What were the lasting effects that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party had on Germany's political system after World War II?

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Germany emerged from the aftermath of World War II as a divided country. It was partitioned between West Germany (which became a capitalist democracy) and the Soviet backed East Germany (which became a one party communist state). Furthermore, Berlin was also divided, even though it was located deep within East German territory. With this in mind, when discussing post-war Germany, it is important to simultaneously look in two directions: both backwards towards the history of Nazi aggression and atrocity but also forwards towards the politics of the Cold War, marked by the political rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union.

Note also that Germany itself became a point of contention between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of World War II, Stalin wished for the dismantling of Germany as a military and economic power to ensure the Soviet Union's own security, but in the shifting political climate of the early Cold War, the United States instead determined to use Germany as a counterweight against the Soviets. Thus, the United States invested heavily in West Germany, rebuilding its economy and infrastructure.

That being said, denazification was certainly a key theme in German politics. Influenced by the turmoil experienced under the Weimar Republic, and done with the intention of sidelining fringe parties from the political process (and thus ensuring greater political stability), the new West German constitution created a minimal electoral threshold of 5 per-cent for any political party to receive a Parliamentary seat (John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe (3rd Ed.), p. 1130). Meanwhile, the memory of Nazi attrocities would loom large within the German consciousness long after the end of the Second World War, serving as a source of collective guilt and shame (both on a national and individual level).

At the same time, however, there were very real limitations and ambiguities within the history of denazification. These ambiguities prove especially striking in the immediate post-war era. As historian John Merriman states:

In West Germany, the Allied program of "de-Nazification," intended to remove all former Nazis from positions of power and influence, overall had relatively little impact. It proved impossible to purge millions of people from government, industry, and education. The Allies concluded that Germany could not do without tens of thousands of experienced doctors, teachers, and engineers. Moreover, it would be difficult to distinguish between different degrees of Nazi commitment and action (A History of Modern Europe, p. 1131)

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