The German term Mitläufer (plural: Mitläufer) refers to a public person or persons who are believed to secretly be tied to, or are sympathizers of certain political parties, often controversial or radical ones. In English, it was most commonly used after World War II, during the denazification hearings in West Germany, to refer to people who were not charged with Nazi crimes but whose involvement with the Nazi Party was considered significant to an extent that they could not be exonerated for the crimes of the Nazi regime.
The German word Mitläufer has been in common use since the 17th century. It means literally "with-runner", akin to "lemming-like", a person who gives into peer pressure. 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. A German dictionary provides the English translation as “follower”. An English version dictionary defines it as "a passive follower”.
The German word Mitläufereffekt is derived from it. Mitläufereffekt, also called the Bandwagon-Effekt (bandwagon effect), refers to the effect a perceived success exerts on the willingness of individuals to join the expected success. For example, voters would like to be on the winning side, so they prefer to choose the candidate that they expect will win.
In the American Sector of Allied-occupied Germany, a "follower" was the fourth lowest group or category in the denazification proceedings. The denazification hearings classified Germans according to five groups:
- 1. Major Offenders (German: Hauptschuldige)
- 2. Offenders: Activists, Militants, or Profiteers (German: Belastete)
- 3. Lesser offenders (German: Minderbelastete)
- 4. Followers (German: Mitläufer)
- 5. Exonerated persons (German: Entlastete)
In Allied-occupied Austria, the Russian term poputchik (fellow traveller) was translated into German as Mitläufer, and they were considered to be "lesser offenders" (a person who, although not formally charged with participation in war crimes, was sufficiently involved with the Nazi regime to the extent that the Allied authorities could not legally exonerate them).
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. Therefore, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt could say about Herbert von Karajan's Nazi Party membership card: "Karajan was obviously not a Nazi. He was a Mitläufer."
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.
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.
Wilhelm Stuckart was convicted as a Mitläufer.
- "Mitläufer". Retrieved 23 April 2017. (in German)
- "Mitläufer". Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "Mitläufereffekt", Wolfgang J. Koschnik, Standardwörterbuch für die Sozi.alwissenschaften, Bd. 2, München London New York Paris 1993, ISBN 3-598-11080-4. (in German)
- "Control Council Directive No. 38 (October 12, 1946)" (PDF). The German Historical Institute. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Ott, Hugo (1993). Martin Heidegger: A Political Life. London: Harper Collins. p. 407. ISBN 0 00 215399 8.
- Arzt, Donna (1995). "Nuremberg, Denazification and Democracy. The Hate Speech Problem of the International Military Tribunal". New York Law School of Human Rights (689).
- 26.01.08 (2011-11-23). "Berliner Morgenpost 27.01.08". Welt.de. Retrieved 2012-08-25.