The denazification of Ukraine should take into account the mistakes and shortcomings in the denazification of Germany in 1940-1960

The demilitarisation of Ukraine (and the Greater Ukraine – that is NATO) is going to switch into another gear in a few days, and it will hopefully be concluded to a satisfactory degree some time in the next year.

This brings to the fore the other objective – denazification of the former Ukraine. Here, one must draw on the experience of the denazification of Germany done after the conclusion of WWII – in fact on the outcomes of two different approaches to the denazification. I am presenting below a translation of a historical work, that was published on, with a back-up re-publicationon Cont. The article gives an excellent retrospective of the process. One thing that it should have mentioned is the process of denazification on the Banderite-festered territories of the Western Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and in the Blatic states. Sadly, after Hrushev came to power, he undid much of the effort to prosecute the Bandera Nazi collaborators, pardoning all of them. The majority settled in the city of Kharkov, which is one of the explanations why Kharkov of all cities had such an unexpectedly large concentration of the neo-Nazi Bandera followers – the descendents of those insufficiently denazified banderites.

The denazification project. How did the USSR and the West arrange the denazification of Germany after World War II?

8th of April 2022
by Alevtina Zapolskaya

The trial of Nazi war criminals at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. Photo: AP

Denazification is named among the main goals of the Russian special operation in Ukraine. But unlike demilitarization, which methods and goals are quite clear, few people are able to say what exactly lies behind the concept of “denazification” today. According to Moscow’s official position, its meaning is to abolish all laws and institutions that discriminate against citizens on the basis of language and nationality. And it’s time to turn to history in order to determine how this work should be carried out in practice. After the Second World War, Germany underwent a complex and multi-stage process of denazification. This gave her the opportunity to build relations with her neighbours from scratch and eventually become part of the world community. However, Moscow’s experience in this regard differed from the approach adopted in the zones controlled by the allied forces of the United States, Great Britain and France. What was the difference between the two approaches to denazification, why did USSR achieve the best results and how applicable this experience is today, — was analysed by

Goals and objectives

Battles were still raging on the fronts of the Second World War, while the allied countries were already thinking about what peaceful life would be like after the defeat of the Third Reich. Everyone understood perfectly well that the post-war settlement should also be political. It was necessary not only to destroy the German war machine, but also the regime itself, which unleashed the largest war in world history.

Since 1942, the USSR has been preparing an evidence base for the war crimes of the German army on the occupied territory. An Extraordinary State Commission (ESC) was created, which was entrusted with the inquiry and the court. As the Red Army advanced, the first trials of war criminals took place — for both the Germans and the captured collaborators. Also, on the initiative of the Soviet side, it was decided that each of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition would be able to independently judge war criminals who committed crimes on its territory. It was decided to subject the key figures of the Nazi Party to an international court.

The Yalta Conference of the Allied Countries, February 1945

The main work on the creation of the future international tribunal took place at the Yalta Conference in early 1945. Crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes were subject to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. Each of the states of the anti-Hitler coalition formed its own prosecutorial groups that worked on the indictment. At the same time, it was decided to liquidate all the organizations that formed the backbone of the Nazi regime, and to gradually reformat the political life of the post-war Germany.

The Nuremberg trials became an important and largely symbolic stage of this work. Even the place where they were held was significant — it was in Nuremberg that the congresses of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) were held even before the Nazis came to power. During the first trial, which began on November 20, 1945, and ended almost a year later, on November 1, 1946, key figures of the Nazi regime were convicted, and the world saw evidence of crimes against humanity for the first time. Subsequent trials (there were 12 in total) went on until 1949, they tried SS leaders, concentration camp personnel, the main “captains of industry” of the Third Reich and key army officers who planned major military operations.

General Alfred Jodl (right) and General Wilhelm Keitel at the Nuremberg Trials, November 1945

The Nuremberg trials have become an important symbol of the unification of the international community against Nazism. However, they were just the tip of the iceberg. It was much more important to prevent the re-creation of the conditions in which the Hitlerite regime was formed: and that constituted a whole chain of socio-political reasons. Therefore, in Germany, divided into occupation zones, a lot of work unfolded, the main task of which was to exclude the main supporters and main beneficiaries of the Nazi regime from the political life of the country. But with a common understanding of the goals in the two Germanies, these processes went differently and with different results.

By the Western Standards

The Western allies initially took control of the political life in their area of responsibility. Immediately after the end of hostilities against Germany, the prospect of an imminent geopolitical clash with the Soviet Union loomed before them, which could be intensified at the expense of the lands and army of the yesterday’s enemy. The United States, Great Britain and France sought not only to denazify, but also to stop the possible influence on the population from the Communists and all possible sympathizers of the USSR.

