selfaware soup

Esther Weidauer

Failed Denazification in East Germany


This is an archived copy of two Twitter threads I wrote in 2022 about how I learned very late in life that my home town was host to a concentration camp during the Nazi era, how both east and west Germany failed to confront the past, enabling a resurgence of far-right ideas and violence.

My home town in rural east Germany had a concentration camp and the local industry (which people were quite proud of) had used it for slave labor. I found out on a Wikipedia dive years after I had finished school, nobody had ever mentioned it.ßenlager_Plauen

Somehow nobody ever mentioned any of this

And we also never visited anything relevant to the Holocaust during school. I always wondered when we would because I’ve heard that some schools did that.

And today that town is practically under control of neonazis, what a surprise.

Germany loves to tell tales of how admirable it has dealt with its horrific past but a lot of that is empty propaganda. We have a huge nazi problem that never went away after WW2.

In the west, Nazi officials who didn’t get trialed (so most of them) got jobs in the new administration because it turns out building a whole new government without re-using a lot of the personnel that speaks the local language and has experience is hard.

In the east, the problem was ignored because “there are no Nazis under socialism” (meaning soviet control, not actual socialism but that’s a whole other thing).

And after the wall fell, neonazis in east Germany had a huge resurgence during the 90s. Their parents and grandparents where there the entire time, passing on their hate to their kids in private and suddenly there was no reason to hide anymore.

That time is known as “Baseballschlägerjahre” (baseball bat years) because of the massive outburst of right wing violence.

The German tale of reconciling the past is largely bullshit.

This thread got a lot of attention at the time and attracted a bunch of Tankies who felt the need to tell me how perfectly their beloved soviet system dealt with the Nazi past in East Germany. None of them had any clue about the actual history of the country and they resorted to some very strange mental gymnastics to try and discredit me on this subject. My favorite was accusing one of my realtives (an uncle) to have been a Nazi official between 1933 and 1945 despite him being born in the 1950s.

I responded to all this with the following thread, outlining some more details about east Germany’s Nazi problem:

Ok, since I’m sufficiently annoyed by the cluelessness of tankies, here’s some GDR history from someone who actually lived through the aftermath of it and talked to a lot of eye witnesses of the GDR regime 🧵

A lot of east Germany is rural country with few major cities in between that have significant industry, and most of those weren’t even very big. This will be important.

During WW2, cities were the the primary targets of air raids but most small towns didn’t see much destruction and people there never witnessed the actual war until the Russian army arrived towards the end.

This lead to 1-2 generations of people in rural east Germany who were adults during the nazi era who never had to face the large scale destruction that resulted form Hitler‘s „total war“.

To them, the nazi era was something they benefited from and and that they held in positive memory, of course deeply indoctrinated by propaganda and ignoring their neighbors who disappeared into concentration camps.

In their personal experience, it felt like the Russian army brought an end to the good times, leading to a resentment of Russia and its regime which then installed the GDR state after the war.

Instead of addressing the nazi past of these regular citizens, the new regime focused on high level officials to make examples of, just like the west did. The possibility of Nazis existing among the citizens of this supposed „socialist utopia“ was denied and ignored.

Fast forward through 40 years of mismanaged state-controlled economy, surveillance, censorship, and a violently enforced border, we get to the 1990.

The people in rural east Germany, frustrated with the GDR regime, had 40 years to tell their kids and grandkids about how „it was actually pretty good under the Nazis“. This kind of sentiment was extremely common in families outside the major cities.

I grew up in a medium sized town that had seen major destruction in WW2 and this was painfully obvious whenever I went to visit someone in one of the surrounding villages and smaller towns. Dinner table talk was ripe with extreme racism and romanticized talk about the Nazi era.

Now after reunification all of east Germany faced major disappointment because it didn’t turn out to be what they had hoped for. This was fertile ground for right wing ideology that had festered all those years to step into the public light again.

That’s how we got to east Germany being a cesspool of neonazis, their political parties, marches, and violence. They didn’t come from the west. They were raised and indoctrinated in the east by their own families and communities.

The GDR regime failed to educate younger generations about their (grand)parents’ past and to provide a counterpoint to what was taught in these families. This is why the state failed to de-nazify itself, by ignoring the problem and plastering over it with its own propaganda.

Of course this thread is simplified and things a lot more complex but the point is to illustrate how the seeming resurgence of nazis in the 90s and up to today was a result of ignoring the problem for 40 years. The nazis never left, they had just been private.