Hitler and the Nazi party came to power in 1933 by 1939 they had begun their quest to invade and rule all of Europe. During this time, unknown to the rest of Europe Hitler and the Nazis were also implementing their “final solution” which was the systematic execution of Jews and any others that they deemed not suitable to exist in the ideal society that Hitler had been selling to the German people through his speeches and propaganda (Kershaw, 2008, pgs. 36-43).
Once the Allied forces defeated the Nazi forces and Hitler escaped his judicial fate by committing suicide. There were still many questions about the past and the future of Germany. Many people still wonder how the German people could have permitted atrocities against 6 million Jewish people along with millions of others to occur. Plenty of sources will argue that while the German people were not friendly towards the Jews and wanted them to be stripped of their rights and removed from the country, they had no idea that the Nazis were executing them. Others argue that this is just an example of willful ignorance, so that the Germans who survived the war would not have to take any accountability for what their actions or inaction permitted.
The Allied forces were not willing to allow their actions to go without consequences. This resulted in the division of Germany into East and West Germany, one side of which was controlled by Communist Russia and the other which was Democratic. This separation would last until 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down and both sides were reunited. It was only after the wall was brought down that the international perspective on Germany began to change. Many people around the world at the time still only associated Germany with the Holocaust, Hitler and World War II. In the last 28 years, the world’s perception of Germany has changed radically. Despite the global acceptance of Germany, there is still the fear that if the lessons of Nazi Germany are not learned that they will be repeated elsewhere. This paper will look that the impact that Hitler had on Germany and modern society.
After the Nazis were defeated in 1945 their ideology became poison to most of the world, even though there are few white supremacists’ groups that hold on to the ideals of Hitler and the Nazis. However, this is mostly due to racism then the neo-Nazis believing in the ideology of Hitler (Tucker, 2010). The governments of many countries have even moved away from anything that had existed in their rule that gave question as to where they stood on issues of racial superiority, national supremacy and eugenics. This was because they did not want to repeat the actions of Hitler and the Germans. However, despite the positive changes that have been made in the last 70 years, there are still a number of countries that are under some form of Fascist rule. These countries are watched by the rest of the world to keep them from overstepping their bounds and taking actions like that of the Nazis. Besides the need for many countries to keep an eye on the activities of other countries to ensure that there is not another chance that a dictator or ideology can rise up and cause another World War or cause a massive genocide of groups of people like that which occurred under Hitler and the Nazis. This does not mean that genocides and ideologies have not continued to be a source of violence and terror since World War II. In many cases the move to act against such people and regimes is quick and definitive as to prevent the past from repeating itself.
There are many ways in which Hitler’s regime changed Germany and the rest of the world since the end of the Second World War. The first and possibly most important is the realization of humanity’s capacity for cruelty that was put on center stage as a result of the Nazis’ atrocities and genocide being revealed to the public. This revealed to humankind the capacity for evil that exists under the veneer of every person, either as someone who would readily commit such acts themselves or who would allow them to occur because they chose to justify such cruelty or just do not care because it is not affecting them.
Another way that Hitler changed the course of the modern society was that he invaded Poland. This was important because it was the beginning of Europe’s international control collapsing. By the 1960’s the Empires of Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands had collapsed (Friedman, 2015). These collapses were perpetrated by the fact that many of these countries had suffered great financial losses as a result of both World Wars. They also had outstanding debts that they had to pay to the United States for materials the US had sent them for the war effort and for the monies that Europe borrowed for rebuilding. The former European Empires had generally lost interest in controlling the rest of the world and sought to focus on their individual countries. This was in part because these countries saw the affect that Hitler’s need for absolute power had on Europe both in the number of dead, as a result of the war and Holocaust and the material destruction that Europe had to rebuild from. Europe had become more cautious and somber then before. The end of the war also changed the perspective of the European people. The people were no longer as interested in philosophies and elitism as they were in just living ordinary, mundane lives.
The debts that many European countries owed the United States as a result of the war and the rebuilding efforts that took place after the war helped to establish the United States as one of the world’s superpowers, alongside the Soviet Union. The rise of the United States has had a undeniable effect on the course of history. The strongest being the rise of democratic governments like its own and the rise of Capitalistic societies. The reason that the United States was able to have such as great influence was not just because of money, but because while Europe was withdrawing away from the global stage, America was in the midst of everything that was going on. This ranged from conflicts to technology, which gave the United States an advantage until recently when many countries, especially in Asia began to surpass them.
The country that was most effected by Hitler and the Nazis was Germany. Not only had the German people elected Hitler as Chancellor, they had readily supported his actions against the Jews. However, for most of the Germans, these actions did not include mass genocide. Nonetheless, by the end of the war there were over sixty million people dead because of the actions or inaction of the German people. About forty million of those who were dead were civilians of which 12 million were Jews, Catholics, Homosexuals, Gypsies and the handicapped among others who the Nazis felt were inferior. As a result of the war the German people would spend many years being outcasts in Europe. This would begin to change after the Berlin Wall was torn down. However, the guilt that the Germans have over their actions and the suffering that was inflicted on millions of people still pervades the minds of the German people.
