More on Germany, the Holocaust and the Far Right

by Christina Geyer on February 6, 2009 · 22 comments

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Two sides of Germany have been on my mind lately, exemplified by the reaction to the recent crisis in the Catholic church, and the continued existence of neo-Nazism and the far right.

The Seriousness of Holocaust Denial

I recently wrote about how German individuals react to what their countrymen did in WWII, and now recent events have shown us how the country still takes very seriously it’s responsibility to never let the atrocities of WWII be forgotten.  In case you haven’t heard, Pope Benedict XVI chose to lift the excommunication of British bishop Richard Williamson, a holocaust denier.  From the Spiegel Online International article German Far-Right Hails Holocaust Denier Williamson:

Germany’s far right is… pleased with the decision and is hailing Williamson as a hero — because he has denied the Holocaust. He told Swedish television in an interview broadcast last Wednesday: “I believe there were no gas chambers.” He claimed that only 300,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps, instead of the 6 million figure that is widely accepted by historians.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted firmly, saying, “This should not be allowed to pass without consequences… The Pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial.”  Spiegel Online International reports on the German mainstream media’s reaction to her statement, most of which said outright that it was the right thing to do, that it had to be done.  In Germany, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust, and this crime is taken very seriously.

Neo-Nazis in Germany and Austria

In The 2nd Generation in The WWII Aftermath, Phil, a 20 year old Austrian blogger, has written a reaction to my earlier post describing his emotional and physical reaction upon seeing Nazi symbols spray-painted on a building.  While I haven’t noticed neo-Nazi graffiti (I have photographed interesting anti-Nazi graffiti), I have been disturbed by legal signage produced by the far right, namely, political posters.  During the last Bavarian elections, while driving through the countryside here, we came across a lot of political posters from the NPD (National Democratic Party) and die Republikaner, both of which are considered by most to be neo-Nazi parties.  Most of the time, their political signs are posted like this:

NPD sign posted too high to be torn down easily“WIR statt Überfremdung!” = “WE instead of foreign infiltration!”

If you’ll notice, the sign is posted high above the ground, making it difficult to tear down.  It is illegal to tear down political signs, and since hauling out a ladder to do so makes you awfully conspicuous, their signs are relatively safe in this kind of placement.  I do know of several Germans who have said that they would still do it if this sign was anywhere near their house.  What disturbed me about many of the signs in the area here, is shown in this picture I took in the center of Velburg:

Republikaner sign, within easy reach of passers-by“Der Heimat zuliebe” = “For the sake of your country”

Notice that the sign in Velburg is about three feet off the ground, and it really was right along the main street of the town.  This wasn’t the only town we saw signs placed like this, they were in small villages dotted across the countryside here.  We spotted a couple in Beratzhausen, the next town out from us, for example, although I’m happy to report there were none in Laaber.  What worries me, is that these parties are very anti-foreigner, and these signs were apparently not bothering anyone.

There are still places where neo-Nazi sentiments are acceptable, and like Phil wondering about the people who made the neo-Nazi graffiti, I have to wonder about the people who are tolerant of these parties.  I guess there will always be people who want to blame their troubles on others, and foreigners are an easy scapegoat.  As the economy worsens, there will be more people with troubles, and Rainer has even expressed worry that there could be a backlash against Americans if we’re chosen as the lone scapegoats who caused the recession.  I’ve realized, as an American, and as an obviously non-white one at that, I have to be careful about which villages I choose to live in here in Germany.

  • Bud

    Perhaps we Americans should take our American Indians more to heart rather than deny what “Americans” did to them and still do.

  • Sebastian

    Though I don’t want to defend them: the REPs are commonly considered far-right but not neo-nazi like the NPD. The REPs were a right-wing spin-off from the CSU (in the early 80s I think) and at least verbally reject nazi politics.
    Still bad enough imho but maybe acceptable for some Bavarian village people.

  • Phil

    As we all can see the darkest chapter in German/Austrian history is not completely dealt with. Shouldn’t be in all our interest to raise awareness about the consequences of hatred?

    In Austria we also have one party (its color is blue, for freedom) that says “Daham statt Islam” (home instead of islam” literally translated). It’s all about attracting a certain segment in our democracy that unfortunately is tolerated too much. Of course, everybody can believe in whatever fits them, but once it crosses the line where only hate and resentment is enhanced I believe that it has little to do with the “freedom” (of opinion) since some one else’s is restricted as a result. Do you know what I mean?

    Phils last blog post..The 2nd Generation in The WWII Aftermath

  • swenglishexpat

    It sends a chill down one’s spine, realising there are still sentiments like that in some people’s minds. Like you say, with rising economic problems we are likely to see more of it. It happens in too many countries sadly. But there is hope, never give up!

