Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Graham Hughes

First Page



Decades of conflict with Soviet Russia compelled the West to come up with soothing explanations of the German Nazi past. If Germany was our gallant ally, standing fast in NATO against the menace of Communism, it somehow must be cleansed of any stain of original sin. This has been accomplished by portraying the Nazi years as a monstrous aberration--a characterization naturally fostered and promoted by the Germans themselves. Germany had struggled in the years of the Weimar Republic toward a democratic system and a just society. Under this view of things, a handful of evil maniacs, who incomprehensibly had succeeded in seizing the machinery of state, dragged Germany for twelve years into a dark tunnel of Nacht und Nebel. Mercifully liberated by the democracies from this interregnum in 1945, Germany resumed its impeccable progress towards ballot box politics, economic prosperity, and the just society.

This tale conveniently ignores uncomfortable facts. It fails to remind us that Hitler first achieved political prominence through the ballot box, and that there can be little doubt that between 1933 and at least 1943,he would have won landslide victories in democratic elections. Even more conveniently, it ignores that many of the politicians, soldiers, officials, lawyers, and doctors, who conscientiously served the occupying powers in the 1950s and contributed to the rebuilding of Germany in the 1960s, had been equally conscientious in the service of the Nazi regime. Also, it ignores that a significant number of them had been party members or strident in their overt enthusiasm for the Nazi regime.