New Elites – Established Personnel? (Dis-)Continuities of German Ministries in System Transformations

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For further information please contact Prof. Dr. Sylvia Veit or Stefanie Vedder.




  • Prof. Dr. Sylvia Veit
  • Stefanie Vedder, M.A.
  • Anika Manschwetus, M.A.

September 2017 to December 2021


The project „New Elites – Established Personnel“ analyzed the collective biography and recruitment patterns of ministerial elites in German federal ministries over the course of the 20th century. It aimed to answer the question whether members of the political and administrative elites kept their offices after a system transformation. Moreover, the project investigated to what extent recruitment patterns of politicians and top civil servants differed over time and across political systems. The research project was funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media as part of a research program to examine vestiges of the Nazi period in ministries and agencies after World War II.
A special focus was on the exploration of the continuities of ministerial structures and personnel after the end of the Nazi regime in Germany in 1945. By defining additional survey dates from 1913 onwards, the research project furthermore aimed to uncover (dis-)continuities in the political and administrative elites after the political transformations from the German Empire to the Weimar Republic (1918/1919) and from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi regime (1933), as well as after the reunification of the GDR and the FRG (1990).   
The basis for the analyses of recruitment patterns before and after transformations of the political systems were the biographies of more than 3,500 politicians and top civil servants in the uppermost tiers of federal ministries in Germany. The resulting data set comprises information on their socio-demographic attributes, their education and career, their political activities and their affiliation to the respective political system. The latter was derived from several indicators such as, e.g., leading positions in a political party or personal statements and actions in support of or in opposition to the political system in question.
Sources included personnel and cadre files in the Federal Archives, as well as files of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), the Socialist Union Party of Germany (SED) and their respective affiliated associations, publicly available CVs (e.g. Munzinger online archvie, private websites, “Wer war wer in der DDR?“ (“Who was who in the GDR?”), etc.), newspaper archives (e.g. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Neues Deutschland, Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung etc.), and the handbooks of the German government, the handbooks for the German Reich, and the Directories of East German Officials published by the CIA.
The data show that the widespread assumption of a high personnel continuity between the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime is only partly accurate. Patterns of recruitment in the Nazi regime differ considerably from those evident during the German Empire or the Weimar Republic. Fewer top civil servants in the Nazi regime brought a professional background in public administration to their elite position, but many of them had gained professional experience in the private sector instead. The principal of a neutral civil service quickly eroded; members of the administrative elite were often openly politically active and held leading party positions or mandates in local and federal parliament.
After the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in West Germany in 1949, a professional background in public administration regained its relevance for top positions, whereas a political experience or affiliation was of a secondary importance. There was a high personnel continuity in the civil service between the Nazi regime and West Germany. The data show, that more than half of all top civil servants in the first legislative period of the West German federal parliament (Bundestag) had held a position in public administration during the time of the Nazi regime. The share of top civil servants with this kind of professional experience remained high over the following legislative periods.
First analyses of the administrative elite in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was founded in 1949 in East Germany, hint at a more distinguishable discontinuity in recruitment patterns: Hardly any of the top civil servants in the GDR had worked in public administration during the Nazi regime. It has to be taken into account, however, that due to considerable difficulties in the access to relevant data, the analysis is not yet based on a complete survey of all top civil servants of the GDR. Further research is needed to expand the knowledge of the precise composition of the administrative elite in the GDR.
In addition to observing (dis-)continuities after system transformations, the data allow for a comparison between the political and administrative elites of the GDR and the FRG regarding their sociodemographic characteristics, education, career and political activities. In the beginning, the share of women in the group of government politicians, e.g., was higher in the GDR than in the FRG, but from the mid-1960s onwards, the data show an inverted development: While in the last legislative period before the reunification (1987 to 1990), 14 percent of government politicians in the FRG were women, this applied to only two percent of top politicians in the GDR’s last legislative period (1986 to 1990). Further interesting results regard the level of education of elite members: The level of education had always been high for government politicians in the FRG, whereas analyses of the political elite of the GDR show a noticeable change over time. In the early years after the constitution of the GDR, less than half of top politicians had achieved a university degree. In the years before the reunification, almost all members of the political elite had completed a form of tertiary education and many had achieved a doctorate. This shows, that during the constitution and consolidation of the GDR, the ideological ideal of a ruling working class and equal representation influenced recruitment decisions, but that these criteria were later superseded by party political considerations and connections or the relevance of expert knowledge and official training especially at the party academies.
Overall, the data show that the transformation of a political system as well as the form of the respective political systems correlate with changes in the recruitment patterns for political and administrative elites.
After the reunification, the traditions of recruitment established in the FRG persisted. From the beginning, very few government politicians had been born or grew up in the former GDR. Even until today, hardly any members of the administrative elite are from East Germany.  
Since the late 1990s, some changes in gender and educational background towards more representativeness can be observed in the administrative elite. With the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder, the share of female top civil servants rose. More recently, the traditionally high share of jurists decreased and more persons with little or without any professional experience in public administration gain access to administrative top positions.
Detailed data reports with these and more findings of the project can be found here.