  • Phil

    True. The far right’s influence is ever increasing in times like these.

    I don’t think that American have to be afraid of anything. It was a few who caused the big mess on wallstreet. Can’t blame it on a whole nation that is about to recover (from Bush policy) and has a charismatic leader like Obama. If the elections turned out the other way around, I am not so sure what the rest of the world (especially Europe) would have thought of you Americans. Palin and such.

    Phils last blog post..The 2nd Generation in The WWII Aftermath

  • Bruce

    I found your site since I am an American Expat and I enjoy reading about other expats. I have lived in the Philippines for a little over a year.
    To my interest, I found this post. I am of Hungarian and Dutch Jewish decent.
    I had lost many family in the Holocaust and have a well known survivor of the Holocaust and Dr. Mengeles testings.

    I will enjoy following your site and hope you will enjoy mine.

    Bruces last blog post..I have been Interviewed

  • Solphos

    In the recent state election in Hesse a few weeks ago these parties achieved 0,6% (REP) and 0,9% (NPD). Still bad enough but I think that numbers are an important additional information for the outside perspective. Both parties did not only miss the 5%-barrier to get into the parliament but also the 1%-barrier for public funding (‘Wahlkampfkostenerstattung’).

    In total they got 15,664 (REP) and 22,172 (NPD) votes from 4.3 million eligible voters.

  • Phil

    In Austria the FPÖ combined with it’s sibling party BZÖ has a total of 28%. Both are far from right.

    Phils last blog post..The 2nd Generation in The WWII Aftermath

  • Christina G

    @bud: I’ve got a post coming up about that, but I agree.

    @sebastien: the Wikipedia article states “The Republicans are considered by many Germans as extreme-right and neo-Nazi in orientation, but do not see themselves in that way.” Rainer also sees them that way, so there are people who view them as neo-Nazi, but some of the votes they get are protest votes against the CSU rather than support of their beliefs. There were also plenty of NPD signs that could have easily been removed by villagers, but were not.

    @swenglishexpat: Certainly not giving up hope. I’m hopeful things will improve sooner rather than later.

    @bruce: Thanks for commenting, will take a look at your site.

    @sophos: It’s true that these parties don’t have a lot of support. But if I remember right, they have managed to just pass the 5% mark in a couple of the Eastern states haven’t they? Wasn’t, at one point, NPD in the Berlin Landesrat, or am I way off base here?

    @phil: I don’t have any fear for Americans in Germany at all, but Rainer did express worry that it could happen. I laughed at the time he said it, but it’s a sign of the fear in some post-WWII Germans that it could happen again.

    I can’t believe far right parties have 28% in Austria. That’s a little scary.

    Christina Gs last blog post..Books and Bagels, and Asian food

  • Emily Flechtner

    thanks for your great and fascinating analysis: i thought a lot about those republikaner posters because i live in Sendling (Munich) and because of the big debate about building a mosque in our neighborhood, there were lots of anti-islam posters that stated, for example, “the church in the village, the mosque in istanbul”. I got so angry every time i walked by that sign– and im sure i
    am not the only one. But as you mentioned, tearing down political posters is illegal and the germans are, as we know, very law abiding. I have to say, I wouldn’t tear it down either, as I am a big proponent of free speech. I mean, some messages are just downright hard to digest. But still.. I myself am rather disturbed by the fact that it all nazi related items are outlawed in germany, including hitler’s book “mean kampf”. Of course, it’s horrible… but then again, we all know where history gets us when we repress those voices we “don’t want to hear”…

    really interesting debate. Germany certainly has a long way to go, but then again, countries like France and Italy have much much larger Right-extremist parties than Germany. Just to put things into perspective.

    Emily Flechtners last blog post..Food Buy: “Provencal Wildlachsfilet” from Aldi

  • rita

    @ emily:

    there’s a reason why nazi-propaganda and anything that threatens the german constitution is illeagal: they managed to abolish it once before. naturally, we germans are a bid paranoid when it comes to protecting what gives us our democracy.

