After the Nazis, by Michael H. Kater

Jackson van Uden

A highly accessible and enjoyable read on West Germany's cultural achievements post war.
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Michael H. Kater’s After The Nazis is a tremendous study into life and culture in West Germany after World War II up until German Reunification. Throughout the book, Kater sheds light on a side of West Germany’s history that is often overshadowed by its geopolitical history during the Cold War, the history of Germany across the two World Wars, and the history of its repressive, shadowy, totalitarian East German neighbour state the German Democratic Republic.

Kater addresses West Germany’s cultural development across the decades after World War II, touching on music, radio, TV, theatre, art and print media. The impact of the Allied culture on West Germany, especially the USA through troops stationed in the FRG, is highlighted particularly with jazz music’s rise in popularity, and the prominence of American cinema. However, one of the most interesting aspects that Kater details in his book is West Germany’s grappling with its past. It’s a common misconception that West Germany and West Germans readily put their hands up and accepted the blame and acknowledged the evil of Nazi Germany’s actions before and during World War II. Kater addresses this misconception and tackles it head-on by outlining the difficulties faced by all sectors of personal, social, economic and professional life in West Germany with coming to terms with the violence and repression of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, World War II, and rampant antisemitism. One of the major and most fascinating examples that Kater brings to us of West Germany battling with these scars and the moral implications of denazification was the appointment of many former Nazi Party Members to administrative positions, with two of the most high-profile examples being Theodor Oberländer, and Hans Globke when they were appointed to important Government posts.

Not only is the history that is explored in After The Nazis riveting it is made even more fascinating and engaging by it being intertwined with Kater’s personal life and experiences of West Germany in the Post-War and Cold War periods. This primary and first-hand knowledge and experience truly gives depth to the themes that Kater discusses and there is not only a knowledge of events, people and topics but a deep intimate, innate understanding of the Post-War and Cold War West German psyche that only a first-hand source can have which shines through in every chapter. This is clearly on show in Kater’s third chapter, ‘A Clash of Generations’ where he drops in anecdotes about his personal and academic life in West Germany that explore and detail the deeper level changes in culture in West Germany, such as Professors being found to have been former Nazis, and the changing tastes and developments in music. Kater’s interest and skills as a musician and music historian bring a fascinating and almost unique use of musicology to this detailed historical study of culture in West Germany as the development and rise of different types of music, from classical music to Jazz, are examined, analysed and explained.

While this book might appear highly academic, it is instead a highly accessible and enjoyable read that maintains an incredibly high standard of academic rigour that we are accustomed to from any books from Kater and Yale University Press. After The Nazis, Kater’s latest offering on German history, flows and renders readers unable to put it down and instead leads us to devour page after page, chapter and chapter in a single sitting. After The Nazis is a perfect read for any history lover, casual or academic, and serves as the perfect companion for those seeking to learn and develop their knowledge of West Germany’s cultural history, and the cultural implications of Nazism.

After The Nazis: The Story of Culture in West Germany by Michael H. Kater is published by Yale University Press.