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The U.S. High Commission and German Nationalism, 1949–52

  • Frank M. Buscher


The recent revolutionary changes in Eastern Europe represent a mixed blessing for the United States and the western alliance as a whole. On the one hand, the West has had good reason to rejoice, witnessing the triumph of democracy and economic liberalism after more than forty years of Cold War tensions. On the other hand, the fall of the Eastern European communist governments in 1989, including that of the German Democratic Republic, once again brought the German question to the forefront. The Bush administration approached the issue of German reunification in a very cautious manner, insisting that a unified Germany guarantee the finality of its eastern borders and remain committed to the West. This caution clearly demonstrated the apprehension on the part of U.S. policy-makers that nationalism and the push for national unity might prove stronger than the German commitment to NATO and the western alliance.



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1. These U.S. fears appear to be justified due to the anti-western and anti-Amencan orientation of present-day German nationalists. See Betz, Hans-Georg, “Deutschlandpolitik on the Margins: On the Evolution of Contemporary New Right Nationalism in the Federal Republic,” New German Critique 44 (1988): 127–57. A similar, although less pessimistic, view is held by George F. Kennan. Kennan holds that German nationalists will first focus on internal issues such as overly liberal immigration policies, an inundation of foreign labor, laxness in the face of drugs and crime, and lack of authority and discipline in the schools. Even this tendency would have to go very far…, before it could seriously affect attitudes towards West Germany's position in NATO.” Kennan, George F., “The German Problem: A Personal View,” German Issues 6 (1989).

2. Writers who have examined German nationalism after 1945 generally fall into two groups. One has focused on negative aspects, particularly the founding of neo-Nazi and extreme nationalistic groups in the postwar era as well as the employment of many former Nazi officials in the Federal Republic's bureaucracies. For example, see Tauber, Kurt P., Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism since 1945 (Middletown, Conn., 1967): and Friedrich, Jörg, Die kalte Amnestie (Frankfurt, 1984). The second group does not deny the existence of nationalism in the Federal Republic, but it takes a more optimistic stance. These scholars argue that the Germans did not always view western Allied reform efforts during the late 1940s and early 1950s as being in their national interest. Believing that many of their own traditions such as social security and the civil service needed to be defended against overzealous Allied reforers, the Germans resisted many of the occupation powers' initiatives. See Diehl, James M., “Change and Continuity in the Treatment of the German Kriegsopfer,” Central European History 18 (1985): 170–87;Benz, Wolfgang, “Versuche zur Reform des offentlichen Dienstes in Deutschland 1945–1952: Deutsche Opposition gegen alliierte Initiativen,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 29 (1981): 216–45; and Wengst, Udo, Beamtentum zwischen Reform und Tradition: Beamtengesetzgebung in der Grundungsphase der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1948–1953, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Parlamentarismus und der politischen Parteien, no. 84 (Düsseldorf, 1988).

3. Text of a McCloy radio speech, 9 Aug. 1949, Record Group 466, The United States High Commission for Germany, John J. McCloy Papers (henceforth: McCloy Papers), Classified General Records 1949–1952, D(49)75, General Branch, Civil Archives Branch, NARA.

4. State Department Briefs, 16 Nov. 1949, Naval Aide Files, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.

5. Report, “Political Orientation of the West German State,” Central Intelligence Agency, ORE 1–50, 25 Apr. 1950, President's Secretary's Files (PSF)-Foreign Affairs-Germany File, Truman Library.

6. Memorandum by James E. Webb, Undersecretary of State, to the National Security Council (NSC) containing “Policy Directive to United States High Commissioner for Germany,” 17 Nov. 1949 PSF/NSC, Truman Library. The directive was presented during NSC Meeting No. 49 on 8 Dec. 1949.

8. Report, “The State of German Nationalism Following the Founding of the West German Republic,” 30 Dec. 1949, HICOG Public Affairs Office, Reactions Analysis Branch, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(49)415.

9. Report, “Probable Consequences of the Forthcoming West German Elections,” CIA, ORE 67-49, 19 July 1949, PSF-Foreign Affairs-Germany File, Truman Library.

