are tens of thousands of these people who are making an honest effort to get rid of the last bits of the Nazi spirit and who are already actively participating in the work of construction.
In the great movement for increasing production in recent months, many former members of Nazi organizations have proven themselves to be honest participants in reconstruction. Whether an individual is employed as a construction worker, or as a coal miner, in a government office, or as an engineer, he shows his true colors through his initiative and through his efforts to fulfill production goals. In this new period of reconstruction, previous organizational membership can no longer be the standard for judging the individual; instead the standard should be honest, self-sacrificing work. Nonetheless, former members of Nazi organizations have a special obligation to make up for their previous mistakes through honest work. The new aspect of this development was aptly expressed in a resolution of the recently held conference of the coal industry in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, which states:
We recognize that many technicians and engineers who were formerly nominal members of Nazi organizations are aware that a new course must be charted, and they have consequently committed their energy to reconstruction and the creation of a better future. ‘
On behalf of the administrative agencies of the coal industry, every engineer and technician will be judged exclusively by their honest work. We are convinced that just like laborers and white-collar employees, they will make sure on their own that the acts of saboteurs, who are in the service of subversive forces, will be thwarted.
The discontinuation of the work of the Denazification Commission in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the restoration of equal rights to former members of the Nazi Party and its organizations are also signs of a changing situation. Wide circles of those who previously belonged to Nazi organizations are participating in the great struggle for the unity of our German fatherland. But some so-called opponents of Hitler from the ranks of monopoly capitalism are speaking in favor of tearing Germany apart. They are trying to make Germans compliant to the interests of Wall Street. The German people do not want to see the terrible rule of the German imperialistic authorities, the German corporate and bank bosses, replaced by the rule of US monopoly capital. The enemies of the German people are those who are forming a bizonal state in Frankfurt and who have restored the power of the corporations and big banks in West Germany. The major enemies are [Wilhelm] Zangen, [Hjalmar] Schacht, and [Wolf-Dietrich von] Witzleben, who are tearing apart Germany with the help of Wall Street in order to better exploit and suppress the German people. Their accomplices in the Soviet Occupation Zone are the Kaiser and Schwennicke groups and the delegates of the Schumacher group who carry out special orders of foreign powers.
The fact that the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Military Government was able to order the disbanding of the Denazification Commissions indicates the progress of democratization in a third of Germany. The members of the Denazification Commissions have done great work in the interests of democracy. Their work has helped the democratic forces in the world to regain trust in the democratic forces in the Soviet Occupation Zone, which have contributed to establishing a strong democratic foundation.
By contrast, in the Western Zones of Germany Hitler’s arms industry leaders and other war criminals are in leading positions in the economy, the police and the courts. In a plainly absurd process, the nominal members of the Nazi Party were called before the so-called denazification courts [Spruchkammern] and condemned, while the major war criminal Zangen, the Chairman of Hitler’s Armaments Council, is already back at work once again. And war criminals like [Heinrich] Dinkelbach, who belonged to the inner circle of Hitler’s arms industry leaders, are now in control of West Germany’s iron-producing industry. While in West Germany the period of great struggle has begun for the rights of the people, the punishment of war criminals, the expropriation of corporate and bank bosses, and for bread and wages for working people, in the Soviet occupation zone the period has begun of reconstruction and of the common struggle to increase production for a better life for the people.
Now it all depends on following through with the restoration of equal rights for the former members of Nazi organizations and giving these forces the chance to develop their abilities through honest work. In this way we should actually achieve the great unity of all forces willing to participate in the construction and of all those who want the unity of Germany and who reject the Frankfurt resolutions and the Marshall Plan. By working together on reconstruction and through friendly discussions at lecture evenings and in courses of the mass organizations, even those who still reveal many remnants of the old Nazi mentality will be deeply moved by the new spirit of democratic progress.
ARTICLE SOURCED FROM RODERICK STACKELBERG’S & SALLY A. WINKLE’S THE NAZI GERMANY SOURCEBOOK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF TEXTS, TRANSLATED BY SALLY WINKLE (2002), ROUTLEDGE