Book Review: “Exorcising Hitler” (Re Germany in the Immediate Postwar Period)

Exorcising Hitler, by GAVIN BOWD | Bloomsbury, £25

By Frederick Taylor | Scotland on Sunday | March 8, 2011

THIS engrossing account of the occupation and denazification of Germany tries to navigate the ruins of the deadliest conflict in human history, and discover the extent to which its perpetrators became victims.

Hitler's genocidal war of expansion, especially in the East, undoubtedly reaped a terrible harvest: the Red Army inflicted mass rape, murder and pillage on the defeated Germans.

The French punished their former occupier with gang rape and the forced labour of prisoners of war; while the British and Americans were not averse to torture and blackmail.

In every Allied Zone of the humiliated Reich, sexually transmitted diseases skyrocketed, but the struggle against the "bacillus" of Nazism proved to be much more complicated and ineffective.

After all, the Allies were torn between neutralising the defeated enemy and feeding a starving and resentful population.

Although resolutely anti-Nazi, often Jewish, US representatives such as the "Morgenthau boys" and the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse wanted a "Nuremburg of the common man" to exorcise Germany's innate aggression, there were others who were all too willing to soft-pedal on denazification through pragmatism, but also admiration for their erstwhile foe.

While the British interrogation of a troupe of circus midgets rather discredited the denazification of the entertainment industry in Berlin, the brilliant and unbalanced General Patton called for war on the "Mongol savages" and described the Jews as "lower than animals".

Patton would not live to see his wishes granted. With the onset of the Cold War, companies like Krupp and IG Farben could prosper again, this time in a West Germany pump-primed by the Marshall Plan.

The population outside the Soviet Zone could indulge in a "hyper-capitalist orgy of forgetting" - though, in 1949, an opinion survey showed 60% still thought Nazism was a "good idea".

At the end of a balanced and thought-provoking story, Taylor's epilogue is rather complacent: the German Democratic Republic is described, incredibly, as "marginally less brutal" than the regime responsible for Auschwitz and Belsen, while the sadly familiar lack of research in archives in the East inevitably skews the account of communist rule.

The presence of neo-Nazis in Dresden also shows that for many Germans Hitler's "malevolent ghost", as Taylor says, is still not "somewhere very, very far away".

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 6 March, 2011

http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/features/Book-review-Exorcising-Hitler.6729425.jp