Useful Nazis? The rehabilitation of fascists is happening again
The rehabilitation of fascists is an aspect of the Ukraine war that receives scant attention in the corporate media. Top left: Supporters of the Azov Regiment wear shirts with the pictures of their fascist group who were captured in Mariupol last summer. Center left: People walk past a swastika painted on the wall of a glass gallery near the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, in Dec. 2013, in a prelude to the Maidan coup. Bottom left: Azov Battalion members offer a fascist salute at the funeral of a fallen fighter last July. Right: Thousands of Azov soldiers attend a torchlight ceremony in memory of their dead during the Ukraine war, Dec. 22, 2022. | AP photos

In April 1945, the Soviet Army invaded Berlin, the then-capital of Nazi Germany. After weeks of battle, the German government surrendered, and Germany was divided into four occupation zones, (American, British, French, and Soviet). In the Soviet Zone, which was situated in eastern Germany, a program of “de-Nazification” immediately began. Members of Hitler’s Nazi Party were arrested and barred from serving in government, from working as teachers, and occupying other positions of authority.

In the combined “Western” zones of occupation, where a focus on anti-communism was becoming the norm, de-Nazification took a back seat. Many former Nazi military leaders, government officials, and scientists were welcomed back into positions of power with open arms, as long as they were able to help fight against communism.

The CIA’s “Operation Paperclip” saw U.S. intelligence and its allies take hundreds of Nazi scientists back to the United States to work on weapons research and development and the budding space program. Arguably the most infamous of these scientists was Wernher Von Braun, a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, who helped develop rockets for Hitler, was brought to the U.S., where he designed missiles for the U.S. military and worked for NASA.

The anti-communist allies that occupied western Germany didn’t only embrace Nazi scientists. Many former high-ranking officers from the Nazi military were brought back to head up the development of a new armed force in postwar Germany. Adolf Heusinger, a leading general in Hitler’s military, eventually became Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Hans Speidel, another high-ranking German general during WWII, was the first four-star general in the reconstituted army of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

The policy of accepting Nazis into positions of authority was justified by fierce anti-communist propaganda. In fact, some in the U.S. and British leadership didn’t want to de-Nazify Germany at all. General George S. Patton was famous for wanting to ally with the defeated Nazis and invade the Soviet Union after the war. So strong was the hatred of communists and so real was the fear that capitalism might be replaced worldwide with socialism that the leaders of the U.S. and allied capitalist governments were happy to work with the perpetrators of the most mechanized genocide in human history.

Fast forward to today and it’s clear that the world is witnessing a new round of “Nazi rehabilitation.” While previously such rehabilitation was fueled by fears of the defeat of capitalism, this time the fear is that the U.S. will lose its position as world hegemon.

The current round of Nazi rehabilitation began with the Azov Battalion and other Ukrainian fascist groups who are currently filling the role of foot soldiers in the United States’ proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

Just a few years ago, the Azov Battalion was considered by the FBI to be the center of the international neo-Nazi movement, because right-wing extremists from around the world would travel to Ukraine to get military training from the group.

The mainstream corporate U.S. media regularly featured stories about the fascist ideology and brutal military tactics of Azov and allied groups. In 2019, for instance, Time magazine did a major feature on the “white supremacist militias” active in Ukraine. Even in the first few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, NBC News was still saying “Ukraine’s Nazi problem is real.”

However, once Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, with Vladimir Putin saying that U.S.-led NATO expansion threatened Russian security, the Azov Battalion was suddenly recast as heroic resistance fighters, much like Braun and Heusinger over half-a-century ago.

On March 16, 2023, many in Latvia—a NATO and EU member state—celebrated the memory of those Latvians that joined in to fight alongside the Nazis during WWII and joined the foreign division of the SS. These “heroes” helped exterminate Jews, Roma, the disabled, gay people, communists, and the others who were on Hitler’s hitlist. These accomplices to genocide are today being commemorated as national patriots.

There are similar trends in other eastern European countries.

In Poland, there are laws that silence anyone who speaks about the large number of Polish people who collaborated with the occupying Nazi regime between 1939-45. The so-called “Holocaust Law” penalizes anyone who publicly speaks or publishes any written document that mentions any of the well-established historical evidence that many Polish citizens worked with the Nazis during WWII.

When this law was first passed in 2018, the Israeli government protested it, leading to a diplomatic rift between the two countries. However, since Israel recently began its own trend of rehabilitating Nazis and openly welcomed Azov Battalion members into the country, the Netanyahu government accepts the Polish position and will follow the Polish curriculum on future educational trips to Poland for Israeli youth.

Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often rhyme,” and unfortunately we are witnessing that phenomena once again. At the start of the Cold War, Nazis were embraced by the capitalist world in order to aid their confrontation against the USSR and the socialist bloc.

Today, at the start of Cold War 2.0, literal Nazis are once again being welcomed as soldiers for the so-called “liberal” world order to aid in the fight to preserve the United States’ hegemonic power in Europe and beyond.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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Amiad Horowitz
Amiad Horowitz

Amiad Horowitz studied at the Academy of Journalism and Communications at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. His articles have appeared in National Herald India, People's World, TRANSCEND Media Service, The Hitavada (India), Northlines, and The Arabian Post.