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Chapter 4 examines the sites and functions of the camps and the treatment and conditions to which internees were subjected. It shows that there were more camps than often believed, especially in the west, and that although most had a Nazi past only a minority were former concentration camps. It shows that the camps served multiple functions (including holding SMT convicts) and operated under changing authority, especially in the US zone with a shift to German administration in 1946 and the Soviet zone with subordination to the Gulag in 1948. The chapter shows that after initial similarities in internees’ isolation, poor conditions, and rough treatment, crucial differences emerged between the western and the Soviet zones. Soviet internees remained isolated from the outside world, had limited opportunities for work or other meaningful activity, and remained inadequately accommodated, clothed, and most importantly fed. As a result, over 40,000 died from starvation and related diseases and were buried in mass graves. Soviet authorities’ failure to stop the mass dying stands in contrast to the western powers’ effective responses to early malnutrition. Nevertheless, the chapter argues that the western camps were not always the transparent, peaceful sites of re-education they are sometimes taken for.
Chapter 3 discusses the key characteristics and numbers of internees. It argues that here, too, the similarities across the zones were greater than is often assumed, but that important differences emerged. It shows that internee numbers were higher in the western zones than is often believed and that most internees in every zone were middle-aged men. The chapter examines competing claims about internees’ Nazi incrimination and distinguishes between different organizations and tiers of the Nazi Party hierarchy. It shows that there were more lowly than highly ranked personnel in every zone, but that seniority levels were higher in the western (and especially the American and British) zones and that only there were significant numbers of SS members interned. Yet one should not overlook the personnel of the broader Nazi repressive apparatus nor downplay the responsibility of even the lowest-ranked Party officials who were interned in the Soviet zone in large numbers. The chapter also argues that the Soviets interned fewer adolescents, Social Democrats, and members of other postwar political parties than is often believed and that some were targeted for Nazi-era offences. Nevertheless, their number had no equivalent in the west and even more were prosecuted by Soviet Military Tribunals.
Chapter 2 examines the practice of internment, from initial arrests through to the closure of the camps. It details how large numbers of internees were arrested through mandatory registrations, raids, or targeted or more random arrests. It then charts how, and how quickly, they were categorized, processed, and released or transferred to another status. The chapter shows that the western powers began releasing significant numbers in 1946, whereas the Soviets did not until 1948. Nevertheless, the chapter argues that the nature and even the speed of internees’ processing differed less than is often assumed. In all zones, internment was distinct from formalized denazification procedures and only a small proportion of internees were tried for individual crimes. Many more were released through administrative processes and various amnesties, often for political reasons. Soviet processes differed primarily in not affording internees opportunities to plead their case or defend themselves with due process. The chapter’s final section confirms the importance of political and broadly defined security considerations in the western zones by discussing the treatment of internees and their families in the context of French deportations from the Saarland in 1946–7 and a British settlement for ‘dangerous’ militarists and Nazis in 1947–8.
Chapter 1 traces the development of Allied internment policy from 1943 to 1946. It examines the discussions and statements of the UK, USA, and USSR, including at their European Advisory Committee and in the Potsdam Agreement of 1945. It analyses arrest directives issued in 1944–5 by western military authorities and the Soviet NKVD and discusses the Allied Control Authority’s attempt to develop a detailed quadripartite policy in late 1945/early 1946. It shows that the British were more enthusiastic and that the ‘Morgenthau Plan’ was less significant for US policy than is generally believed. The chapter argues that security, punishment, political change, and reparatory labour all featured in Allied thinking and that internment was consistently conceived as an extrajudicial measure against targets defined largely by their positions in Nazi organizations, rather than by individual acts. The chapter identifies differences over the precise targets, with Soviet directives being more expansive than their western equivalents and calling for members of the SA, SS and other paramilitary organizations to be deported as POWs rather than interned in Germany. Comparisons with Austria reveal basic similarities for the western powers but a different Soviet approach of leaving denazification and internment to Austria’s provisional government.
The conclusion reprises the book’s main arguments: about the need to understand internment at once as an important Allied measure in its own right, but also as one that intersected in complex ways with other measures such as prosecution, denazification, and demilitarization; about the severity and coerciveness of the Allied purge, but also its differentiation; and about the underlying commonality of western and Soviet internment as an extrajudicial attempt to remove core Nazi personnel. The conclusion also considers internees’ reactions and internment’s impact, highlighting its role in clearing the way for new political institutions and new political elites, and thus in the democratization of western and the Stalinization of eastern Germany. The conclusion then addresses the question of how the camps should be characterized, in particular critiquing arguments made by some scholars for labelling the Soviet camps ‘concentration camps’. In order to capture their underlying similarity with, as well as important, lethal differences, from the western camps, the conclusion suggests the Soviet camps in general be understood as Stalinist internment camps, while those that held internees and SMT convicts be termed Stalinist internment and prison camps.
The introduction sketches the scope and nature of Allied internment and outlines the key questions that internment raises. It situates internment within the history and historiography of postwar Germany and the broader study of the history of camps. It shows that internment, especially by the western powers, has often been overlooked. Even studies of post-Nazi transitional justice often neglect it, focusing instead on trials of Nazi and war criminals and on professional and civil sanctions against Nazi Party members and fellow travellers. The introduction argues that including internment reveals post-Nazi transitional justice to have been more severe than has long been believed and that Allied measures did not rest on undifferentiated accusations of German collective guilt, but on a more nuanced approach. The introduction identifies multiple meanings of terms such as ‘denazification’ that are crucial for understanding internment. It also discusses the existing literature on internment and the controversial question of the comparability of the Soviet and western cases. It argues that comparison is legitimate and that black-and-white depictions of brutal, arbitrary Soviets and fair, friendly westerners oversimplify a more complex reality. Finally, the introduction outlines the book’s structure, sources, and scope, which includes some comparison with Austria.
Between 1945 and 1950, approximately 130,000 Germans were interned in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including in former Nazi concentration camps. One third of detainees died, prompting comparisons with Nazi terror. But what about the western zones, where the Americans, British, and French also detained hundreds of thousands of Germans without trial? This first in-depth study compares internment by all four occupying powers, asking who was interned, how they were treated, and when and why they were arrested and released. It confirms the incomparably appalling conditions and death rates in the Soviet camps but identifies similarities in other respects. Andrew H. Beattie argues that internment everywhere was an inherently extrajudicial measure with punitive and preventative dimensions that aimed to eradicate Nazism and create a new Germany. By recognising its true nature and extent, he suggests that denazification was more severe and coercive but also more differentiated and complex than previously thought.