Reconstruction and recollection : West German industry and the challenge of the Nazi past, 1945-1955 / by S. Jonathan Wiesen.
This dissertation examines the self-perception and self-presentation of West German businessmen during the ten years following the collapse of National Socialism. Its underlying assertion is that industrialists after World War II were obsessed with the legacy of big business' complicity in the crimes of the Third Reich and that they used public relations to counter a widespread belief that capitalism was thoroughly immoral and destructive. The study begins by focusing on individual firms and their apologetic defenses of wartime behavior, and it traces the theme of historical memory through the late 1940s and early 1950s, when industrialists attempted to remake themselves as social and cultural leaders and to sell this image both at home and abroad. This dissertation demonstrates the extent to which Cold War anxieties defined industrial behavior after World War II. In the 1950s West German industrialists and publicists, with the help of prominent American conservatives, worked together to create an image of the morally conscientious businessmen who could radiate good will, counter collectivism and "massification," and put an end to the class war rhetoric of old. Celebrations of prosperity, free enterprise, and anti-communism pervaded the public discourse in postwar Germany. Europeans and Americans turned the industrialist into a cultural icon, invested with the hope of bringing economic prosperity and international solidarity to a world destabilized by depression and war. The dissertation focuses on a ten year period and various forms of constructed memory--letters, company newsletters, anniversary volumes, legal briefs, published apologies, PR circulars, industrial films--all of which reflect big business' attempt to sell a new public image and to negotiate a moral space for itself in West German society. In their dual role as "Nazi industrialists" and as economic leaders in a postwar democracy, West German businessmen represent an important case study in business ethics and the relationship between the economy and politics, between the business leader and the community, between memory and morality.
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