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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 140-142

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Book Review

Denazification in Soviet-Occupied Germany:
Brandenburg 1945-1948

Timothy R. Vogt, Denazification in Soviet-Occupied Germany: Brandenburg 1945-1948. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. 336 pp. $52.50.

Timothy Vogt's book on denazification in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany (SBZ) focuses on the process of determining who was a "nominal" Nazi and thus freed of responsibility for his or her past and who was punishable for Nazi activism. Using a large sample of records from representative denazification commissions in the province of Brandenburg, Vogt explores how the Soviet and German authorities in the east vetted local Nazis and reviewed their petitions for clemency. At the same time, this is not a genuine local history of denazification, one that would reconstruct the meaning of these campaigns for individuals and families in concrete towns and communities, whether in Brandenburg or elsewhere. Moreover, Vogt does not use Russian-language archives or published documents; as a result, the book can reveal little about the Soviet authorities' intentions, expectations, or policy decisions. Vogt is also not particularly interested in broad questions of the denazification of German culture or the politics of denazification as they relate to the development of party struggles or social organizations in the zone. In short, despite the title of the book, Vogt has not produced a definitive history of denazification in the SBZ. It is, instead, a study with limited goals based on highly focused archival research.

The advantages of Vogt's strategy are as notable as its limits. The reader learns a great deal about the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) and the way it attracted Germans to its ranks. With regard to the postwar period, the book analyzes interesting information about "average" Germans in the east—workers, shopkeepers, professionals—and how they thought about their involvement and that of their friends and neighbors in the Nazi party and its related organizations. In addition to exploring the mentality of former party members through their petitions, appeals, [End Page 140] and interrogations by local commission members, the book makes an important contribution to our understanding of how local politics, justice, and administration functioned in the Soviet zone. Despite pressure from provincial authorities (who in turn were pressured from the center), the local denazification commissions in Brandenburg tended to judge individual cases on their own merits. Clearly politics played a role, but not an overwhelming one. Instead, local issues made a huge difference—who denounced whom and who testified on behalf of whom; the concrete circumstances under which an individual joined the party; the behavior of party members; and the reaction of petitioners to the end of the war, the occupation of the Soviet army, and, most critically, the task of rebuilding.

In Vogt's treatment, the Soviet Military Administration and the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) seem very far away from the functioning of the local commissions. The provincial authorities carried out periodic inspections, and some of the SBZ leaders were annoyed that denazification moved at such a slow pace and had such a relatively innocuous effect. But the higher authorities could not force the commissions to abandon their generally sympathetic approach to the situation of "nominal" party members, people who by force of circumstance and pragmatism had joined the NSDAP, the Hitlerjugend, and related organizations. If, as Vogt suggests, the local commissions in Brandenburg were typical of the entire zone, the process of denazification was far less politicized and much more fair-minded than the earlier historiography has led us to believe. Vogt provides some data to back up this argument. From a sample of 2,740 cases he finds that there was no particular bias against certain professions versus others. To be sure, the critical need for physicians in postwar eastern Germany meant that their cases were handled more favorably than those of other professions. Still, middle-class shopkeepers and workers were treated largely the same by the commissions. Of course, it helped to be a...