"It is only through debate about our past that we can map out our future in a responsible way," Federal Crime Office (BKA) chief Jörg Ziercke said in a speech on Wednesday, Oct 31, at the outfit's second symposium examining the Nazi history of its founding leadership.
A total of three colloquia focusing on the role of ex-Nazi police officers who founded the BKA in 1951 and made up the core of its leadership into the 1970s, was launched by the BKA in the summer. The agency has opened its archives to an inter-disciplinary team of renowned researchers.
The founding core of the BKA included some 48 members of the Nazi security forces known as the Reichskriminalpolizei, or Kripo. They became part of a new Criminal Police Force in the postwar British Occupied Zone, which later evolved into the BKA. According to Ziercke, of the 48, 33 had been SS leaders.
At the end of the 1950s, nearly all of the BKA leadership positions were still filled with ex-Nazis or SS leaders. According to Ziercke, the police organization was rife with cliques and internal connections leading back to the Nazi era that helped with re-commissioning.
The BKA's investigation aims to examine the question of whether the Nazis' notions on crime fighting were carried on after the war.
For a long time, the organization denied its Nazi past. When it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, the Nazi era was hardly mentioned. In December, the interior ministry told a parliamentary query on the topic: "The BKA does not have a National Socialist past."
But then came the publication of a book by a former BKA employee Dieter Schenk. Titled "The Brown Roots of the BKA," the book argues that the organization had been founded by active Nazis.
Whether the BKA founders were Nazis or merely careerists is something discussed in the Schenk book as well as the current colloquia. More important, according to Schenk, is his belief that the political leanings of the BKA founders can still be felt in its policy, "in the half-heartedness with which it has fought against the radical right, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant" elements in the country.
Late, but not too late
While politicians in post-war Germany assumed responsibility for Nazi crimes early on, other pillars of German society have been slower to confront their past.
In recent years, German businesses which spent decades rebuilding the country have been increasingly willing to delve into their histories, with companies such as publishing giant Bertelsmann and Dresdner Bank finally coming clean on their roles in the Third Reich.
Following in the footsteps of the Foreign Ministry, which established a five-man panel of historians to examine its Nazi record in 2005, the BKA has now admitted to whitewashing on an institutional level.
But at Wednesday's symposium, Ziercke told an audience of academics and former and current members of the BKA that the study was not an attempt to bury Germany's past.
"No line can be drawn under the Nazis' genocide, for which the police forces of the time were partly responsible. And no line should be drawn under it," he said.
During World War II, the German police played a prominent role in the deportation of Jews and the execution of between 150,000 and 200,000 people in countries occupied by the Nazis.
"Most of the former policemen of the Nazi era managed to find a job with the police until the end of the 1950s," Ziercke said.
"Former members of the Nazi party and former SS were able to pursue a career, including within the BKA."
According to the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, writer Ralph Giordano described Wednesday's symposium as a quantum leap in Germany's coming to terms with its past.
"(The country) would have developed along different lines, had this taken place earlier," he said. "It is not too late, but it is certainly very late."