Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 26: Can the Germans Be Re-educated? (1945)

All efforts to re-educate the Germans will fall on barren ground unless they call forth response from within the Germans themselves. A realization of this truth and of its implications in practice is the first step to sensible talk about education and re-education. That is why so much attention has been paid to it here.

The question whether the Germans can be re-educated can be answered only by concrete action and by the creation in postwar Germany of the actual conditions in which education is possible. These conditions are easy to describe but hard to accomplish after a war. Basically they involve opportunity for survival, adequate work, and hope for the future. In today’s interdependent world, this requires the cooperation of all nations.

But German re-education requires first of all the cooperation of the Germans themselves. Somewhere deep within themselves the Germans must have a desire to work toward their own salvation, a wish to disinfect themselves of the virus of Nazism. If they do not, then all we build or propose to build, any program we follow, is without foundation.

In such an event we will find ourselves in a vicious circle of perpetual force. To this we certainly do not want to contribute. But neither must we flinch from giving the war criminals their just due. “To re-establish justice we must mete out justice.”

If at times it seems that the Nazis have left no foundations on which to build a decent, self-respecting Germany, we may in these words of a hard-boiled American journalist still find hope that the foundations are there. In Berlin in 1941 William Russell wrote:

“If the United States goes into this war there is one thing I do not want to forget. There are millions of people in Germany who do not agree with the policies of their leaders. And there are other millions, simple people, who believe exactly what their leaders tell them—especially when they tell you the same thing day after day. I do not to be blind with hatred and forget you cannot punish a whole nation as you might punish a single criminal. That was tried once and failed miserably. When it is over try to help them to recover from what they have suffered. Try to remove the causes for the rise of such people as Adolf Hitler. There should be enough intelligence kicking around in the world to accomplish that.”

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