Once former Nazis had been removed from public life and to a certain extent from private enterprises, a paradoxical situation arose. In a sense the party had been reconstituted by creating a large group of ‘ex-Nazis’, which in the U.S. Zone alone would have numbered over 3,500,000 persons. They would have been tagged and labelled and largely excluded from civic life and professional activity. This large group, together with their families, relatives and friends, would have become a body of ‘second-class citizens’ within the state and a constant source of discontent and unrest.
In order to avoid this danger, insofar as it could be done without raising the specter of revived Nazism, and recognizing that not all ex-members of the party and its affiliates were equally guilty of the crimes of Nazism, it was decided in the U.S. Zone to proceed with the next phase of the program. Military Government had undertaken the task of stating who had been Nazis within the framework of Directive 24; it was to be the responsibility of the German authorities to decide to what extent each person had been an active Nazi and to what sanctions he should be subject under law, or whether he should be exonerated. To this end the German ‘Law for Liberation from National Socialism and Militarism’, drafted under the auspices of Military Government, was promulgated in March 1946 by the several states of the U.S. Zone. Though direct responsibility was transferred to the Germans under the terms of the law, Military Government actively supervised its enforcement until August 1948. All political parties then in existence supported this law.
The general principles of this law were stated to be as follows:
‘(1) To liberate our people from National Socialism and Militarism, and to secure a lasting base for German democratic national life in peace with the world, all those who have actively supported the National Socialist tyranny, or are guilty of having violated the principles of justice and humanity, or of having selfishly exploited the conditions thus created, shall be excluded from influence in public, economic and cultural life and shall be bound to make reparations.
(2) Everyone who is responsible shall be called to account. At the same time he shall be afforded opportunity to vindicate himself.’