  • Gary (Gerhard Turner)

    Hi Everyone,
    I am new here and I am German as well as American.
    I served in both countries in Uniform and I am proud to have done so. I lived the last 25 years in the US but visit regular every year sometimes twice until 2004. Right now I am in the Philippines with my 2. wife and we are thinking of moving back to Germany/Regensburg in about 9 month after the child is born.
    I was looking at this site and I like most of it however the Neo-Nazis is as much or more an issue in the US. Yes as German you are very sensitive about this issue as you really do not like to have the past reoccuring.
    So yes critizism is good and keeping a watchful eye out, but you have same issues in the US and the US had their Holocaust with the Native American an ie. Wounded Knee.
    I truly believe having brought some tribes to extinction or near extinction is as well an issue.
    It is something we will never get rid off, what we need to do make sure to watch it and not allow it to happen again.
    The US goverment is very relaxed about most of them in their country which may change with the first black president.
    Only time will tell. But it is an issue which both sides of the Atlantic have to work on and work together as it is a global issue.

  • fko


    I think the question to be asked regarding this topic is WHY German, Austrian etc. parties which lean toward anti-immigrant, racist, religious-angst sentiments are gaining in popularity. I currently live in Germany, and have relatives here, and have seen first hand how immigrants who have never payed into well-fare, the tax system or contributed to the economy, are given more government handouts than struggling German citizens. And although, it may not be politically correct to say, the Muslim threat is a real one, and with the rise in terrorism, and radical religious individuals being trained in this very (German)country, people’s fears are being realized. Unfortunately it is the German governments failure to find a proper balance between welcoming immigrants, while adequately supporting their current citizens. I believe this has lead Germans to “defend” themselves in the only way individuals can assert their own power- by- voting accordingly. I hope that all German parties will observe this alarming trend and adjust their hand-outs, allegiance, if you will accordingly, and find a way to diminish the rising anti- “other” support in this country.

  • cliff1976

    I currently live in Germany, and have relatives here, and have seen first hand how immigrants who have never payed into well-fare, the tax system or contributed to the economy, are given more government handouts than struggling German citizens.

    Well, OK, but isn’t there a way to stop giving benefits to those who haven’t earned it without getting nasty and scary-fascist about it?

    I see a similar complaints about immigrant-assistance programs in the U.S. funded by taxpayer dollars. There may be a glimmer of truth to the perspective presented deep in there somewhere, but I am not interested in wading through all the hate speech to seek it out.

    Most often, what I find — especially in my own family in the U.S. — is that those who could have and should have done better with their own lives in terms of opportunities blown off and lousy education or career choices are mad that their lives suck now and don’t want to anyone else (i.e., immigrants) to have an “easier” time of it than they did.

    I’m guessing it’s a shame thing.

    cliff1976s last blog post..Rügen? Sylt? Other points north?

  • Christina G

    @fko: I’m in a lot of pain right now cause I think I slipped a disc in my neck or something, basically I can’t move my head and it’s difficult to use my left arm, but I feel the need to respond. Unfortunately, I can’t type out all I want to. Being an immigrant and non-white, and at (infrequent) times a victim of stupid racist beliefs here in Germany myself, I certainly have plenty to say, but lacking the ability to say it, ditto what Cliff said.

  • Phil A

    Being subscribed to this post I couldn’t believe the mere hatred and disrespect of FKO’s comment neglecting all kinds of human rights that we are all bound to.

    Phil As last blog post..15 Bucks A Glass?

  • hundeliebhaber

    First, I want to say that I really enjoy reading this blog. I am German-American, and have loved getting an American’s point of view on some of the hot German issues of the time.
    I would like to say also, that I generally agree with FKO’s previous comments. I do not think that this individual was using “hate speech” in the post. However, the parties that the original post refers to, like the NPD, certainly are racist, and historically have violated human rights. However, I don’t believe this person was condoning their actions. Rather it seems to me that it is suggested that other German parties (other than these fascist ones) should do more for the German people so they should not have to turn to these radical measures, by joining those parties.
    I too, have specific examples of family who are struggling under the current German welfare and retirement system. Our Russian immigrant neighbor who moved to Germany upon retirement collects a wellfare check of 1300 Euro, while my Grandmother, a farmer’s wife, who supported the government with taxes and payments all her life, only collects 430 Euro. This is barely enough for her to live on. I do believe this is extremely unfair.
    I have also recently read a news article about a Dallas Texas maternity ward which received and treats (required by law) illegal immigrants. These illegal immigrants make up an average of 75% of patients they treat every year. The United States, however, does not require these illegal immigrants to pay any of their hospital bills. I also know that many US citizens die every year because they do can not receive treatment because they do not have health insurance.

    Another issue that is difficult for Germans is the increasing violence that is observed in the younger immigrant crowds. My own apartment, and my Grandmothers have been burglarized within the past years, and both times we have caught Turkish immigrants doing the crime. It is fair to say that we are afraid when we read of the subway beatings in Munich, or recently the man who killed the young boy, and is now hiding in Turkey, where the government will not extradite him so he may be judged for his crimes here in Germany. Also the many Al Quaida members who have trained here in Germany who speak of how they wish to rule the world and kill us all who do not believe in Allah. This scares me also. And I do wish they were not in my country, so close to me and those whom I love.

