Skip to main content Accessibility help

Legacies of the Third Reich: Concentration Camps and Out-group Intolerance



We explore the long-term political consequences of the Third Reich and show that current political intolerance, xenophobia, and voting for radical right-wing parties are associated with proximity to former Nazi concentration camps in Germany. This relationship is not explained by contemporary attitudes, the location of the camps, geographic sorting, the economic impact of the camps, or their current use. We argue that cognitive dissonance led those more directly exposed to Nazi institutions to conform with the belief system of the regime. These attitudes were then transmitted across generations. The evidence provided here contributes both to our understanding of the legacies of historical institutions and the sources of political intolerance.


Corresponding author

*Jonathan Homola, Assistant Professor, Rice University,
Miguel M. Pereira, PhD Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis,
Margit Tavits, Professor, Washington University in St. Louis,


Hide All

We would like to thank Avidit Acharya, Robin Best, Carles Boix, Volha Charnysh, Connor Huff, Noam Lupu, Shom Mazumder, five anonymous reviewers, Ken Benoit, and Thomas König for helping develop and improve our article. Special thanks to William Simoneau, who played a crucial role in the early stages of the project. Jara Kampmann and Julia Klinger in the GESIS Secure Data Center were extremely helpful during our analysis of the ALLBUS data. Earlier versions of the article were presented at MPSA 2018, APSA 2018 (where it received the SAGE best paper award), the University of Texas, Penn State University, ETH Zürich, University of Bergen, Princeton University, and McGill University. Funding for this research was provided by the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



