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The German term Mitläufer (plural: Mitläufer) was used after World War II by the denazification hearings in West Germany to refer to people who were not charged with Nazi crimes but whose involvement with the Nazis was considered significant to an extent that they could not be exonerated for the crimes of the Nazi regime.


The German word Mitläufer means literally "with-runner", akin to "lemming-like", a person who gives into peer pressure (this word is for instance used in German to describe a teenager smoking cigarettes to imitate friends). A Mitläufer is one who is not convinced by the ideology of the group they follow—they merely offer no resistance, because of a lack of courage, for instance, or opportunism.

The term is usually translated in English as "fellow traveler" or "hanger-on", but it is not equivalent to either.

Legal definitions[edit]

In the American Sector of Allied-occupied Germany, Mitläufer was the fourth lowest category in the denazification proceedings, between the "lesser incriminated" and the "exonerated". The denazification hearings classified German citizens according to five categories:

  • I. Major Offenders (German: Hauptschuldige)
  • II. Activists, Militants, and Profiteers, or Incriminated Persons (German: Belastete)
  • III. Less incriminated (German: Minderbelastete)
  • IV. Followers, or Fellow Travelers (German: Mitläufer)
  • V. Exonerated, or non-incriminated persons (German: Entlastete)

In Allied-occupied Austria, however, Mitläufer were considered identical to "lesser incriminated".


Of the five categories Mitläufer is the most controversial as it does not relate to any formal Nazi criminal activity, as defined largely ex post facto by the Nuremberg trials, only to a loosely defined indirect support of Nazi crimes.[1] Therefore, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt could say about Herbert von Karajan's Nazi Party membership card: "Karajan was obviously not a Nazi. He was a Mitläufer."[2]

In essence Mitläufer were found de facto guilty of contributing to Nazi crimes, even though they were not ideologically committed to some essential Nazi doctrines, especially biological racism and the policy of Jewish extermination.[3]

The Nazi Mitläufer often were of a slightly different sort: they sympathised with the Nazis but only indirectly participated in Nazi atrocities such as genocide. This is why this category was often used as an easy way to excuse most Germans legally from Nazi crimes.[citation needed]


Well-known Mitläufer included the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the film director Leni Riefenstahl.

Wilhelm Stuckart was convicted as a Mitläufer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arzt, Donna (1995). "Nuremberg, Denazification and Democracy. The Hate Speech Problem of the International Military Tribunal". New York Law School of Human Rights (689). 
  2. ^ 26.01.08 (2011-11-23). "Berliner Morgenpost 27.01.08". Retrieved 2012-08-25. 
  3. ^ Ott, Hugo (1993). Martin Heidegger: A Political Life. London: Harper Collins. p. 407. ISBN 0 00 215399 8. 

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