German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: This material was issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany in 1946. The German Democratic Republic still did not exist and the Social Democratic Party had not yet been pressured to unite with the Communists to form the Socialist Unity Party.

The Communists had a problem. On the one hand they wanted to destroy all remnants of Nazism. On the other hand, there were many former party members, often in important jobs. To deal harshly with all of them would lead to difficulties. This is a translation of material distributed to party propagandists in 1946 explaining how to deal with former party members. I include a list of the other pamphlets issued to guide party propagandists.

The source: Vortrags-Disposition: Kriegsverbrecher, aktivistische Nazis und nominelle Pg’s (Berlin: Verlag Neuer Weg. 1946).

War Criminals, Activist Nazis, and Nominal Party Members

Speaking Guidelines Nr. 7

Second Year

Nazism and its accomplices and men in the background plunged our German people into war and misery, shame and disgrace. The result of twelve-year Nazi rule was the death of millions, ruined cities, the devastation of wide German regions, and agricultural ruin. Crime followed crime, jails, prisons, concentration camps, gas chambers, and unparalleled betrayal were the Nazi methods of rule. New Nazi crimes are constantly discovered. Their final extent probably will not be completely known for many years. Millions of refugees and homeless, hunger, misery, and moral decline — these are the direct consequences of Nazi rule. No external enemy has ever done as much damage to Germany as Nazism did.

CoverIt is therefore in Germany’s national interest to avoid a repetition of Nazism’s disastrous policies and crimes and to find a new peaceful and democratic path. The prerequisite to that, however, is that all Nazi criminals be strictly punished and that Nazism be wiped out for all time.

I. What does the complete destruction of Nazism mean?

To completely destroy Nazism, the following measures are above all necessary:

1. Punishing all war criminals

a) No repetition of the mistake of 1918

As is known, war criminals were not punished after the First World War. A large number of these same criminals who escaped punishment then were active in preparing for Hitler’s war. The mistake of 1918 may not be repeated. Any gentle treatment our people might apply to war criminals would be national treason, for they would see our gentleness as weakness and would undertake a new attempt to plunge our homeland once more into the abyss.

b) Sentencing war criminals by German courts

It would be a mistake to assume that punishing war criminals was exclusively a matter for the Allied powers. Even after the sentencing of the major war criminals in the Nuremberg trial and in the other trials conducted in Germany and other countries, there is still enough for our people to do to pronounce just verdicts on war criminals who martyred and murdered the fighters for freedom and justice in prisons and concentration camps. That is why the KPD along with the other anti-Fascist democratic parties demand that those war criminals not sentenced by the courts of the United Nations be brought before German courts, and that German agencies in close cooperation with the anti-Fascist forces of our people exert the utmost efforts, using all necessary means, to try war criminals. The KPD’s declaration of 11 June 1945 said:

“Apart from the penalties for the major war criminals which will be pronounced by the courts of the United Nations, we demand the strictest punishment by German courts of all those Nazis who are guilty of crimes and of participating in Hitler’s betrayal of the German people.”

c) Principles for sentencing war criminals

The common decision of the United Front of Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties of 30 October 1945 (DVZ of 4.11.1945) laid out these principles, among others, as the foundation for laws on sentencing war criminals:

“a) All offenses against humanity and morality committed because of Nazi sentiments must be punished. They cannot be dealt with according to the location and the laws valid at the time. Instead, actions that violate natural moral sensibilities demand punishment.

b) Above all, such actions are to be punished that are directed against other people because of their political convictions, their faith, their ancestry, against the sick and helpless, against foreigners, and against the inmates of concentration camps, labor camps, or other camps, as well as those that contributed to the Nazi tyranny, or were committed by persons in high positions against their better knowledge that contributed to the lengthening of the war, as well as the public propagation of such actions.”

(From the Decision of the Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties of 30.10.1945)

2. Actions against activist Nazis

Beside the strictest sentencing of war criminals, actions must also be taken against activist Nazis.

a) What are activist Nazis?

“All those who held an office with political responsibility in the dissolved NSDAP, its subsidiaries or affiliated organizations, who were members of the Greater German Reichstag, the Prussian State Council, or in some other way served publicly as representatives of the policies and criminal aspirations of the NSDAP are to be treated as activist Nazis, even if they were not members of the NSDAP.”