The project findings have found a wide public interest, e.g. through the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel, Deutschlandfunk, Behörden Spiegel as well as Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Local media, such as Hessisch-Niedersächsische Allgemeine, reported frequently on the progress of the project and selected findings.

12 January 2022, press release: Bundesministerien: Kaum Ostdeutsche in Spitzenpositionen (Federal Ministries: Almost no East-Germans in top positions)

04 May 2021, podcast: Hilfreich waren die CIA-Dokumente (The CIA documents were helpful)

22 April 2021, press release: So viel NSDAP-Vergangenheit hatte die Bonner Elite der Adenauerzeit (The NSDAP past of the Bonn elite under Chancellor Adenauer)

17 August 2017, press release: Universität Kassel untersucht NS-Belastung deutscher Ministerien (University of Kassel investigates vestiges of the Nazi period in German ministries)

Prof. Veit reports in a podcast on the results of the research project "New Elites - Established Personnel? (Dis-)Continuity of German Ministries in System Transformations".

Project-related Publications

Conference Presentations

  • Strobel, B. and Veit, S., Safeguarding bureaucratic responsibility: What can we learn from historical examples? Presentation at the Workshop “Democratic Backsliding and Public Administration”, Florence (Italy), 01-02 February 2019.
  • Veit, S., Scholz, S. and Strobel, B., Neue Eliten – etabliertes Personal? (Dis-) Kontinuitäten deutscher Ministerien in Systemtransformationen. Presentation at the 17th Meeting of the Arbeitskreis Hessische Zeitgeschichte, Frankfurt a.M., 07 December 2018.
  • Scholz, S. and Manschwetus, A., Systembezüge in Sozialprofilen von DDR-Eliten. Presentation at the workshop „Es ist nicht alles gesagt. Ein Workshop zur DDR-Forschung“, Berlin, 31 November - 01 December 2018.
  • Scholz, S., and Strobel, B., Sozialprofile politischer und administrativer Eliten in deutschen Bundesministerien. Presentation at the Workshop „Netzwerke und NS-Belastung zentraler deutscher Behörden“, Tübingen, 15-16 November 2018.
  • Strobel, B. and Scholz, S., Bedeutung kommunalpolitischer Erfahrung für Spitzenämter in der politischen und administrativen Elite des Bundes. Presentation at the DVPW-Kongress 2018 „Grenzen der Demokratie / Frontiers of Democracy“, Frankfurt a.M., 25-28 September 2018.
  • Scholz, S. and Strobel, B., Professionalisierung vs. Repräsentativität – Eine Analyse der Karrieremuster politischer und administrativer Eliten seit 1949. Presentation at the DVPW-Kongress 2018 „Grenzen der Demokratie / Frontiers of Democracy“, Frankfurt a.M., 25-28 September 2018.
  • Strobel, B. and Scholz, S., From Weimar Republic to Nazi Germany - Elites, Polycracy, and the Decline of Civil Service from 1920 to 1944. Presentation at the 12th ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, 22-25 August 2018.
  • Scholz, S., Migration and Elite Recruitment. Presentation at the 25th World Congress of Political Science, Brisbane (Australia), 21-25 July 2018.
  • Strobel, B. and Scholz, S., The Influence of Social Dynamics on Representation in the Federal Government of Germany. Presentation at the IPPA International Workshop on Public Policy, Pittsburgh (USA), 26-28 June 2018.