After the Nazis: The Story of Culture in West Germany

Yale Univ. Sept. 2023. 512p. ISBN 9780300259247. $35. HIST
Beginning in 1933, the Nazis dominated Germany in every aspect of society. After their defeat in 1945, West Germany had to reckon with that dominance. Kater (emeritus, history, York Univ., Toronto; Culture in Nazi Germany) successfully argues that West Germany’s development and denazification was due to an intentional effort linking politics and culture. That begins with the Allies setting up new cultural producers in arts and entertainment and attempting to oust Nazi hardliners, followed by decades of governmental and artistic efforts to negotiate the past and advance democracy. Kater’s bookprovides excellent political and economic context, decade by decade, alongside personal vignettes and reflections (he grew up in West Germany in the 1950s) that offer insight. Yet the book’s title could be considered misleading; even today, the Nazis have so thoroughly permeated German culture that the battle over their legacy continues, with conservatives either downplaying their crimes or focusing on so-called “positive history” by eliding their existence, while progressives demand full accounting, reconciliation, and reparations.
VERDICT Kater’s book will appeal to social-history readers and to those interested in how societies grapple with historical atrocities.
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