(From the Decision of the Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties of 30.10.1945)

b) Measures against activist Nazis

Measures against activist Nazis should be as follows:

a) Exclusion from the civil service and from all positions that require public confidence or that have particular responsibility for the well-being of the whole;

b) Expectation of additional labor, payments in kind, and financial contributions, as well as a reduction in general rations as long as there are shortages;

c) Withdrawal of political rights, including membership in union or other professional bodies and in the anti-Fascist democratic parties.

(From the Decision of the Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties of 30.10.1945)

To be entirely clear: there is no room for activist Nazis in factory leadership and administration. Activist Nazis cannot and may not have leading positions in public concerns or private enterprises. They cannot be editors or hold leading positions in business or the arts. They cannot serve as attorneys, economic experts, tax advisors, jurors, or other legal positions. They cannot be members of unions or other professional bodies (e.g., in industrial or commercial chambers) or in the anti-Fascist democratic parties.

It must be emphasized that these measures are directed above all against activist Nazis, that is, those “who publicly implemented the policies and criminal actions of the NSDAP.”

3. The complete elimination of the remnants of Hitler’s state

If the battle against Nazism is limited to sentencing war criminals and taking measures against activist Nazis, that is, the implementers of Nazism, the destruction of Nazism is not assured.

A determined battle against Nazism must also be waged against the remnants of Hitler’s state everywhere in Germany. It must be totally eliminated. The Hitler state was the ruling organ of Nazism and of its men behind the scenes, German monopoly capitalists, the Junkers, and the militarists. The complete elimination of the remnants of Hitler’s state means building new administrative structures on wholly new foundations, which must be erected and filled with a new anti-Fascist democratic spirit. These administrative organs must be fully cleansed of Nazis and reactionaries, for only in that way can the anti-Fascist democratic development of our people be assured. Only strong anti-Fascists may be active in these administrative organs.

The battle to cleanse administrative organs of Nazi and reactionary elements is nowhere near finished. The task remains pressing today. As Wilhelm Pieck said in a conversation with a radio reporter on 3 February 1946:

“...Our demand for the cleansing of factory administration and offices of Nazi elements is in no way altered by by my statement. The opposite is true: I am for still firmer implementation of this necessary cleansing.”

(W. Pieck, “Inactive Nazis,” DVZ of 3.2.1946)

4. The extirpation of the economic roots of Nazism

The destruction of Nazism cannot and will not be complete if the men behind the scenes and those who gave Nazism its orders remain untouched.

Nazism is the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of finance capital. Nazism can, therefore, be destroyed only if its economic foundations, i.e., the imperialist monopoly capital federations, the trusts and corporations, as well as the large land owners are completely defeated everywhere in Germany. The gentlemen in the big banks, trusts, and corporations, the Junkers and the reactionary bureaucracy brought Hitler to power. They wanted total war to establish German imperialism’s world power. They bear primary responsibility for the war and were the organizers of the plundering of other peoples, as well as the main profiteers of Hitler’s war that brought so unspeakable misery on our people. Therefore, liquidating imperialistic monopoly federations, the destruction of the trusts and corporations, is an absolute requirement of our battle to exterminate Nazism.

“We must also hold accountable and disempower the puppeteers behind Hitler Fascism and his war, those behind the large capitalist trusts and the Junkers. Every possibility to have any influence over German industry and the German people must be taken from them.”

(W. Pieck: Speech on 19.7.1945 in Neue Welt)

5. The destruction of Nazi ideology

The battle to extirpate Nazism cannot be successful if it is not accompanied by a thorough re-education of the German people along anti-Fascist democratic lines.

Using its oppressive ideological apparatus and by avoiding all truth, Nazism succeeded in poisoning broad sections of our people with its propaganda lies. Even today, nine months after the defeat of Hitler fascism, parts of our people are still influenced in one way or another by Nazi thinking. The battle against false Nazi doctrines and lies must be conducted along these lines:

a) revealing the lie of living space;

b) revealing Nazi racial doctrines;

c) revealing Nazi lies about “German socialism”;

d) spreading the truth about the anti-national character of Nazism.

II. The necessity of differentiation

There is no doubt about the necessity of exterminating the economic roots of Nazism, of destroying the Nazi government apparatus, and of destroying Nazi ideology. There remain uncertainties about how to deal with the bearers of Nazism. In answering this question, the following factors are to be considered:

1. Did everyone really “sit in the same boat”?

Hitler and the Nazi leaders knew how to systematically involve the entire German people. Alongside the NSDAP, there were their mass organizations, largely based on compulsion (e.g., the DAF), that attempted to involve all parts of the German people in preparing for and carrying out their criminal war.

“We are all in the same boat” — and Goebbels meant not only the NSDAP leadership or the Nazi Party, but rather the entire German people. Using this crude trick he wanted to implicate all German men and women in the guilt of the Hitler leaders, their active supporters, and those behind the scenes.

We know, however, that not “everyone sat in the same boat.” We may not declare that everyone who was not an activist anti-Fascist to be “a reactionary mass.” We must learn to distinguish!

2. Party members and non-party members

The simplest distinction, which unfortunately is still made by many offices and persons, is this:

On the one side are the party members, the guilty ones; on the other side are those who were not members of the party, the innocent ones.

Such a differentiation is false, for it does not take into consideration the real situation of the past and present. There are thousands of people who were not party members, but were worse than some nominal members of the NSDAP. Not all Gestapo spies, for example, were NSDAP members, yet they must be dealt with ruthlessly. Many corporation leaders participated actively in planning for war and actively supported Nazism’s anti-national policies of conquest during the war, but were not party members. Yet they are much greater enemies of the German people than many thousands who were only nominal members of the Nazi Party. And there were a considerable number of members of the NSDAP who were not activist Fascists, but who rather were covert anti-Fascists and supported in other ways the anti-Fascist movement.

Thus, dividing people into party members and non-party members is a wrong, false differentiation that does not help our battle against Nazism, but can only damage it.

3. “Little” and “big” Nazis

A second distinction, also common with many offices and persons, is to distinguish between “little” and “big” Nazis.

But this is also unclear. There is no doubt about “big” Nazis, the war criminals and top Nazi bigwigs with uniforms and high titles. They must receive the strictest punishment and be destroyed.

The “little” Nazis are different. Many were nominal members of the NSDAP who committed no shameful deeds and crimes. However, there are also many so-called “little” Nazis who denounced and turned over anti-Fascists to the Gestapo. What could Hitler and Himmler have done if countless “little” Nazis had not supported their criminal actions and committed many misdeeds?

Thus, dividing people into party members and non-party members is also a wrong, false differentiation that does not help our battle against Nazism, but can only damage it.

4. What is the correct distinction?

The distinction between “little” and “big” Nazis is unclear. The single correct distinction is the distinction between activist and inactive Nazis (i.e., nominal party members). This distinction is based on the significant decision of the Unity Front of the Anti-Fascist Parties of 30 October 1945.

This distinction is correct because it considers the facts of the past and present. It is not a question as to whether former NSDAP members were “little” or “big,” but whether or not they actively supported criminal Hitler policies. The behavior of former NSDAP members is decisive.

5. How shall the distinction be made?

In distinguishing between activist Fascists and nominal members of the Nazi Party, not only must their behavior during the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship be considered, but above all their behavior after the defeat of Hitler Fascism.

Nine months have passed since the collapse of the Hitler regime. That is time enough to establish what each of these former members of the Nazi Party has done to prove his attitude about anti-Fascist democratic Germany.

6. The behavior of former members of the Nazi Party after the defeat of Hitler fascism

The behavior of former members of the Nazi Party after the defeat of Hitler fascism is extraordinarily varied. One can, however, distinguish two main groups:

a) In many cases it is clear that many former members of the Nazi Party have made considerable efforts to cooperate in the democratic reconstruction of our destroyed homeland. Many have proven by their actions that they recognized the errors of Nazism and have become active in the restructuring of our life. This behavior over the past 9-10 months should be noted and taken into consideration in determining whether they are to become equal members of our people.

b) On the other hand, there are many former NSDAP members who have proven that they have learned nothing from events. These are incorrigible Nazis who instead of helping in reconstruction conduct whisper propaganda, spread anti-Fascist slander, and show themselves harmful to our reconstruction process. Many of the bandits who often harass the population in the uniforms of the occupation troops are out to cause unrest. These incorrigible Nazis must be fought without pity. They must be brought before the courts for just and strict punishment.

7. The true meaning of “radical” attitude

There are some anti-Fascists who do not want to recognize this difference in the behavior of party members and reject any distinction. They say “lock them all up.” They appear very radical and often do not recognize that they are serving certain circles who through excessive agitation against nominal party members are trying to divert attention from the battle against the trust and corporation lords, who were the true men behind the scenes and order-givers of the Nazi Party.

