After the First World War, citizens, soldiers, and political figures alike thought they had witnessed the archetype of human sadism and war brutality. Yet, less than twenty years later, World War II immediately countered this notion. World War II was a transnational conflict that epitomized total war, which directly engaged civilians in the conflict like never before. Typically when we discuss Germany’s involvement in the war, we have visions of Hitler and his high-up officials personally crafting the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews via firing squads, ghettoes, and gas chambers. The post-war landscape furthered this notion through the Nuremberg trials, which sentenced the most evil of the war’s perpetrators on the international stage, and the denazification process by the allied countries, which worked to reteach a “brainwashed” generation of Germans. However, rarely was the role of ordinary soldiers and the people at home a part of the dialogue of German complicity. Through the phases of post-war memorialization, people began to question the roles of themselves, and eventually their ancestors, in various ways. Of course, there are immense differences between the architect of the Final Solution and a Wehrmacht soldier who was drafted into the war; my goal is not to place these people on a ladder of guilt, but to widen the dialogue on the complex role ordinary Germans held during the war.
I will begin by establishing complicity among Wehrmacht soldiers, and then among ordinary people, contrasting beneficiaries and participants in popularized crime with bystanders. I will also argue that as women suffered uniquely during World War II, they also exercised unique complicity. Next, I will take these findings and discuss the memorialization of complicity in order to understand how individuals, the public, and the state framed their respective roles in the war; in order to accomplish this I will first discuss individual remembrance by examining individual interviews and familial interviews in order to gain an understanding of how people perceive their role in the war and also how individual stories can change as generations pass. These interviews include people who were both beneficiaries and bystanders. Then, I will discuss collective remembrance by examining the controversy over public monuments. Ultimately, I will argue that ordinary Germans all held significant levels of complicity that need to be assessed in order to understand the Nazi war effort and political system; additionally, how complicity is remembered greatly and profoundly affects memorialization and our future.