This suffering was first felt by the German people themselves as over 12 million of them had become refugees because of the war. When the men and women returned from captivity or imprisonment, it was discovered that many of the women had been raped and people and families had been torn apart by the war and the actions of the Nazi (Wachsmann, 2004, pgs. 2-5) Many Germans did not want to deal with what had happened and chose to focus on their present, while many others decided to soothe their guilt by denying that the Holocaust had ever happened ("What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015). This was shown in a poll that was conducted in 1950 which indicated that nearly half of the people living in West Germany thought that if not for the war Hitler would have been considered “one of the greatest German statesmen” (Sandkühler, 2015 quoted in "What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015). This perspective started to change in the 1960’s when several Nazi war criminals were brought to trial for their crimes in relation to the Holocaust Elster, n.d pg. 235). This split many families because many of the older generation were still in denial that the Holocaust had taken place and their children saw them as being weak and complacent in having allowed the Nazis to take power and the deaths of millions of people (Sontheimer, 2005). The older generation responded by creating sterile accounts of what had happened to them and their families during the war, this was identified as “the inability to grieve” (Mitscherlich & Mitscherlich, 1975, p. 27). The people living on both sides of Germany would have their own versions of events. East Germany would create the narrative that they had fought against the rule of the Nazi fascists, while West Germany worked to apologize for the actions of its people by becoming a post-national, pacifist society, who worked to become identified a positive Europeans, rather than good Germans ("What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015).
The unwillingness of the German people to deal with their past began to change in the 1970’s as the people began wanting to gain more knowledge about Hitler himself and the Nazi regime. By the 1990’s Hitler had become a satirized figure in German culture. This is primarily because many of the people who are engaging in the comics, TV shows or books that portray Hitler in a comedic light do not have personal recollections of the country under his rule, or the Second World War and the Holocaust. Therefore, they have been able to detach themselves from these horrors ("What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015). This however does not mean that the Germans forgot their past, instead they choose to lessen the hold that Hitler and the Nazis have on them as people, while strengthening the role that they have given themselves in the international community. The role that they have given themselves in regards to the international community is the role of pacifist and protector of Israel. The German government seeks to act for the right of the countries involved in a conflict and adheres to the rules that had been set forth by the predecessors of the governments ("What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015). This passivity and sense of fairness exists even on the domestic front as the country has prisons that are similar to hotels, a police force that deals with criminals and suspected criminals in a way that would be considered too polite and weak by the standard of many in the United States, and the country is also one of the most welcoming in regards to refugees ("What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist," 2015).
The immediate effect on Germany as a country was felt when the country was divided into East and West Germany after the Conferences at Potsdam and Yalta in 1945. The Allied Powers divided Germany into four zones. Each zone was controlled by either the US, France, Great Britain or the Soviet Union. Each zone was also divided into four zones. In 1949 East Germany which was controlled by the Soviet Union became known as the German Democratic Republic and West Germany which was based on American democracy was known as the Federal Republic of Germany. The wall in Berlin dividing the country would later be built in 1961 further separating the country.
In conclusion after World War II ended the Germans along with the rest of the world was in shock at the what had occurred as a result of the war, sixty million people were dead as a result and the true cruelty of Hitler’s regime had been revealed when the concentration camps had been discovered and thousands of people were released and countless bodies were discovered in mass graves or inside gas chambers. This along with the horrors that many Germans faced under Hitler’s regime caused them to want to forget about the horrors that they faced and to move on with their present. As for the rest of Europe, many of the countries which had once controlled vast Empires no longer had the finances or energy to do so. Therefore, these countries offered little resistance as the countries under their control began to seek their freedom and their empires began to collapse. The loss of these Empires had a resounding effect as countries like Great Britain, France and the Netherlands fell from being dominant powers on the global stage to barely being participants. Nevertheless, this permitted both the United States and the Soviet Union to rise as the world’s dominant superpowers until the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1990’s
Elster, J. (n.d.). Retribution. Retribution and Reparation in the Transition to Democracy, 33-56. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511584343.005
Friedman, G. (2015, September 2). Hitler's Lasting Effect on Europe And America. Forbes.
Kershaw, I. (2008). Hitler, the Germans, and the final solution.
Mitscherlich, A., & Mitscherlich, M. (1975). The inability to mourn: Principles of collective behavior.
Ripper, K., & Davis, M. (2015, May 5). How World War II shaped modern Germany | Euronews. Retrieved from http://www.euronews.com/2015/05/05/how-world-war-ii-shaped-modern-germany
Sandkühler, T. (2015). Adolf H: Lebensweg eines Diktators. München: Hanser.
Sontheimer, M. (2005, March 10). Germany's Nazi Past: Why Germans Can Never Escape Hitler's Shadow. Spiegel Online.
Tucker, D. R. (2010). How Hitler's and Stalin's views of conflict and war impact today's world (Doctoral dissertation).
Wachsmann, N. (2004). Hitler's prisons: Legal terror in Nazi Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press.
What the Führer means for Germans today | The Economist. (2015, December 19). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21683971-seventy-years-after-adolf-hitlers-death-how-germans-see-him-changing-what