Hide All
Acharya, Avidit, Blackwell, Matthew, and Sen, Maya. 2016a. “The Political Legacy of American Slavery.” The Journal of Politics 78 (3): 621–41.
Acharya, Avidit, Blackwell, Matthew, and Sen, Maya. 2016b. “Explaining Causal Findings without Bias: Detecting and Assessing Direct Effects.” American Political Science Review 110 (3): 512–29.
Acharya, Avidit, Blackwell, Matthew, and Sen, Maya. 2018. “Explaining Attitudes from Behavior: A Cognitive Dissonance Approach.” The Journal of Politics 80 (2): 400–11.
Anderlini, Luca, Gerardi, Dino, and Lagunoff, Roger. 2010. “Social Memory, Evidence, and Conflict.” Review of Economic Dynamics 13 (3): 559–74.
Ast, Theresa L. 2013. Confronting the Holocaust . Charleston, NC: Createspace.
Bennhold, Katrin. 2018. “German Schools Tour Nazi Concentration Camps to Combat Antisemitism.” The Independent, March 14. Available at:
Bisin, Alberto, and Verdier, Thierry. 2000. “A Model of Cultural Transmission, Voting and Political Ideology.” European Journal of Political Economy 16 (1): 5–29.
Braun, Sebastian, and Kvasnicka, Michael. 2014. “Immigration and Structural Change: Evidence from Post-War Germany.” Journal of International Economics 93 (2): 253–69.
Braun, Sebastian, and Mahmoud, Toman Omar. 2014. “The Employment Effects of Immigration: Evidence from the Mass Arrival of German Expellees in Postwar Germany.” The Journal of Economic History 74 (1): 69–108.
Buggeln, Marc. 2014. Slave Labor in Nazi Concentration Camps . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Burleigh, Michael, and Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1991. The Racial State: Germany 1933–1945 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Charnysh, Volha. 2015. “Historical Legacies of Interethnic Competition: Anti-Semitism and the EU Referendum in Poland.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (13): 1711–45.
Charnysh, Volha, and Finkel, Evgeny. 2017. “The Death Camp Eldorado: Political and Economic Effects of Mass Violence.” American Political Science Review 111 (4): 801–18.
Cowell, Alan. 1995. “Teaching Nazi Past to German Youth.” The New York Times, June 9. Available at:
Davis, Keith E., and Jones, Edward E.. 1960. “Changes in Interpersonal Perception as a Means of Reducing Cognitive Dissonance.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 61 (3): 402–10.
Degner, Juliane, and Dalege, Jonas. 2013. “The Apple Does Not Fall Far from the Tree, or Does It? A Meta-Analysis of Parent-Child Similarity in Intergroup Attitudes.” Psychological Bulletin 139 (6): 1270–304.
Douglas, Ray M. 2012. Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War . New Haven: Yale University Press.
Duriez, Bart, and Soenens, Bart. 2009. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Racism: The Role of Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation.” Journal of Research in Personality 43 (5): 906–9.
Evans, Richard J. 2006. The Third Reich in Power . New York: Penguin.
EVS. 2016. European Values Study 2008: Integrated Dataset (EVS 2008)—Restricted Use File . Cologne: GESIS Data Archive. doi: 10.4232/1.12253.
Falck, Oliver, Heblich, Stephan, and Link, Susanne. 2012. “Forced Migration and the Effects of an Integration Policy in Post-WWII Germany.” The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 12 (1): 1–27.
Falter, Jürgen W., Lindenberger, Thomas, and Schumann, Siegfried. 2009. Wahlen und Abstimmungen in der Weimarer Republik, 1919–1933. Cologne: GESIS Data Archive. doi: 10.4232/1.8351.
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 2000. “Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity.” International Organization 54 (4): 845–77.
Festinger, Leon. 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance . Evanston: Row, Peterson.
Funke, Manuel, Schularick, Moritz, and Trebesch, Christoph. 2016. “Going to Extremes: Politics after Financial Crises, 1870–2014.” European Economic Review 88: 227–60.
Gellately, Robert. 2001. Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
GESIS—Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. 2017. ALLBUS/GGSS 2016 (Allgemeine Bevölkerungsumfrage der Sozialwissenschaften/German General Social Survey 2016) . Cologne: GESIS Data Archive. doi: 10.4232/1.12796.
GESIS—Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. 2018. ALLBUS/GGSS (Allgemeine Bevölkerungsumfrage der Sozialwissenschaften/German General Social Survey) – Sensitive Regional Data . Cologne: GESIS Data Archive. doi: 10.4232/1.13010.
Grosfeld, Irena, Rodnyansky, Alexander, and Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina. 2013. “Persistent Antimarket Culture: A Legacy of the Pale of Settlement after the Holocaust.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 5 (3): 189–226.
Grosser, Thomas. 2001. “Die Aufnahme der Heimatvertriebenen in Württemberg-Baden und die regionalen Rahmenbedingungen ihrer Integration 1946–1956.” In Heimat und Exil: Emigration und Rückwanderung, Vertreibung und Integration in der Geschichte der Tschechoslowakei, ed. Heumos, Peter. München: Oldenbourg, 223–61.
Hadzic, Dino, Carlson, David, and Tavits, Margit. 2017. “How Exposure to Violence Affects Ethnic Voting.” British Journal of Political Science. Published online December 4, 2017. doi: 10.1017/S0007123417000448.
Hänisch, Dirk. 1989. “Inhalt und Struktur der Datenbank ‘Wahl- und Sozialdaten der Kreise und Gemeinden des Deutschen Reiches von 1920 bis 1933’.” Historical Social Research 14: 39–67.
Harteveld, Eelco, and Ivarsflaten, Elisabeth. 2018. “Why Women Avoid the Radical Right: Internalized Norms and Party Reputations.” British Journal of Political Science 48 (2): 369–84.
Hetherington, Marc, and Suhay, Elizabeth. 2011. “Authoritarianism, Threat, and Americans’ Support for the War on Terror.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 546–60.
