All Commentary
Thursday, February 1, 1962

The True Face of Free Germany

Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and re­porter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. He has written a number of books, has lectured widely, and is a con­tributor to The Wall Street Journal and many nationally known magazines.


Is the German federal repub­lic a worthy partner in the com­munity of free nations and, inci­dentally, a remarkable illustration of what economic freedom can do in restoring a nation to prosperity from wartime devastation? Or is it mere camouflage for lurking Nazis, who pull all the strings from behind the scenes and are only awaiting an auspicious moment to achieve a new take-over of political power?

Sparked by the grisly recital of concentration camp horrors during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Is­rael, there has been a more or less concerted drive to convince Ameri­can public opinion that the second interpretation of German condi­tions is the correct one. A best­selling book represents Nazism not as a frightful aberration, a twin symptom with communism of re­volt against Western individualis­tic civilization with its Judaeo-Christian and Greek and Latin roots, but as a natural outgrowth of German history and German character. Other works, which have not reached so wide an audi­ence, go still farther in trying to represent Germany under Konrad Adenauer as only one short step removed from the Germany of Adolf Hitler, as a state where de­mocracy is despised and liberal­ism is persecuted, where most of the people make little effort to conceal their Nazi sympathies.

Behind this drive to create a picture of a Germany unchanged and unchangeable are several strong emotional preoccupations. First, some individuals, in their justified horror at the crimes of the Nazis, are unwilling or unable to recognize that great numbers of Germans were also victims of Nazi tyranny and that there was an honorable German resistance movement. In these individuals there is a tendency, conscious or unconscious, to make mountains out of molehills, to regard isolated cases of hoodlumism, such as daubing swastikas, as more signif­icant than the fact that there is not a single neo-Nazi deputy in the German parliament.

Second, there is a trend, espe­cially in England but not unknown in other countries, to regard Ger­many as the only possible future enemy, to refuse to look at the map and see what a tiny speck is the German Federal Republic com­pared with the vast expanse of the Soviet Eurasian Empire, to overlook the enormous change in the European balance of power caused by the Soviet conquest of eastern and southeastern Europe and the contraction of Germany within extremely narrow fron­tiers. Along with this there is a marked resentment, in British so­cialist circles, against the new Germany for proving so emphati­cally that a combination of hard work, a normal incentive system, and a free market economy is a far more hopeful road to national prosperity than an elaborate sys­tem of state controls and inhibi­tions.

Finally, it is very definitely in the interest of Moscow, and of in­ternational communism, to create the image of a “revenge-hungry Bonn militarism.” Nowhere has the anti-Adenauer drum been beaten so assiduously as in Mos­cow, and for an obvious reason: the German Chancellor’s princi­pled and unswerving anticommu­nism. To inspire doubt as to the character and motives of the Ger­man Federal Republic would be a propaganda feat worth many divi­sions to Nikita Khrushchev.

While it is easy to identify spe­cific motivations for the anti-Ger­man propaganda which has been very much in evidence during the last year, the allegations that are voiced against the Federal Repub­lic should be examined on their merits. The most familiar of these allegations are as follows:

1.      The Germans always have been and remain an incurably mili­taristic and aggressive people.

2.      There is no real democracy in the Bonn Republic and Ade­nauer is a virtual dictator.

3.      Many former Nazis or Nazi sympathizers are in influential po­sitions; a case frequently cited is that of Dr. Hans Globke, State Secretary in the Chancellor’s Of­fice, a post roughly equivalent to that of Presidential Assistant in the United States.

4.      German courts turn a blind eye to Nazi misdeeds, and the truth about the Nazi system is not taught in the German schools.

5.      Neo-Nazi propaganda is ram­pant and influential, so that the emergence of a new Führer is probably only a question of time.

This writer has spent a good deal of time in Germany, before the Nazis came into power, dur­ing the first year of Hitler’s rule, and since the end of the war. With this background of contacts with hundreds of Germans of varying social backgrounds and view­points, supplemented by extensive reading of German newspapers, magazines, and books, I have no hesitation in pronouncing this over-all indictment as false and misleading. The small substratum of truth is submerged in a thick overlay of misrepresentation and gross exaggeration. Take up the counts one by one.

1. German Militarism


Historically, this allegation is quite untrue. For centuries the division of Germany into many states, some of them microscopi­cally small, encouraged and in­vited the aggression of stronger neighbors. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) French and Swedes and foreign merce­naries fought over Germany and ravaged it. Louis XIV repeatedly invaded Germany. If one considers the names of the streets which ra­diate from the Paris Arc de Tri­omphe—Wagram, Friedland, Jena—or of the Austerlitz Station or the Rue de Rivoli, these commem­orate Napoleonic battles fought far from France‘s home grounds. It was France that declared war on Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. And, if Bismarck set a trap for Napoleon III, the French Emperor made himself co-responsible for this conflict by walking into the trap. There was a tendency to rewrite the histori­cal evidence about the origins of World War I in the light of Adolf Hitler’s unquestionable personal responsibility for World War II.

