Everyone knows the horrors of the Nazi regime, but few people can say that while they thought it was all a part of war, until one day they were forced to see it for what it really was…horrible. These soldiers honestly thought that the concentration camps were no different than the prisoner of war camps they were in, but when they saw the truth, it made them sick. They were forced to face the awful truth that their leader was a complete monster…and worse yet, that they could do nothing to stop his tirade. This forced confrontation brought Germans face-to-face with the worst works of the Third Reich. I can’t imagine the horror of finding out that human beings were being murdered in the gas chambers. The absolute horror of it shows on the faces of the prisoners of war in the United States camps, as they compared the treatment they received at our hands, to what the Nazis were doing to the Jewish people.
An important part of keeping moral up in any war is making sure that the people believe that what their nation is doing, is the right thing. To find out that their nation…their leader, Hitler…was involved in the unwarranted killing of human beings, just because these people were a race they did not like, had to have been such a shock…a sickening shock. This forced process was part of the Allied policy known as denazification, which was designed to to purge Germany of the remnants of Nazi rule and rebuild its civil society, infrastructure, and economy. The program included actual visits to nearby concentration camps. Posters displaying dead bodies of prisoners hung in public places, and forced German prisoners of war to view films documenting the Nazis’ treatment of “inferior” people. The German people had to be changed. They had to realize that Hitler’s evil agenda could not continue. The only way to do that was to change the hearts of men. The best way to change the hearts of men is to show them the horrible truth that they have been lied too and taken advantage of.
While such a harsh method designed to facilitate change was necessary, I must think that it was as hard on the Americans as it was on the Germans. I don’t think anyone could easily watch such horrible murders, without feeling something…except maybe Hitler and his serious henchmen. I still believe that the majority of human beings cannot easily stomach blatant hatred, and horrific murder. I can’t say exactly how big an impact the denazification efforts had at that time in history, but I believe that it was huge. The reason is that the German soldiers weren’t necessarily Nazis, and the Holocaust was just one side of the World War II. They were also fighting for territory and power. Strong nationalistic feelings were quite normal back then. Oddly, no conflict existed between not following the Nazis and fighting for the “good of your Fatherland.” Some soldiers were Nazis, some just wanted revenge for Versailles, others wanted to sit at the same table as France and Britain. And many followed because they had no other choice. It was a very strange situation, and one that had to be changed. It may not have been a humane way to bring change, but it was all they could do, so denazification was what they did…and at that time, it worked.