Eight million Nazis: the challenge for the Allies in 1945

The victorious Allies crushed Nazi Germany. Germany had eight million Nazis with a civilian population who were, mostly, complicit in Nazi atrocities. The Allies had to be pragmatic. They targeted the ‘worst of the worst’ with the new retrospective crimes against humanity law. Everybody else was small fry. This meant hard-core Nazis were whitewashed. The Allies had a further category, useful Nazis. They got off scot-free because they had vital skills valued by the Allies. Three Nazis have been selected to illustrate each of these categories. They are Hans Frank, Hans Globke and Wernher von Braun.

Hans Frank: the worst of the worst

Hans Frank was the head of the Nazi government of Poland from 1939. He organised concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, 1941- 4. He also developed starvation as a weapon against the Polish civilian population. This was his policy as starvation wasn’t used to control western Europe. The Jewish Warsaw Ghetto rising, April – May 1943, was put down with extreme brutality though Frank’s standing with Hitler was damaged because they weren’t subdued immediately. The following year, August – October 1944, brought the Warsaw Uprising by the Polish Home Army. This completely wrecked Frank but he continued in office to the bitter end when the Soviets conquered Poland. Unlike Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering, he didn’t commit suicide and was executed on 16th May, 1946.

Hans Globke: Nazi lawyer and Adenauer’s civil servant

Hans Globke was a lawyer and Nazi. He used his talents to create an aura of respectability around anti-Semitic legislation. He was a guiding spirit behind the 1933 Enabling Laws which gave Hitler dictatorial powers. In 1935 the vicious Nuremberg Race Laws were enacted with his guidance. Assimilated male Jews had to take the name Israel, whilst women used Sara. Wilhelm Frick, executed 16th October 1946, described Globke as the most capable and efficient official in my ministry” when it came to drafting anti-Semitic laws.”1 Globke was talented and unscrupulous. He was both a prosecution and defence witness in the Nuremberg trials. Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor 1949-63, brought him into the West German government in 1953 and he held pivotal positions for ten years. He was responsible for government appointments and was only sacked after being unmasked as a principal Nazi.


Wernher von Braun: Nazi SS officer and American scientist

Wernher von Braun was a scientist and Nazi. He developed rocket warfare with the V-1 and V-2. These were Hitler’s wonder weapons, which he called Vengeance. Hitler firmly believed they would devastate London, bringing Britain to its knees. They were built at Peenemunde where von Braun led a massive scientific team. Von Braun was an SS major with all that that implies. From April 1943 he toured concentration camps recruiting slave labourers to keep his facility operational. Moving to Peenemunde didn’t improve their conditions as von Braun regarded them as entirely disposable. The USA appreciated the critical importance of rocket warfare and recruited him along with his team. Von Braun was a world-class scientist. He was also a murderous Nazi. His past was whitewashed because the Americans wanted his skills. Von Braun became a senior American scientist receiving many honours.

Israel was born during the Nazi Trials and was unimpressed by this moral equivocation. The Irgan terrorist group attempted the assassination of Adenauer in 1952.2 He ignored them and carried on with selective ‘blindness’. The Israeli government instituted a policy of targeted assassination – robustly denied of course – and state sponsored kidnapping. The latter was a matter of pride with Eichmann’s kidnapping, trial and execution being the most famous example.

The victory over Nazi Germany created a moral dilemma. The claim has always been that the challenge of an entire nation being criminal was unique and so was the response. Moral whitewashing is despicable but 1945 demanded pragmatism.

1 https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/nazi-germany/nazi-leaders/wilhelm-frick/

2 The Israeli terrorist group Irgun attempted to assassinate Adenauer in 1952 because of his consistent recruitment of ex-Nazis. See https://www.german-way.com/notable-people/featured-bios/konrad-adenaue

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