June 26, 1945 is a day that will never be forgotten in the founding history of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
Exactly 70 years ago, the 35 party signatories stood in the ruins of the capital and declared what many would continue to deny for a long time: after 12 years of National Socialist rule, Germany had ceased to be a civilized nation.
“We are about to inherit a terrible legacy – the wreckage of our moral values and material assets,” the so-called “Berlin Appeal” said. It was clear to the signatories that the Nazi regime had followed a scorched earth policy from both a material and an intellectual viewpoint. “There is significant guilt in large parts of our populace, who were only too willing to stoop to act as Hitler’s henchmen and helpers.”
This unsparing analysis was so far ahead of its time that it was quickly forgotten. After the war ended, the people who had been so eager to follow the Führer’s orders seemed to have been transformed as if by a miracle into a community of Hitler opponents. Suddenly, many people were claiming to have resisted the regime – even if it was only through forbidden purchases and sales on the black market.
The debate over the Nazi era was soon pushed into the background in the face of widespread hardship and the urgent need for redevelopment. “We won’t make the slightest progress in Europe if we’re constantly looking back at the past,” said Wilhelm Zangen, the former head of the Reich Industry Group and by then director general of German steel company Mannesmannröhren-Werke, in January 1948, summing up the prevailing opinion in West Germany at the time.
The collective hushing up of things everyone was aware of, or at least suspected – the prohibition of trade unions and political parties other than the National Socialists, the construction of concentration camps, racial laws, pogroms against Jews, the unleashing of World War II, genocides in the extermination camps – must have left many founding members of the CDU deeply depressed.
Wherever Christian party groups sprang up spontaneously and independently of each other in post-war Germany, they had one thing in common: one in two of the original Christian Democrats had actually opposed Hitler or had been a member of resistance groups. That’s an impressive figure given the symbiotic relationship between Hitler and his people.