Homola, Jonathan, and Tavits, Margit. 2018. “Contact Reduces Immigration-Related Fears for Leftist but Not for Rightist Voters.” Comparative Political Studies 51 (13): 1789–820.
Imhoff, Roland, and Banse, Rainer. 2009. “Ongoing Victim Suffering Increases Prejudice the Case of Secondary Anti-Semitism.” Psychological Science 20 (12): 1443–7.
Jäckle, Sebastian, and König, Pascal D.. 2017. “The Dark Side of the German ‘Welcome Culture’: Investigating the Causes Behind Attacks on Refugees in 2015.” West European Politics 40 (2): 223–51.
Kaienburg, Hermann. 1996. Konzentrationslager und deutsche Wirtschaft 1939–1945. Opladen: Leske und Budrich.
Kandler, Christian, Bell, Edward, and Riemann, Rainer. 2016. “The Structure and Sources of Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation.” European Journal of Personality 30 (4): 406–20.
Kriesi, Hanspeter, Grande, Edgar, Lachat, Romain, Dolezal, Martin, Bornschier, Simon, and Frey, Timotheos. 2006. “Globalization and the Transformation of the National Political Space: Six European Countries Compared.” European Journal of Political Research 45 (6): 921–56.
KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme. 2014. Deutsche jüdische Häftlinge in den Konzentrationslagern . Hamburg: KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme.
Ludeke, Steven G., and Krueger, Robert F.. 2013. “Authoritarianism as a Personality Trait: Evidence from a Longitudinal Behavior Genetic Study.” Personality and Individual Differences 55 (5): 480–4.
Lupu, Noam, and Peisakhin, Leonid. 2017. “The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations.” American Journal of Political Science 61: 836–51.
Mazumder, Soumyajit. 2018. “The Persistent Effect of U.S. Civil Rights Protests on Political Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science 62 (4): 922–35.
McLaren, Lauren M. 2003. “Anti-Immigrant Prejudice in Europe: Contact, Threat Perception, and Preferences for the Exclusion of Migrants.” Social Forces 81 (3): 909–36.
Megargee, Geoffrey P. 2009. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. I . Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Montgomery, Jacob M., Nyhan, Brendan, and Torres, Michelle. 2018. “How Controlling for Post-Treatment Variables Can Ruin Your Experiment and What to Do about It.” American Journal of Political Science 62 (3): 760–75.
MPIDR [Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research] and CGG [Chair for Geodesy and Geoinformatics, University of Rostock]. 2011. MPIDR Population History GIS Collection (Partly Based on Hubatsch and Klein 1975 ff). Rostock.
Norris, Pippa, and Inglehart, Ronald. 2018. Cultural Backlash: The Rise of Authoritarian Populism . New York: Cambridge University Press.
Nunn, Nathan, and Wantchekon, Leonard. 2011. “The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa.” The American Economic Review 101 (7): 3221–52.
Obenaus, Herbert. 1996. “Die Außenkommandos des Konzentrationslagers Neuengamme in Hannover.” In Konzentrationslager und deutsche Wirtschaft 1939–1945, ed. Kaienburg, Hermann. Opladen: Leske und Budrich, 211–26.
Pastor, Doreen. 2018. “Are Mandatory Visits to Concentration Camp Memorials the Answer?Discovery Society, March 6. Available at:
Rees, Jonas H., Allpress, Jesse A., and Brown, Rupert. 2013. “Nie Wieder: Group-Based Emotions for In-Group Wrongdoing Affect Attitudes Toward Unrelated Minorities.” Political Psychology 34 (3): 387–407.
Rotella, Katie N., and Richeson, Jennifer A.. 2013. “Motivated to ‘Forget’ the Effects of In-Group Wrongdoing on Memory and Collective Guilt.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 4 (6): 730–7.
Selb, Peter, and Munzert, Simon. 2018. “Examining a Most Likely Case for Strong Campaign Effects: Hitler’s Speeches and the Rise of the Nazi Party, 1927–1933.” American Political Science Review 112 (4): 1050–66.
Simpser, Alberto, Slater, Dan, and Wittenberg, Jason. 2018. “Dead but Not Gone: Contemporary Legacies of Communism, Imperialism, and Authoritarianism.” Annual Review of Political Science 21: 23.1–23.21.
Sniderman, Paul M., Hagendoorn, Louk, and Prior, Markus. 2004. “Predisposing Factors and Situational Triggers: Exclusionary Reactions to Immigrant Minorities.” American Political Science Review 98 (1): 35–49.
Sofsky, Wolfgang. 1997. The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp . Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sontheimer, Michael. 2005. “Why Germans Can Never Escape Hitler’s Shadow.” Spiegel Online, March 10. Available at:
Spenkuch, Jörg L., and Tillmann, Philipp. 2018. “Elite Influence? Religion and the Electoral Success of the Nazis.” American Journal of Political Science 62 (1): 19–36.
Steinbacher, Sybille. 1993. Dachau—die Stadt und das Konzentrationslager in der NS-Zeit . Frankfurt am Main: Lang.
Sullivan, John L., Marcus, George E., Feldman, Stanley, and Piereson, James E.. 1981. “The Sources of Political Tolerance: A Multivariate Analysis.” American Political Science Review 75 (1): 92–106.
Vansteelandt, Sijn. 2009. “Estimating Direct Effects in Cohort and Case-Control Studies.” Epidemiology 20 (6): 851–60.
Voigtländer, Nico, and Voth, Hans-Joachim. 2012. “Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 127 (3): 1339–92.
Voigtländer, Nico, and Voth, Hans-Joachim. 2015. “Nazi Indoctrination and Anti-Semitic Beliefs in Germany.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (26): 7931–6.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Homola et al. Supplementary Materials

Supplementary materials

Homola et al. Supplementary Materials
Homola et al. Supplementary Materials

 PDF (3.2 MB)
3.2 MB

Legacies of the Third Reich: Concentration Camps and Out-group Intolerance



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed