History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published (as Chapter 9) in A Nazi Past: Recasting German Identity in Postwar Europe, edited by David A. Messenger and Katrin Paehler, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015), pp. 225-248.


In his biography of SS Obergruppenführer Werner Best, the German historian Ulrich Herbert coined the phrase Ausgrenzung in den Wohlstand, or "exclusion into prosperity." According to Herbert, "for those excluded from politics and public service, there remained the liberal professions and business, mostly provided by old contacts, some dating from their student days.”1 Yet there are few studies on the postwar professional lives of former high-ranking Nazis and SS officers. Among them are Norbert Frei's edited volume Karrieren im Zwielicht (Careers in the twilight) and a dozen or so biographical studies, such as Herbert's work on Best.2 Former SS officer Karl Nicolussi-Leck and his post-1945 network of "comrades"—business associates and friends—exemplify Herbert's assertion that former Nazis and SS men reinvented themselves after 1945, transforming from political actors into successful "apolitical" businessmen.

Nicolussi-Leck and his circle provide excellent examples of the postwar careers of former midlevel SS officers and Nazi officials, many of whom managed to start new careers in the private sector, especially with big German companies in the Rhine-Ruhr region. This traditional heartland of German industry started to boom again in the 1950s, and with it many careers took off too. Indeed, it is striking how swiftly and easily former SS officers reintegrated into German and Austrian social and economic life. By no means an exception, Nicolussi-Leck's career was a product of the Cold War-era economic and political climate, and as such it is a telling case. It was not until the late 1980s that hard questions about former Nazi officials began to be asked: To what degree were they involved with the crimes of the Hitler regime? Did they bear any legal or moral responsibility for these crimes? What did they do after the war? While researching Nicolussi-Leck's postwar career, I came across a number of similar cases that can only be touched upon here. Given the scarce research on the postwar careers of former Nazis with major German companies, this chapter seeks to raise awareness of this understudied topic and begin to fill in the gap in scholarship.3