10. See Hiscocks, Richard, The Adenauer Era (Philadelphia, 1966), 100; and SPD Chairman Kurt Schumacher to Liebmann Hersch, 30 Oct. 1951, in Albrecht, Willy, ed., Kurt Schumacher: Reden-Schrften-Korrespondenzen (Berlin, 1985), 895–98.

11. For example, the largest political party representing refugees, the Gesamtdeutscher Block/Bund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten, was headed by two former Nazi officials, Waldemar Kraft and Professor Theodor Oberländer. Similarly, the Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseittgkeit (HIAG), an organization representing former members of the Waffen-SS and at the same time the largest veterans organization in the Federal Republic, was headed by Waffen-SS Gen. Otto Kumm.

12. Buscher, Franic M., The U.S. War Crimes Trial Program in Germany, 1946–1955 (Westport, Conn., 1989), 106–7.

13. Perhaps a good indication of the German dislike for denazification is the fact that the first Bundestag dedicated much time and effort to this problem. The lawmakers frequently accused the western Allies of having violated international and German law by attempting to denazify German society. For example, see Drucksache Nr. 13, 13 Sep. 1949; Drucksache Nr. 27, 21 Sep. 1949; 19. Sitzung, 2 Dec. 1949; and 40. Sitzung, 23 Feb. 1950, Verhandlungen des deutschen Bundestages, 1. Wahlperiode.

14. Memorandum of a conversation between Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, 17 Nov. 1949, Acheson Papers, Memoranda of Conversations, Truman Library.

15. Text of McCloy's speech, 4 Oct 1949, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(49)243a.

16. Translated summary of Dehier's speech on 22 Jan. 1950, before the Hamburg FDP, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50) 196c

17. Report, “Statement of Federal Minister of Justice Dehler as to Meeting in Hamburg,” 23 Jan. 1950, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)196e.

18. “McCloy Warns the Germans Against Revival of Nazism,” New York Times, 7 Feb. 1950, I.

19. “Crackdown on Germany: Why?” U.S. News and World Report, 17 Feb. 1950, 24–25.

20. McCloy gave these speeches at Boston and Washington on 24 and 27 January respectively. Riddleberger, James W., Director of Polincal Affairs, HICOG, to Adenauer advisor Herbert Blankenhorn, 31 Jan. 1950, Politisches Archiv des Auswärttgen Amtes (henceforth: AA), File 240- 01, Document 3152/1128/50, Bonn, West Germany.

21. HICOG to State Department, 17 Feb. 1950, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)405.

22. Report, “Nationalism in Western Germany,” 3 Mar. 1950, Office of Political Affairs, HICOG, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)605.

23. “U.S. Fears Nationalist Rise in Germany Despite Curbs,” New York Times, 4 Mar. 1950, I.

24. State Department to McCloy, I2 Jan. RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)77.

25. Acheson to McCloy, Mar. 1950, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)619a.

26. Deputy U.S. High Commissioner Gen. George P. Hays to McCloy, 6 Mar. 1950, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)619e. The agreement had been reached by the Council of the High Commissioners on 28 Oct. 1949; D(49)318.

27. Report, “Nationalism in Western Germany,” 10–11.

28. “Policy in Germany,” New York Times, 7 Feb. 1950, 26.

29. Report, “Political Orientation of the West German State,” CIA, ORE 1–50, 25 Apr. 1950, PSF-Foreign Affairs-Germany File, Truman Library.

30. “The Reorientation of Germany,” Manuscript of speech by Buttenwieser to be held before the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 14 May 1950, AA, File 240.01, Document 3152/ 4509/50.

31. “M'Cloy Backs Talk Canceled by League,” New York Times, 16 May 1950, 18.

32. “Germany Today-Economically and Financially,” Buttenwieser speech before the Investment Bankers' Association at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, 18 May 1950, AA, File 240.01, Document 3152/4509/50.

33. “A Canceled Speech,” New York Times, 16 May 1950, 3.

34. Adenauer to Buttenwieser, 22 May 1950, AA, File 240.01, Document 3152/4509/50.

35. “Ousted Germans to Merge Power,” New York Times, 2, Jan. 1951, and “The Voices of the Refugees Rise in Germany,” New York Times, 3 Jan. 1951, 26.