8. The danger of this outwardly radical attitude

The danger of such an attitude is clear. If we communists follow this attitude we will run the risk

a) excluding many millions of nominal Nazi Party members from the anti-Fascist democratic movement and thereby driving them into the arms of Reaction, which has reorganized today. Wilhelm Pieck emphasizes:

“...we must distinguish between Nazi members so that we do not simply give up all of them for our battle, but rather we must win over at least a large part of them for our battle. Otherwise there is the danger that this mass could once again become the willing victim of reactionary efforts that are already very clearly seen in Germany.”

(W. Pieck, “Inactive Nazis,” DVZ of 3.2.1946)

b) of directing our battle not against the trust and corporation lords, those primarily guilty for our misfortune, but rather against the millions of nominal party members who in many cases have broken honorably with Nazism.

That would be a gift for Reaction, which would be able to say: “One hangs the little thieves and lets the big ones go.” Such a policy would not help our battle against Nazism, but rather harm it.

III. Our treatment of purely nominal party members

1. We must win them over for our great battle

We must win over these millions of nominal party members for the anti-Fascist democratic development of our people and for the reconstruction of our land. The tasks are too great for us to exclude so considerable a part of our people.

“We must have the greatest interest in making our fighting front for democratic renewal and for the economic rebuilding of our land, in particular for creating guarantees against any future German aggression, as broad as possible. It is impossible for us to exclude the millions that Hitler Fascism had in its party, be it through pressure or other means. We know that a very large part of them were not participants in carrying out Fascist crimes, even if they benefited from membership in the party.

(W. Pieck, “Inactive Nazis,” DVZ of 3.2.1946)

2. Mobilizing forces of good will

The size of the tasks before us — rebuilding our economy, the anti-Fascist democratic transformation of our land — requires the honorable cooperation of each German man and each German woman. It would be disastrous to exclude millions of people who committed no crimes and no shameful acts. The nominal members of the NSDAP, of course, bear a significant part of the built for the misfortune of our land, even if they were only nominal members of the NSDAP. Is their guilt greater, however, than that of the soldiers who actively supported Hitler’s rapacious war?

The KPD has stated:

He who comes from the ranks of nominal NSDAP members and wants to join us honestly and with integrity is welcome. The past should not be a constant burden on him.

“We call to all former simple members of the former Nazi party who have committed no crime and who did not actively support this criminal party. We call on them to join the ranks of the great anti-Fascist democratic fighting front for the rise of our people.”

(W. Pieck in the State Opera, 3.1.1946)

3. Dangers of concealment

The question arises from various sides about the danger for the future if former Nazi members are given an opportunity to prove themselves. There is a danger that some will only conceal themselves in order to endanger the antifascist-democratic movement from within. It is, therefore, necessary to know the attitude about their actions of former party members. They should prove by their deeds that they have completely given up the false doctrines of Nazism, i.e., that they are actively engaged in reconstruction and in the anti-Fascist democratic renewal of Germany. Wilhelm Pieck said of these dangers:

“Of course there is a certain danger if the parties do not carefully examine these people whom they will to give the change to cooperate. There is also enough evidence that that does not always happen and that their local groups are already accepting large numbers of Nazi members into the party. I think, however, that our movement is strong enough so that we will be in a position to respond to any enemy efforts from these ranks with sufficient firmness.”

(W. Pieck, “Inactive Nazis,” DVZ of 3.2.1946)

The task of these nominal party members who are today ready to join our great struggle must always prove that their present attitude is upright and honest.

4. No “New Course”

Various sides further claim that the KPD has taken a “new course” in this question. This claim does not agree with the facts. As the party of the most determined battle against Fascism and Reaction, the KPD battles against these war criminals and activist Nazis, against those who gave orders to the Nazi Party — the trusts and corporation heads —  even if they were not members of the NSDAP. At the same time, however, the KPD offers nominal party members who did not participate in crimes and shameful deeds the opportunity for a new life. The KPD has followed this policy from the beginning. For example, according to an editorial in the DVZ of 18 November 1945:

Such inactive former party members should have the change to rejoin the democratic whole of the people through honest behavior.

(H. Teubner: “The Battle against the Nazis,” DVZ, 18.11.1945)

Our party therefore supports the joint decision of the Unity Front of the Anti-Fascist-Democratic Parties, which states:

“Without ignoring the political responsibility of all other members of the NSDAP and its affiliates, those who were not in the sense of these guidelines Nazi criminals and who were not activist Nazis, should be exempt from punishment and penalties in the expectation that they will break entirely with their political past and give their full strength to the reconstruction of our land.”

(From the Decision of the Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties of 30.10.1945)

Material for Political Education

Published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany

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Last edited: 11 September 2023

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