All Germans were required to fill out multi-page questionnaires, on the basis of which a decision was made on their belonging to one of the categories. People could be recognized as the main culprits in the crimes of Nazism, guilty, those who tagged along, or innocent. The questionnaires were so huge that the German writer Ernst von Zalomon compiled a thousand-page novel out of his answers. No matter how laborious, this work turned out to be just as useless. According to the survey, only 24 thousand people were found to be involved in the Nazi regime in one way or another in the entire Allied occupation zone.


was the number of responses that the Germans from the western zone of occupation had to provide in the questionnaires on denazification

In fact, no one was really engaged in denazification as such – in terms of identifying supporters of the Nazi Party in the state institutions. All the work was aimed at preventing the creation of organized armed resistance. The involvement of specific persons in previous war crimes was of little concern to the new authorities.

By 1946, the whole process of denazification had passed into the hands of the Germans themselves. Special troika tribunals were created: the President, the Prosecutor and the Expert. In the western regions of Germany, these courts became a symbol of corruption and remained such for many years after the war. With their help, not only money and preferences were earned, but old scores were settled. At the same time, most of the members of these tribunals were themselves former members of the Nazi Party. As a result, many high-ranking NSDAP figures calmly passed the denazification procedure and received full rights to public service and political activity, and ordinary party members, whose entire role was reduced to attending party meetings, became the main scapegoats.

The leadership of Nazi Germany at the opening of the agricultural exhibition in Breslau, 1934

Special mention should be made of the work of the tribunals that worked with large industrialists who first sponsored the Nazis before they came to power, and then became the economic beneficiaries of their rule. (Translator note: See The Great Unknown War. A must-see documentary about the WWII prelude. By Andrei Medvedev) Any proceedings against them were sabotaged by the military administration. They even tried not to condemn the active supporters of the NSDAP, but to re-socialize them into the society in order to preserve the military and economic potential of Germany for future confrontation with the USSR.

At the same time, even those industrialists who used the labour of concentration camp prisoners at their enterprises escaped punishment.

For the same reason, the West was loyal to the officers of the Wehrmacht, the Abwehr and the Gestapo. Almost the entire leadership of the FRG (Federative Republic of Germany) security forces, created in the Allied occupation zone, was subsequently formed from those.

500 former Wehrmacht officers occupied the positions of colonels and generals in the Bundeswehr

In 1956, the government even allowed former SS men to serve in the army with a rank no higher than Obersturmbannfuhrer (which corresponded to the army rank of lieutenant colonel). Many of these officers worked later in NATO structures. The former Chief of Staff of Army Group South, Hans Speidel, served as commander of the Combined NATO Ground Forces in Central Europe in 1957-1963. Former Lieutenant General of the General Staff Adolf Heusinger served as chairman of the NATO Military Committee.

Berlin, July 1945

The picture was similar in the state bodies of FRG. The main author of the “racial laws”, Hans Globke, headed the administration of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer after the war. Kurt Kiesinger, who headed the German government from 1966 to 1969, worked in the Ministry of Propaganda during the Third Reich.

Former members of the NSDAP and SS could participate in the political life of the country and create their own organizations. They were often small and marginal, but their very presence in the political space made it clear to the Germans that the spirit of the Third Reich was still alive. Others simply joined respectable parliamentary parties.

As a result, it turned out that in the Western zones, Nazism was not condemned as a socio-political phenomenon, but only individual, most prominent figures who were the face of the regime were condemned. Political expediency in the form of a possible conflict with the USSR outweighed. No one in the West simply took advantage of the opportunity to punish many responsible not only for the crimes of the Nazi regime, but also for its formation and support. Instead, a public consensus was formed on the collective responsibility of the German people for the crimes of Nazi Germany. All together, but no one in particular.

Building a new society

In the Soviet zone of occupation, on the territory of which the GDR (German Democratic Republic) was created, the process of denazification initially took a different path. The GDR did not just decide to build socialism — the republic was supposed to become an example that would show the whole world the successes and advantages of the communist orientation of the Eastern Bloc. This process was accompanied by the nationalization of industry and the removal from political life of the old, “bourgeois” intelligentsia, whatever their views were. In East Germany, a one-party system was being built, which explained the intransigence towards political opponents. In total, more than 100 thousand people were arrested from among the former supporters of the NSDAP and pro-Western political movements.

