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A liberal turn? : war crimes trials and West German public opinion in the 1960s

A liberal turn? : war crimes trials and West German public opinion in the 1960s
A liberal turn? : war crimes trials and West German public opinion in the 1960s

This dissertation focuses on the Nazi war crimes trials conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany during the late 1950s and 1960s as a medium for exploring popular West German responses to the legacy of National Socialism.  Such trials offered important opportunities for people to confront the crimes of the Third Reich and enter into a more critical engagement with their recent past.  This study, though, goes beyond highly-publicised acts of atonement conveyed by leading West German figures and explores instead the extent to which such sentiments were shared by ‘ordinary’ people at the grass roots level of society, drawing upon press reports and opinion poll data, as well as gaining unique access to examples of letters written by members of the public to the courts and public prosecutors.  While war crimes trials were able to resonate far beyond the courtroom, attracting a vast degree of media attention, inspiring a host of cultural and commemorative activities and encouraging more people to speak out and relay their own memories of National Socialism, I contend that linear narratives of ever-greater engagement over time are too simplistic.  Indeed, there remained a popular desire, as characterised by ongoing debates over the Statute of Limitations, to actually draw a final line under the whole Nazi era.  Earlier post-war evasions and distortions persisted, with continuing tendencies to attribute Nazi atrocities to a radical sadistic few - distinct from the rest of the West German population - and to place a greater emphasis on German suffering rather than on the fate of Jews, Poles and other groups.  Similarly, I demonstrate how generational responses were rather more complex than has been traditionally allowed, and highlight, through a series of regional case studies, how varying local political traditions also affected the ways in which people viewed the recent past.

University of Southampton
Sharples, Caroline Louise
4b912a00-8fc4-4b8d-8e45-a473d7fe35c7
Sharples, Caroline Louise
4b912a00-8fc4-4b8d-8e45-a473d7fe35c7

Sharples, Caroline Louise (2006) A liberal turn? : war crimes trials and West German public opinion in the 1960s. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the Nazi war crimes trials conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany during the late 1950s and 1960s as a medium for exploring popular West German responses to the legacy of National Socialism.  Such trials offered important opportunities for people to confront the crimes of the Third Reich and enter into a more critical engagement with their recent past.  This study, though, goes beyond highly-publicised acts of atonement conveyed by leading West German figures and explores instead the extent to which such sentiments were shared by ‘ordinary’ people at the grass roots level of society, drawing upon press reports and opinion poll data, as well as gaining unique access to examples of letters written by members of the public to the courts and public prosecutors.  While war crimes trials were able to resonate far beyond the courtroom, attracting a vast degree of media attention, inspiring a host of cultural and commemorative activities and encouraging more people to speak out and relay their own memories of National Socialism, I contend that linear narratives of ever-greater engagement over time are too simplistic.  Indeed, there remained a popular desire, as characterised by ongoing debates over the Statute of Limitations, to actually draw a final line under the whole Nazi era.  Earlier post-war evasions and distortions persisted, with continuing tendencies to attribute Nazi atrocities to a radical sadistic few - distinct from the rest of the West German population - and to place a greater emphasis on German suffering rather than on the fate of Jews, Poles and other groups.  Similarly, I demonstrate how generational responses were rather more complex than has been traditionally allowed, and highlight, through a series of regional case studies, how varying local political traditions also affected the ways in which people viewed the recent past.

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Published date: 2006

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Local EPrints ID: 466146
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/466146
PURE UUID: b0f2efe3-8f41-4e98-968b-fae121b896f9

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Date deposited: 05 Jul 2022 04:30
Last modified: 23 Jul 2022 01:15

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Author: Caroline Louise Sharples

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