the treatment of nazi resisters after world war two -- 4/03/17

Today's selection -- from No Ordinary Men by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern. Key members of the resistance against Hitler, including Hans von Dohnanyi and the Red Orchestra, an anti-Nazi resistance movement in Berlin that aimed to assassinate Hitler, were treated with ambivalence and sometimes even disrespect after World War II:

"Surviving resisters to the Nazi regime and surviving families of murdered resisters were often treated more badly and more dishonor­ably than surviving Nazi officials, many of whom managed quite well. No heed was taken of the resisters' earlier efforts or their fami­lies' present suffering, and unlike the executioners, they were usually denied their pensions, at least at first. And it took a full decade for West German officials to accord the 'conspirators' of [the] July 20 [assassination attempt on Hitler] recog­nition as heroes rather than vilification as 'traitors,' when the Fed­eral Republic's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, established in 1955, introduced an annual commemorative service on July 20 to honor them at the Bendlerblock. (An earlier event, organized by groups of survivors and descendants, took place on July 20, 1954.) Only in the 1960s, after his mother's death in 1965, did Klaus von Dohnanyi succeed in having his father's and his uncle's death sentences legally annulled.

Hans von Dohnanyi, circa 1940

"Consider, on the other hand, Manfred Roeder, the high-ranking Nazi prosecutor responsible for the deaths of Red Orchestra mem­bers and associates, and for arresting, then tormenting [Hans von] Dohnanyi and [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer. In September 1945, Adolf Grimme, a Social Democrat (he had been Prussia's culture minister in the 1920s), sued Roeder for having broken German law in prosecuting the Red Orchestra people on treason charges. It took the West German judicial system until 1951 to dismiss this case against the Nazi lawyer and to pronounce that treason had always been an abominable crime, one of which the July 20 conspirators were also guilty.

"Roeder, once cleared (and giving himself his full Nazi title as Judge General), published a small book on the Red Orchestra in which he maligned and mocked the resisters he had condemned, specified what harm 'these Communists' had done, and declared that to un­derstand their aims one only had to look at Germany's eastern zone or other satellite countries controlled by the Soviet Union. But his main point was not just to accuse them and heap praise on himself for prosecuting them but to warn the German public that every day 'the web of the Red Orchestra is woven anew,' that the Red conspiracy was a live danger. (The US Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps had already recruited Roeder in 1949 as an informant about alleged Communist subversion in Germany.) The 'cleared' Roeder became an active member of the Christian Democratic Union and deputy mayor of a small Hessian town, and in that dignified office died peacefully in 1971, unapologetic and unreconstructed to the end.

Walter Huppenkothen

"The West German public and West German justice seemed almost eager to exonerate Nazi officials and to vilify or traduce the resisters. Walter Huppenkothen, to take another example, was brought before West German courts three times on charges of complicity in the trials and murders of Dohnanyi in Sachsenhausen and of [Wilhelm] Canaris, [Hans] Oster, Bonhoeffer, and the others in Flossenbürg. (Like Roeder, Huppen­kothen also did postwar work for the Americans; these Nazi villains serving as clandestine servants of the occupying power were known in the Counter-Intelligence Corps under the code names of, respec­tively, Othello and Fidelio.) The prosecutors argued that those trials had violated even Nazi laws. Huppenkothen's defense was that in prosecuting Dohnanyi and the others and then condemning them to death, he had been obeying lawful orders that came from Hitler and his circle (a frequent alibi). The courts ruled in Huppenkothen's fa­vor, saying that only those who had given the orders were culpable. In 1956, the Bundesgerichtshof, West Germany's Supreme Court, up­held these acquittals.

"It was not until 2002, on what would have been Hans von Dohnanyi's hundredth birthday, that the then president of the Su­preme Court, Gunter Hirsch, at a ceremony honoring Dohnanyi's memory, declared that the 1956 decision in the Huppenkothen cases 'must make one ashamed,' and that it had had 'devastating' conse­quences: 'in the Federal Republic hardly any judges or prosecutors involved in the thousands of judicial crimes [Justizverbrechen] of the Third Reich were convicted.' And it was only in 2003 that Yad Vashem registered Dohnanyi as a 'righteous gentile.' (There was a dignified ceremony at the Bonhoeffer house in Berlin with the then head of the oppositional Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel, and her husband in attendance.)"



Fritz Stern and Elisabeth Sifton


No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State


Copyright 2013 by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern


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