A lost war is a heavy burden. Some added up to 10 additional years as prisoners of war in Siberia. Many died in the camps, others died after returning home when they ate their first big meal in many years. Others discovered that his wife had either remarried or committed suicide. Those who survived were not recognized for what they had done, but neither were they scorned.
Having returned from the war, the former soldiers worked extremely hard, very disciplined. Which also seemed to have distracted them from their experiences during the war. The country prospered, and omertà, not to mention Naziism, was common sense until the late 1960s. The early years of the Federal Republic were very conservative. It seemed that everyone had done something wrong and he preferred not to talk too much about the war, knowing that the real brutal boys would get away with it at that point. When they met, they discussed how they could have won World War II: “If I had been in charge on the Ostfront, I would have taken all the Panzers together and hit the “Iwan” in the north, where they least expected it… “
Also, their recipes were surprisingly similar: push harder, focus more, ignore casualties, and produce more “Wunderwaffen”. Some considered Hitler a visionary man, who lost World War II because “too many dogs are the death of rabbits.” Most of them were farmers. They made a little extra money chopping wood in the winter. And while they sat by the fireplace to warm themselves, they sang Russian songs. Stockholm syndrome?
Normal soldiers were in better shape than former victims of the Nazis, or people who had been forced into exile. Among the survivors, they were the most frustrated. Never recognized, if not despised for leaving the country in wartime, they had to see some Nazis succeed and no one cared. Many intellectuals preferred not to return to Germany in the 1950s and early 1960s. 1968, the time of the student revolt, was a turning point:
The younger generations asked questions about the past. The country changed a lot as a result.
I had contact with many ex-Nazis.
Only some of those I have met showed attitudes and feelings as expected, that is, a mixture of guilt, anger and some type of abuse. These “soft guys” seemed to have finished the war lucky to get out alive. Nazi times were not good times for them. They didn’t want to be reminded of that. They would slip out in some bonhomie gesture: “It’s a good thing this is over, my boy.”
Most of them pleaded “not guilty” when questioned. They said, “I had to follow orders and we had an oath…” They wouldn’t talk much about the situation.
You could identify the few “hardliners” by the way they walked down the street. They walked faster, more committed. Fixing everything with his eyes. They really were different. They handled democracy and everything that goes with it with irony. They smiled and wore their cap at a certain angle, as you can see in the photos of the Wehrmacht daredevils: a strange mixture of courage and stubbornness, as well as standing up when necessary. I guess they promised their wives they wouldn’t talk too much. But sometimes they did. They still wore the uniform of the Führers inside and considered one man in total command to be the most effective way to lead a country. They often resembled each other in organizations such as firefighters, whose uniforms were uncannily close to the Wehrmacht.
Nazi firefighter uniforms (Pinterest). I remember firefighters wearing parts of this uniform. Although slightly different than this photo, the shape of the helmets was exactly the shape of the Nazi helmets in black.
And what about his attitude towards Nazism?
Once again, the vast majority did not want the Nazis to return or go to war. But deep in their hearts, many still felt sorry for Hitler, as can be seen in phrases like “Under Adolf, this would not have happened,” for example, when discussing how to deal with unemployment or how to make lazy hippies from the ’60s and ’70s hit the ground running. I remember some bad arguments with the younger generation, often ending in shouts “Wenn’s euch nicht passt, geht doch rüber!” (“If you don’t like it here, move to East Germany!”). In the end, the Nazi soldiers were confronted with the past by their grandchildren, but only in part. Too many got away with it. Many of us didn’t really know what exactly our grandparents did,