But the judgment of Sidney B. Fay, the objective American schol­ar, at the conclusion of his massive work, The Origins of the World War, is worth remembering:

“Germany did not plot a Euro­pean war, did not want one and made genuine, though too belated efforts to avert one. She was the victim of her alliance with Aus­tria and of her own folly…. It was the hasty Russian general mobilization, assented to on July 29 and ordered on July 30, while Germany was still trying to bring Austria to accept mediation pro­posals, which finally rendered the European War inevitable.”

I was in Germany in 1922-23, shortly after the end of World War I, and I have been in Ger­many repeatedly since World War II, the last time in August 1961. There was a tremendous contrast in the mood of the German people, especially the youth, in these two aftermaths of defeat. Following World War I, there was a strong nationalist ferment and a keen de­sire for revenge. I still recall at­tending a movie which showed the German War of Liberation against Napoleon and the cheers which broke out when the Prussian Field Marshal Blucher was shown cross­ing the Rhine.

Of this spirit, which also found expression in the growth of many illegal military organizations de­signed to circumvent the restric­tions on Germany‘s armed forces, there was not a trace after the ter­rific collapse of 1945. There was not a single case after 1945 when the occupation powers had to deal with any kind of serious national­ist conspiracy.

As a matter of fact, it was in­finitely easier to keep the Germans disarmed than to persuade them to rearm when it was realized that without German cooperation the European balance of power would be hopelessly tilted in favor of the Soviet Union. Although they have now modified their position, the Social Democrats fought German rearmament to the last ditch. There was an immense psychologi­cal resistance of the Germans themselves to the idea of taking up arms. Now, equilibrium has been restored. Young Germans ac­cept military service as a neces­sity. But nowhere in Germany to­day does one find “militarism” in the sense of glorification of war as something intrinsically desir­able. The Germans are realistic enough to know that they would stand no chance if they had to face the might of the Soviet em­pire alone. They have no national army; all their divisions are com­mitted to NATO.

2. Undemocratic and Dictatorial


Every people has its own way of practicing democracy. Respect for leadership and authority—for party discipline—is stronger in Germany than in some other coun­tries. But for the last twelve years, the Federal Republic has maintained a stable existence un­der free institutions. Freedom of press and speech has been fully maintained. If Chancellor Ade­nauer came out with the highest vote in four national elections, this was not because the voting was rigged. It was because German prestige abroad and prosperity at home had revived much faster than any observer would have imagined possible in the bleak early years of foreign occupation. To anyone who saw the ruined, hungry, economically paralyzed Germany of 1945 or 1946, the Fed­eral Republic (although not the part of Germany kept under So­viet occupation) would have been almost unrecognizable, booming with prosperity and steadily point­ed upward.

The sensitiveness with which German voters react to important events was vividly demonstrated by what happened after the com­munists sealed off East Berlin on August 13, 1961. Up to that date there seemed to be every probabil­ity that Adenauer’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, would repeat its achievement of 1957 by winning a clear majority of the seats in the new parliament. In the opinion of almost all political observers, German and foreign, the shock of this unopposed com­munist action cost Adenauer his clear majority and led to long bar­gaining for a coalition govern­ment.

3. Ex-Nazis in Government


It is true that some ex-Nazis are in government service. The Nazi regime was totalitarian, and membership in the Nazi Party—or at least in some Nazi-controlled organization—was for many Ger­mans a condition of employment. It would have been impossible to staff a competent civil service ex­clusively from people who had been in concentration camps or in emigration.

What would be a serious cause for concern would be any sign that ex-Nazis were influencing the pol­icy of the Federal Republic along Nazi lines. But of this there is not the slightest proof. On the con­trary, it would be impossible to imagine a system more different from Hitler’s than the one which has developed under the leader­ship of Konrad Adenauer.

Nazi Germany exalted the state, cultivated a fanatical creed of Ger­man racial and national superior­ity, based the country’s economy on intensive build-up of war indus­tries, rejected any cooperation on equal terms with its European neighbors. Adenauer Germany has based its economy on free private enterprise, has been busily dena­tionalizing and selling to small in­vestors some big state enterprises, has led the way in promoting close European integration, and has been, if anything, a little laggard in building up to very modest goals of defensive military power.

4. Prejudiced Judges and Teachers


Most of the relatively few cases of serious anti-Semitic actions have led to court trials. Nearly all the more unregenerate Nazis live abroad—the surest sign that they would not be welcome in the Fed­eral Republic. There has been a serious, determined, and fairly successful effort to bring to legal account those Nazis who commit­ted crimes that were inexcusable, even by wartime standards: mur­ders and torture in concentration camps, in Germany and in occu­pied countries.

