Module K: Denazification, Trials of Nazi Criminals and the Continuity of Police Work after 1945

Andreas Strippel


Target groups
Police officers in training or further education and information disseminators from police academies.


Themes and goals
Soon after the Second World War, the victorious Allied powers became concerned with Germany’s future, and in the years between 1945 and 1948, they took many steps to denazify and democratise the occupied country. Then, after the two German states were founded, the democratisation became their responsibility. In West Germany, this process was characterised by the integration of former Nazi state elites and functionaries into post-war society – something that also applied to police criminal investigators and constables.
After the end of the Nazi regime, the myth began to spread within the police that police officers had acted according to the law during that time and that they had merely been non-political experts who only followed orders. The actions of the police under the Nazis were thus both legitimised and played down. Through the journalistic writings of a few former police officers, this self-exoneration became part of public opinion as well. Some of the most prominent examples were the police criminal investigators Walter Zirpins and Bernhard Wehner, who wrote for the SPIEGEL and were backed by two members of the magazine’s editorial board, Horst Mahnke and Georg Wolff, who were former officers of the Security Service of the SS (Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführer-SS). In the 1950s, the myth that the police criminal investigators had been bound to the rule of law during the Nazi regime not only had the effect of self-exoneration, but the police criminal investigators also strove to act in strict accordance with the law and the legally defined separation of powers.


This module has two goals. First, we address how the police’s involvement in Nazi crimes has been dealt with in court. The second goal is to establish what has or has not changed in terms of police personnel and ideas under the structural conditions of democracy.
Using selected examples as a starting point, participants learn about the continuity of personnel in the police criminal investigation departments and how certain structures and ideas have not changed in West Germany. We also demonstrate what conclusions were drawn from the Nazi crimes and how these crimes were treated by the judiciary.