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A.D. Moses

In 1999, Germans celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic. Unlike the fiftieth anniversary of other events in the recent national past—the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the anti-Jewish pogrom of November 1938, and the unconditional surrender in 1945—this is not an awkward occasion for the country’s elites. On the contrary, the Federal Republic is indisputably Germany’s most successful state, and its record of stability and prosperity compares favorably with that of two prominent neighbors, France and Italy. This anniversary gives us pause to pose the basic questions about West Germany. How was it possible to construct an enduring democracy for a population that, exceptions notwithstanding, had enthusiastically supported Hitler and waged world war to the bitter end?