In the first years after the end of the war, war crimes trials were reserved to the Allied powers and led to 5,000 convictions and 806 death sentences, some of which were commuted. Since German courts took over, more than 30,000 people were prosecuted for war crimes, according to Walther Strauss, a conservative anti-Nazi who is State Secretary in the Min­istry of Justice, and over five thousand were convicted. Since 1958 a central office for the ex­posure of Nazi crimes has been functioning in Ludwigsburg, and there has been a strenuous effort to finish prosecutions of war crim­inals before the statute of limita­tions comes into effect.

It would be impossible to claim that every school in Germany gives full instruction on the crimes of the Hitler period. Local condi­tions and parents’ sentiment enter into the picture, and there is dif­ference of opinion among educa­tors as to the proper age when children should be told stories of revolting crimes. But the sugges­tion that German schools are sys­tematically covering up the sins of the Hitler period is quite false. On this point the testimony of Dr. Benjamin Fine, former education editor of The New York Times who made a detailed study of the German education system in the summer of 1961, is worth quoting:

“With the exception of a small unimportant fringe of neo-Nazis, the overwhelming majority of German youth believes in the de­mocracy of the Federal Republic…

“Hitler and his philosophy are dead, as far as German youth are concerned. Perhaps some traces of his influence still linger in neo­Nazi circles, but this is little more than the ‘lunatic fringe’ you could find in any country. Films show­ing Hitler or his followers are met with laughter or scorn. Schools stress the evils that Hitler and the Nazi regime did, and the de­struction they caused to Ger­many.”

5. Neo-Nazi Propaganda


What about the strength and in­fluence of the “neo-Nazis”? Po­litically, it is as close to zero as possible. Of the little groups like the Socialist Reichspartei which are oriented in this direction, not one member in free elections has been seated in the German parlia­ment. In scores of casual meetings with Germans, many in the in­formal atmosphere of mountain hikes, I never met one who de­fended Hitler or who wished to see a return of the Nazi system.

Dr. Walther Strauss, who re­gards Nazism as a terrible blot on the civilized German Christian conservative tradition, offered this penetrating analysis of the danger of a Nazi revival in a conversa­tion in the Ministry of Justice in Bonn last summer:

“Compare the aftermaths of two great wars, in which Germany suffered crushing defeat. It is now sixteen years since the end of World War II. Sixteen years after World War I, in 1934, Hitler was in power, with a machine of terror and propaganda calculated to crushall opposition. Look how different the situation is today. Bonn is not Weimar. During the existence of the Weimar Republic we had 21 changes of Cabinet. Up to 1961 we had only one Chancellor, Kon­rad Adenauer. Instead of a score of discordant parties in parlia­ment we have only three parties represented now in the Bundestag—and all these three, however they may disagree among them­selves, are dead set against any return to Hitlerism. And of course our economic position is entirely different. Now, we have work for all and general prosperity. In the years of Hitler’s rise to power, there was mass unemployment and acute economic distress. We now have a younger generation that has grown up completely without Nazi influence. Every year that passes weakens any lingering ap­peal of Nazi sentiment.”

There is unfortunately one part of Germany where Nazi spirit and methods still prevail. This is the so-called German Democratic Re­public (which is neither German, nor democratic, nor a republic), where Soviet tanks prop up the hated regime of Soviet Gauleiter Walther Ulbricht. Its popularity may be gauged by one simple fact: over three million Germans have fled from its territory to the pros­pering Federal Republic since 1945. Its character as a huge penitentiary has been emphasized by the wall in Berlin, designed to prevent the prisoners from escaping.

The brutal young Vopos (“Peo­ple’s Police”) who shoot men, women, and children trying to es­cape, are blood brothers, in ideol­ogy and character, with the young thugs whom Hitler recruited into his SA and SS. But this obvious parallel between the brutalitarian methods of Nazism and commu­nism never seems to occur to the commentators who make a special­ty of baiting the German Federal Republic, where free political andlegal institutions go hand-in-hand with economic freedom.

It is high time that this non­sense about rampant, triumphant neo-Nazism in the Federal Repub­lic be recognized for what it is: malicious propaganda, compound­ed of downright falsehood, gross exaggeration and half- and quar­ter-truths, designed consciously or unconsciously to advance the vic­tory of Soviet imperialist commu­nism and to sow distrust between free peoples who should stand to­gether.

  • William Henry Chamberlin (1897-1969) was an American historian and journalist. He was the author of several books about the Cold War, Communism, and US foreign policy, including The Russian Revolution 1917-1921 (1935) which was written in Russia between 1922-34 when he was the Moscow correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor.