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What is the colloquial meaning in post-World War II Allied-occupied Germany of the phrase “... eine weiße Weste ...”? In a 1966 German book I’m translating a paragraph refers to the ‘denazification’ interrogations of German civilians during the period 1945-1951. Those who were found to not having been a member of the National Socialist (“Nazi”) political party were issued a Persilschein, a denazification clearance certificate. The author of the book states that anyone who received a Persilschein was noted as one being able to wear “... a white vest...”. The sentence I'm referring to along with my English translation reads:

Die verzweifelt um ihren Persilschein (Entnazifizierungsbescheid) kämpften, um wieder eine weiße Weste zu kriegen.”

[They were struggling desperately for their ‘Persilschein’ (denazification certificate) to get a ‘white vest’ again.]

For example, I believe that a white vest is somewhat similar to the English expression "a clean bill of health", but that in colloquial German the expression may have a bit of difference, and if so that's what I'd use for my English translation.

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This is not colloquial, it is simply an transferred/abstract use of the person itself (instead of some part of clothing) having no flaws and stains. (By the way: Persilschein from a well-known detergent/washing powder brand is definitely colloquial.)

  • It's not colloquial, it's an idiomatic expression, although a rather transparent one. The English equivalent is "a clean bill of health". – Kilian Foth Oct 4 '17 at 17:29
  • @guidot: Thank you so very much for making it even clearer for me that the German people have such a very subtle "Witze" and sense of humor. I can't think of any witty expression at all that we have in my country where any official Government clearance document – К. Келлогг Смиф Nov 4 '17 at 13:56
  • @guidot: (con't) has ever been analogized with the brand name of one of our many commercial soaps and cleansers. I sensed that the author [S. Fischer-Fabian] of the book I'm in the process of translating from German to English was not only a journalist, but also a humorist -- his de.Wikipedia lists at least six books that are clearly on various aspects of humor. Again, thank you so very much for your answer!! – К. Келлогг Смиф Nov 4 '17 at 14:10
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»Ich habe eine weiße Weste« means: »I am innocent, i.e. without blame«. This is, because the color white is since many centuries a symbol for innocence.

The word »Persilschein« has no Nazi-Connotation. Persil is a brand name for a well known laundry detergent, i.e for something, that makes you clean. The part »Schein« has many meanings. Here it means: Certificate. So Persilschein is a term often used for certificates that say »the owner of this certificate is clean, i.e. innocent, i.e. not guilty«

  • Thank you for your answer, especially for pointing out that "Persil" is the brand name of the cleansing agent, and "schein" means "certificate". I knew that in the immediate aftermath of the WWII defeat of National Socialist Germany it was absolutely necessary to 'cleanse' Germany -- and elsewhere where 'Nazi' doctrines had been enforced (such as France) of those who had been participants in and were still adherents of the doctrines of 'Nazi'ism. The process of 'de-Nazification' of the German population in the Allied sectors of a divided Germany was the necessary result. – К. Келлогг Смиф Nov 4 '17 at 14:31

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