The education system (both school and higher education), courts, and law enforcement agencies were cleaned up and essentially created anew.


of school teachers lost their jobs during denazification in East Germany

This was done despite the fact that denazification created a huge shortage of managerial personnel. West Germany did not face this, as they often turned a blind eye to the unsightly past of in-demand specialists (translator note: and not just Germany – USA and Canada, too. Wernher von Braun is one such example). According to the German authorities, 54 percent of the former NSDAP members retained their jobs in West German law enforcement agencies, while just 14 percent in the GDR.

At the same time, those responsible for war crimes on Soviet territory and against Soviet citizens were tried not in Germany, but in the USSR. And these people also served their sentences on the territory of the USSR. They were often involved in reconstruction work in cities destroyed during the war. In the first eight post—war trials, 84 war criminals were convicted, of which 65 were sentenced to hanging. Later, nine more open trials took place: in Stalino (Donetsk), Bobruisk, Sevastopol, Poltava, Vitebsk, Chernigov, Kishinjov (Chisinau), Novgorod and Gomel. During them, 138 defendants were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in camps.

Doctor of Historical Sciences, member of the Scientific Council of the Russian Military Historical Society (RVIO) Grigory Gerasimov believes that the main difference between the Soviet and Western approaches was in the original goals of denazification.

In appearance, the goals were the same — to liberate the GDR and the FRG from the ideology of Nazism, but in practice they were different. In particular, the United Kingdom and the United States, in addition to denazification, pursued the goal of turning Germany into a springboard against the Soviet Union.

–Grigory Gerasimov, historian

That is why, according to the expert, the Allies did not work hard to eliminate the former Nazis from the socio-political life and did not completely dissolve the Wehrmacht (translator note: and quite a large numbe rof the NAzis were resettled to Canada and Argentina), postponing this process until the end of 1945. They were storing up weapons and planned to use 10-15 German divisions in the event of an imminent war with the Soviet Union. The USSR immediately eliminated the German military formations and consistently carried out the denazification of the Wehrmacht and other power structures of Germany.

“This is one side. The second, most important, in my opinion, was to instil a different world-view in the Germans,” says Grigory Gerasimov. — In the FRG, in contrast to the Nazi-Germany, a liberal-democratic one was created. In the GDR, the Nazi worl-dview was replaced by a Communist one. This process was quite successful in both places, because both world-views were quite strong. The Communist was even stronger in the wake of the Victory. This idea gained special weight and retained its influence even in Western Europe until the late 1960s.”

At the same time, the GDR did not try to create a historical paradigm of collective guilt for the Nazi past. As a result of the large-scale denazification with its obvious results, a clear understanding was formed in society that the Nazis remained only in FRG (especially since the East German media regularly reminded about the Nazi past of the politicians and big businessmen of the West). In the GDR, all the guilty were sent to prison. As a result, West Germany was officially considered the heir of the Third Reich, and the Berlin Wall eventually turned into an “anti-Fascist defensive rampart.”

German PoWs returning from Soviet captivity, 1955. Photo: Valery Khristoforov / TASS

Anti-fascism has become one of the pillars of the state ideology of the GDR, security agencies have collected a huge array of information on the former members of the Nazi Party and its paramilitary organizations like the Hitler Youth, the SS. The main purpose of this work was to discredit the politicians, military and businessmen from the FRG, but it also became the basis of criminal prosecution and discriminatory acts against accomplices of the regime in the GDR itself.

In general, the denazification in the GDR underwent much more fundamentally. If the West professed the ideology of acceptance and forgiveness — not eradication, but oblivion of the Nazi past, then the Soviet administration sought to create a new Germany on the ruins of the old one.

And while in Western Europe the citizens were at least allowed to forget the Nazi past, in Eastern Europe, or rather in Ukraine, these ideas were fuelled by the Americans and their allies through their agents for a long time. Gerasimov recalled that the Americans and the British did not denazify the Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis who found themselves in Western Europe, but, on the contrary, supported them. (translator note: they and their descendants became the lobby and a decisive political force in Canada)

“The United States supported the struggle of the nationalist underground against the Soviet government in Western Ukraine. And they resisted for another 10 years, including thanks to Western support,” the expert recalled. — “They were actively used to fight the Soviet Union. And this ideological support in one form or another persisted throughout the post-war period, which is why neo-Nazi ideology persisted and spread so quickly in post-Soviet Ukraine.”


The experience of Germany shows that denazification is a complex and multi—stage work. Demonstrative trials of war criminals have great symbolic significance, but they do not solve real problems. Any totalitarian regime is built on officials, industrialists and businessmen who support it. On the intelligentsia, which praises it and creates its mythological base. And only the removal of these people from the political, economic and cultural spheres will help to overcome the totalitarian legacy. This will make it possible to build a new society, which will create a new statehood, free from the ideological burden of the past.

Alevtina Zapolskaya

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