During the decade between the collapse of the Nazi Empire and the end of Allied occupation of West Germany, a wide variety of individuals and groups in all four occupation zones began processes of reconciliation between Germans and their wartime enemies and victims. This dissertation studies those early steps toward reconciliation and compares and contrasts developments in the western zones of occupation, eventually the Federal Republic of Germany, and the eastern zone/German Democratic Republic. In many ways, interactions between the Allies and Germans in the first year of occupation supported reconciliatory efforts. However, Allied-German relations proceeded with a mandated distance between the two groups and through legal impositions on the German people. A different approach was needed in order to achieve the peaceful integration of Germany into international affairs. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – international and German – provided such an alternative. Rather than addressing exclusively the statist concerns that drove Allied policies, NGOs prioritized attempts at reconciliation between individuals and communities, provided a crucial link between Germans and the outside world, and fostered dialogue in ways that governments and military personnel did not.
After the collapse of the Third Reich, most Germans were unwilling to engage critically with the recent past. Still, the conditions of Allied occupation and demands of the international community led Germans to acknowledge, however reluctantly, the crimes of the Nazi era. In all parts of occupied Germany, NGOs – aided by a disparate array of individuals – played a key role in shaping public memory of the past. In western Germany, Germans engaged in discussions and negotiations that acknowledged Nazi crimes and recognized victims of Nazism. Discourses created in eastern Germany also acknowledged Nazi crimes but did not admit that Germans in the Soviet zone/German Democratic Republic bore any responsibility for them. In general, the motives of people involved in initiating dialogue between former enemies and between perpetrators and their victims mattered less than actions and their repercussions. As the increasing divergence after 1947 between the situation in western and eastern Germany indicates, however, Allied support was necessary, if not sufficient, for any productive efforts at reconciliation.