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  • After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1994
  • Gerhard L. Weinberg
After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1994. By Konrad H. Jarausch (trans. Brandon Hunzinger) (New York, Oxford University Press, 2006) 379 pp. $35.00

Surely two of the most interesting and important questions that historians will ask in the future relate to the general disposition and conduct of the German people during the twentieth century. How could a supposedly civilized society descend into an abyss of cruelty and murder, and how could the same people return from the depths of horror to a civilized state? Jarausch addresses the latter of these two puzzles in this fascinating work, and he does so not by implication but directly. This theme constitutes the book's central and persistent concern, viewed—on the basis of a broad familiarity with the literature—from above and below, from the structure of government to the behavior of individuals. A feature of this examination of German developments from the end of World War II into the first years of reunification is that the author—unlike most who have dealt with this period—engages events in all of Germany in 1945 and in both German states that emerged from the occupied wreckage of the Third Reich. This special characteristic of the book facilitates the author's effort to delineate differences and similarities and thus to illuminate both the Federal Republic in the West and what called itself the German Democratic Republic in the East. Although these differences are naturally tied, in large part, to the different policies of the Western Powers and the Soviet Union in their respective client [End Page 291] states, Jarauch's approach facilitates his effort to understand the actual impact of those policies on the people living under them.

The demilitarization of Germany was not only imposed by the Allies but internalized by Germans who saw the vast destruction wrought by the war and the slow return of prisoners of war. Unlike the aftermath of World War I, this time Germany evinced a real reluctance to re-arm, even when eventually seen as necessary in the West and imposed in the East. The bombing and the fighting in Germany may have initiated the "re-education" of the Germans before defeat provided an opportunity for the Allies to impose their policies. Although the various peace movements in postwar Germany were influenced much more by anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments than Jarausch suggests, they certainly reflected a distancing from enthusiasm for things military. In practice, the policy of "denazification" was similarly effective. The Nazi Party and its multitude of affiliated organizations were not only dissolved formally but had discredited themselves in most Germans' eyes. With increasing contacts across the border dividing Germans, a sense of cultural unity and patriotism could develop without the element of supernationalism that had disfigured the country in the past.

The economic issues of Chapter 3 show a West Germany moving toward a relatively free market system while the East—except for a spoiled political elite—begins to stress equality. In the political sphere, the West showed a slow but real trend toward acceptance of a parliamentary democracy whereas a new dictatorship ruled the East. Jarausch convincingly points out that the internalization of the change in the West by most of the population created a framework to deal with the new problems and challenges of the 1960s and 1970s. His approach to the upheavals of 1968 and the emergence of a terrorist element on the political scene in West Germany is particularly interesting. Because it left no opportunity for open discussion of possible changes, the system imposed on the East by the Soviets and their German followers was incapable of making realistic adjustments to the needs of the situation and collapsed in 1989. The reunited state has an abundance of problems but also a population that deals with them in a democratic manner. The challenges of xenophobia and globalization bring both unease and horrific incidents, but the leadership—once it awakens to the dangers—can rally the population toward engaging these issues in a constructive way.

For a work examining a major transformation in one of Europe's largest populations, this book...


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pp. 291-293
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