In This Review

Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past
Adenauer's Germany and the Nazi Past
By Norbert Frei, translated by Joel Golb
Columbia University Press, 2002, 365 pp

As Fritz Stern states in his preface, Norbert Frei "has an eye for complexity." This thorough piece of research throws much light on the West German side of de-Nazification and the profound contrast to measures taken by the Allies. The latter tried to promote extensive purges, whereas the new West German regime showed far greater leniency, especially through the amnesty laws of 1949 and 1954, and by trying to reduce the number of suspected war criminals singled out for trials. Frei's account is especially valuable because of his choice of cases and his skill in linking the "policy for the past" to the general history of the Federal Republic's evolution from a scarcely sovereign half-state under Allied supervision to an essential ally of the West in the Cold War. This transformation allowed many Nazi criminals to go unpunished. Ethically, it was highly debatable, but politically, it succeeded in forging a kind of unity around West Germany's new democracy and its leader, Konrad Adenauer. From a Machiavellian viewpoint, the policy paid off -- especially in curing most Germans of antisemitism.