Interior Minister Schily has rejected allegations that a number of former Nazi party members easily got jobs as civil servants in the postwar West German ministry and has rejected an independent probe.
Schily doesn't see the need for an investigation of his ministry's past
Several German historians say they've found out that more Nazis worked in the postwar administration in West Germany than previously suspected. They point to a new study which claims that about 30 percent of the staff in postwar West German ministries had been members of Hitler's Nazi party.
A law passed in 1951 allowed former Nazi party members to be re-employed by the newly-established West German state. But historians such as Hans-Ullrich Wehler now say the first postwar German government interpreted the new freedoms in an exceptional way.
"At the beginning of the 1950s a strong debate emerged after it became known that there were more Nazi party members in government administration than at the peak of Hitler's power in 1938," he said. "Without any doubt there was a continuation of staff policy at the non-political level in German ministries."
A fresh start?
The new findings published by historian Norbert Frei indicate that in the interior ministry more than 40 percent of the staff in the 1950s may have had a Nazi past. Interior Minister Schily, however, sees no reason to investigate the influence of Nazi ideology on German interior policy at the time. In a recent cabinet meeting he refused to introduce such efforts undertaken by other ministers.
"I see no reason to set up an independent history commission," Schily said. "This would create the impression that there is such a thing as a continuation in staff policy, which I strongly believe is actually non-existent."
In a high-profile case, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer set up such a commission recently after it had become known that the German foreign office readily employed Nazis after the war. They included former Nazi prosecutor Franz Nüsslein, who signed death warrants in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Joschka Fischer and Renate Künast
Consumer Protection and Agriculture Minister Renate Künast has also started a probe to find out how many Nazis were taken on by her ministry in the 1950s. Meanwhile, Schily's refusal to join his colleagues in this effort has caused strong criticism from opposition politicians such as Jürgen Fissinger from the liberal FDP.
Slipped through de-Nazification?
"Quite obviously Interior Minister Otto Schily is seeking to end the debate about Germany's Nazi past once and for all," he said. "This is in stark contrast to the laudable attempts of Joschka Fischer and Renate Künast and is an attitude that shouldn't be allowed to go through."
Historians believe that the interior ministry, in particular, could have a number of skeletons in the closet. Setting up postwar German security agencies, including police and intelligence services, might not have been possible without the participation of former Nazis, they say. In the worst case, members of the Gestapo secret service who had escaped postwar de-Nazification may have been among them.