World War II can be considered as one of the darkest chapters in human history. The scale of death, suffering, and destruction caused by the war is astounding and almost beyond comprehension. But like many dark chapters in history, it too came to an end after six years of bitter fighting across the globe. History shows that Nazi Germany was defeated through the combined effort of the Allied forces made up of France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States along with their allies. While the death and downfall of Hitler and the subsequent fall of the Nazi Party signaled the end of the Second World War in the European theater, it did not end there. It is true that the Nazi Party was abolished immediately after the war. But that does not necessarily mean that the Nazis themselves—the very people who made up the party—simply disappeared. What happened to the Nazis, or rather the people who made up the Nazi Party? What events in the postwar years determined their fate? This research paper attempts to provide a succinct picture of the fall of the Nazis by looking at the events that transpired in the years following the war. As history shows, the end of the war resulted in the exposure of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity as well as the trial and punishment of criminals.
The fall of the Nazi Party inevitably resulted in the exposure of their crimes against humanity. As Allied forces recaptured country after country and territory after territory, they were confronted by extreme atrocities that not only went against rules of war but violated every conceivable human right. It is important to note that the root causes of World War II are many and complex, but it is well known that racism was among them. Germany believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race. To Nazis, other racial and ethnic groups were inferior and were therefore either to be turned into laborers, expelled, or exterminated (Davies 167). The Nuremberg Laws, for instance, severely curtailed the rights and freedoms of the Jews as early as 1935 (“The Nuremberg Race Laws”). The discoveries made by the Allies showed that the Nazis committed nothing less than an orchestrated genocide.
The horrors of the death camps became apparent to the Allied forces as soon as they arrived in these camps. Most soldiers felt as if most, if not all, their senses were overwhelmed. The horrible sight was beyond description: the sound of people moaning in pain and on the brink of death; others overcome with hysterics, unable to comprehend that freedom had finally arrived. There were piles upon piles of dead bodies left to rot, many of them half-buried. Troops found gas chambers and crematoriums especially designed to kill as many humans as possible and dispose of them in an almost industrial scale. The survivors were barely alive. Starvation and disease became the new enemies, and in the first few months after liberation many succumbed to the ravages brought by years of deprivation. Survivors like Elie Wiesel and soldiers who made the discoveries would eventually provide harrowing descriptions of these crimes committed by the Nazis (Wiesel; Hirsh). The populations the Nazis attempted to exterminate, however, went beyond the Jews. Findings revealed that substantial groups also comprised the other victims of Nazi Germany, among which were millions of Slavs and Poles and thousands upon thousands of Romani, people with disabilities, and homosexuals among others.
On account of the exposure of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity following the war, members of the Nazi Party were made to face consequences. The years following the war was marked by the prosecution of numerous Nazis. Chief among these prosecutions were the Nuremberg Trials, where high-ranking officials and military leaders were tried for their crimes. The International Military Tribunal was established in August 1945 in Nuremberg, which was later followed by other similar tribunals in other regions. Set up by the Allied forces, the accused were prosecuted for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. The first set of trials oversaw the prosecution of 24 major Nazi officials including Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goring, and Wilhelm Kietel among others. The initial trials were followed by many others. In total, the Nuremberg Trials prosecuted 199 defendants (“Nuremberg Trials”).
Not every member of the Nazi party, however, was caught. But war crimes do not fall under a statute of limitations. This means war criminals can still be persecuted to this day. The hunt for the Nazis who escaped still stands today. Many of them lived anonymous lives in and out of Europe, and a number of them were tracked for conviction. One such famous case was Adolf Eichmann. Having escaped Austria in 1946, Eichmann was captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to Israel to be tried. Eichmann was a key figure of the Final Solution, as he orchestrated the deportation of Jews from all over Europe to death camps in Poland. He was convicted and executed in 1962, for crimes against the Jews and a war founded on racism (Arendt).
Apart from the exposure of the Nazis’ crimes and the subsequent trials of the Nazi Party’s leaders, Germany also underwent a period of denazification, which involved the systematic process of ridding the country of Nazism. Thousands of lesser known Nazi criminals were also tried. Though the efforts to end Nazism have been largely successful, it is important to note that some groups that espouse Nazi ideology remain. For instance, there were neo-Nazis in modern eastern Germany during the postwar era. There are also still pockets of neo-Nazis today in Germany as well as in other parts of the world including the United States. To this day, Nazis are still being tracked down. However, many of them are believed to have succumbed to old age, as with many Holocaust survivors. While the generation that brought about and endured the horrors humans are capable of, their story lives on as a warning—too much of hate, violence, prejudice, and racism can once again lead society to the darkest of times.
Davies, Norman. Europe at War: 1939-1945: No Simple Victory. London, Pan Books Ltd, 2007.
Hirsh, Michael. The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust. New York, Bantam Books, 2010.
“Nuremberg Trials.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-nuremberg-trials. Accessed 23 January 2021.
“The Nuremberg Race Laws.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-nuremberg-race-laws. Accessed 23 January 2021.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York, Hill and Wang, 2006.