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Second World War - European Aftermath

While most ordinary Germans were traumatised by the crushing defeat of their country and the destruction of their lives and homes, the political and military leaders of the Third Reich refused to accept responsibility for their actions. American and British interrogators were flabbergasted by senior Wehrmacht officers expressing an injured innocence that the Western Allies should have so misunderstood them. They were prepared to acknowledge mistakes, but not crimes. Any crimes were committed by the Nazis and the SS.

In a euphemism surpassing any Stalinist circumlocution, General Blumentritt referred to the Nazis’ anti-Semitism as the mistaken developments since 1933. “Well-known scientists were thus lost,” he said, “much to the detriment of our research, which in consequence declined from 1933 on.” His train of thought appears to include the idea that if the Nazis had not persecuted the Jews, then scientists like Einstein might have helped them produce better miracle weapons, perhaps even an atomic bomb to prevent the Bolsheviks overrunning Germany. Blumentritt, through naive sophistry, often did not realize that he was contradicting his own attempts to distance the Wehrmacht from the Nazis. He maintained that the lack of mutiny in 1945, in contrast to the revolutionary turmoil of 1918, clearly demonstrated what a united society Germany had become under Hitler.

The interrogation of generals continually talking about the honour of a German officer revealed astonishing distortions of logic. SHAEF's joint intelligence committee attributed it to a perverted moral sense.

“These generals,” stated a report based on over 300 interviews, “approve of every act which succeeds. Success is right. What does not succeed is wrong. It was, for example, wrong to persecute the Jews before the war since that set the Anglo-Americans against Germany. It would have been right to postpone the anti Jewish campaign and begin it after Germany had won the war. It was wrong to bomb England in 1940. If they had refrained, Great Britain, so they believe, would have joined Hitler in the war against Russia. It was wrong to treat Russian and Polish [prisoners of war] like cattle since now they will treat Germans in the same way. It was wrong to declare war against the USA and Russia because they were together stronger than Germany. These are not isolated statements by pro-Nazi generals. They represent the prevalent thoughts among nearly all these men. That it is morally wrong to exterminate a race or massacre prisoners hardly ever occurs to them. The only horror they feel for German crimes is that they themselves may, by some monstrous injustice, be considered by the Allies to be implicated.”

Even civilians, according to another US Army report, betrayed through their automatic use of propaganda clichés how deeply their thinking had been influenced. They would, for example, instinctively refer to Allied bombing raids as Terrorangriffe (Goebbels's phrase) and not use the ordinary term of Luftangriffe, or air attacks. The report described this as residual Nazism. Many civilians would talk with self-pity of Germany’s suffering, especially from bombing. They fell resentfully silent when reminded that it was the Luftwaffe which had invented the mass destruction of cities as a shock tactic.

There was a general evasion of responsibility for what had happened. Members of the Nazi Party claimed that they had been forced to join. Only the leadership was guilty for anything that might have happened. Ordinary Germans were not. They had been belogen unt betrogendeceived and betrayed. Even German generals implied that they too had been victims of Nazism, for if Hitler had not interfered so disastrously in the way that they ran the war, then they would never have been defeated.

Not content with exculpating themselves, both civilians and generals then tried to persuade their interrogators of the rightness of Nazi Germany's view of the world. Civilians could not understand why the United States ever declared war on Germany. When told that in fact it was Germany which had declared war on the United States, they were incredulous. It contradicted their conviction that Germans were the true victims of the war.
From Berlin, The Downfall, 1945 by Anthony Beevor.

Over 60% of the Germans questioned by opinion pollsters in the American Zone of Germany in 1946 were still anti-Semitic. That was a year after Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and the other death camps had yielded up their ghastly secrets.
From Hitler, The Germans And The Final Solution by Ian Kershaw.

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