36. See “Report of Advisory Board on Clemency for War Criminals,” 28 Aug. 1950, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(50)2063a.

37. Minutes of War Crimes Modification Board meeting on 23 Jan. 1950, RG 338, The United States Army in World War II, United States Army, Europe (henceforth: USAREUR), Theater Judge Advocate Division, Box 517, Cases Tried-Miscellaneous Clemency File.

38. “Landsberg: A Documentary Report,” 31, Jan. 1951, Public Relations Division, HICOG, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)123. For more information on McCloy's and Handy's clemency decisions, see Mendelsohn, John, “War Crimes Trials and Clemency in Germany and Japan,” in Wolfe, Robert, ed., Americans as Proconsuls: United States Military Government in Germany and Japan, 1944–1952 (Carbondale, Ill., 1984), 226–59; and Buscher, U.S. War Crimes Trial Program, 63–64.

39. Notes on Handy's interview with Strauss, 8 Jan. 1951, RG 338, USAREUR, Box 537, Execution File.

40. Friedrich, Die kalte Amnestie, 250.

41. See Baring, Arnulf, Aussenpolitik in Adenauers Kanzlerdemokratie (Munich, 1965), 99; and Thayer, Charles W., The Unquiet Germans (New York, 1957), 234.

42. Memorandum, “Analysis of Letters on the Landsberg Decision,” 19 Mar. 1951, Office of Intelligence, HICOG, RG 466, McCloy Papers, Security-Segregated General Records (henceforth: SSGR) 1949–52, 321.6, War Criminals File. Also see memorandum “Summary of Clemency Requests,” 26 Feb. 1951, RG 338, USAREUR, Box 533, War Crimes 201 File, Vol. IV.

43. W. M. to Handy, 14 Feb. 1951 RG 338, USAREUR, Box 519, General Clemency File, Vol. 1.

44. McCloy to Adenauer, 6 Mar. 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)126.

45. McCloy to State Department, 5 Mar. 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)285a.

46. “Violent Nationalism Shown by German Clemency Pleas,” New York Times, 20 Feb. 1951, 13.

47. “Bonn Told To Spur Democratic Ideal,” New York Times, 6 Mar. 1951, 6.

48. Report, “Nationalism in Western Germany,” 18.

49. McCloy to Kirkpatrick, 21 May 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)727a.

50. Acheson to Hays, 6 July 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)866a.

51. McCloy to State Department, 3 Sept. 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)1282.

52. “Adenauer Urges Action on Arming,” New York Times, 17 Sept. 1951, 5.

53. For example, McCloy reacted strongly to a meeting of former SS members in November 1951. See HICOG to State, 8 Nov. 1951, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51)1789.

54. McCloy testimony before a special subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 12 Nov. RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(51) 1819.

55. Report on Germany Pursuant to H. Res. 28, 29 Feb. 1952, Union Calendar No. 459, 82nd Congress, 2d Session, 26–27.

56. Report, “The Present Status of'Neo-Nazism' in West Germany,” 10 Jan. 1952, Office of Public Affairs, HICOG, RG 466, McCloy Papers, D(52) 183a-b.

57. “Buttenwieser Says Many Germans Trifle with Destiny of Their Nation,” New York Times, 7 Dec. 1951, 4.

58. Vogelsang, Thilo, Das geteilte Deutschland (Munich, 1985), 171.

59. McCloy to Acheson, 18 Aug. 1951, RG 466, McCIoy Papers, Eyes-Only File, E. O. (51)63.

60. See Article 6 of the Convention on the Settlement of Matters Arising out of the War and the Occupation, Bundesgesetzblatt 1955, Teil II, 411–13.

61. U.S. Land Commissioner for Bavaria George N. Shuster to McCloy, 27 Aug. 1951, RG 466, SSGR 1949–1952, 321.6, War Criminals File.

62. Hiscocks, The Adenauer Era, 101–2.

63. Report, “Political Orientation of the West German State,” CIA, ORE 1–50, 25 Apr. 1950, PSF-Foreign Affairs-Germany File, Truman Library.


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