    Anyway, all that to say, I understand the anger and frustration that has lead some people to vote radically right. However, this should never be the answer, because these right wing parties stand for much more than just anti-immigrant policies. Many want to kill those whom they hate.
    I wish also that there was more insight within the current leading political parties so that the discontent of the citizens would be heard. Also I wish that the countries would become more safe from those people who seek assylum and would pose a threat. I also wish that all new immigrants would rise up to the challenge to make the country they have migrated to their home, and do their part to support it, and not milk the system’s loop holes.

  • John Rugel

    You political correct nut jobs that buy into this bullshit that the right wing movement in europe is about the nazis are about as smart as a bag of hammers. Your remarks prove democracy is overatted. Don’t you understand all they are desiring is for cultural and national autonomy, so that their way of life isn’t threatened. Is that too much to ask–any other cultural group asks for it, even at the cost of the coutnry that ishousing them, yet when it is done by a white person they are called racist and what have you. Get used to it, people want to protect their way of life–no, it doesn’t mean they want to throw jews or muslims in the fire, but simply to limit immigration and raise the birthrate. This is a healthy thing. The behaviour of the German Bunestag has been outright criminal in trying everything it can in putting these groups down.

  • Anne


    I’m a German who lived for quite extended time periods in France and in the UK. My maternal grandmother was a concentration camp survivor (political prisoner, as her husband was a “socialist”), my grandfather was gassed in Auschwitz. I say this, so it gets clear that I am most assuredly neither a neo-nazi, nor am I even marginally sympathetic to them or their political views.

    Quite unlike the majority here and also unlike current actual German law I am however against how Germany and Germans deal with the right wing, as well as with the denial of the Holocaust or similar opinions.

    One thing before the explanation of that however: both the NPD and the REP parties are (currently still) valid political parties of Germany. If they were actual fascist (= Nazi) parties and considered ennemies of the state, they would be forbidden. It has been tried to forbid the NPD, but that attempt had been unsuccessful so far. Thus, until they have been decreed forbidden by a German court, everyone has to live with such ultra-right parties.

    I am actually a bit astonished that – of all people – Americans would work themselves up over this right, which is considered in the USA to being of utmost importance (First Amendment) and guarded as well as exerted way above the similar constitutional rights of Germany, which do not extend even half as far. I’m even more astonished given the fact that when actually compared, the US political parties are way more “rightist” than even the German conservative parties and definitely within spitting distance of the German REPs in some cases.

    In short, as long as those parties are not forbidden and can officially receive votes, they have every right to plaster the cities with their alloted amount of posters, just like any other officially allowed party in the book.

    Now, on to my problem with the current governmental stance. Firstly, I believe that more countries ought to emulate the US version of Freedom of Speech, including Germany. People can be educated only on the basis of information. They can form opinions only through discussion and dialogue, and only an exchange of arguments will allow those with the better arguments to win out. Currently, regarding everything ultra-right and Nazi, open discussion is largely suppressed, especially open discussion with ultra-right people and downright fascists. This leads to the pretty idiotic result, that while open discussion is not taking place, especially where it would benefit young people, propaganda “under the cover” is possible. As this propaganda is not out in the open, there is little everyone can do against it. It makes it dead easy for them to attract and recruit especially the youngsters.

    Next, not every rightwing or extremely rightwing opinion is without base and grounds. Quite a few of these opinions have their place in a society and are also absolutely natural. We can see this everywhere else on this world, as there’s practically no country without an extreme right (USA included!), often very nationalistic as well. While this is not my political flavor, I can see where current German practice actually drives those who are very rightwing directly into actual Neo-Nazi arms, because it’s a taboo here to openly acknowledge that this set of opinions and beliefs has its justification. Or in other words, the German ultra-right is so immediately put together with Nazi Germany and Nazis, that they are homeless. This is a quite dangerous situation as far as trying to combat Neo-Nazism goes.

    The situation is even a bit more perverted than that in Germany. Not only are people of the right wing immediately sculpted Neo Nazis, even people like me, oriented quite on the other side of the political spectrum, find it very difficult to e.g. criticize Israel or just about any kind of topic which is even remotely connected to Jews, things Jewish or Israel. I’ve several times found myself rolled together quite nilly-willy with Neo-Nazis, me of a family having concentration camp prisoners in the close family, for daring to say something considered “anti-Jewish”. This is a snap-to reaction by now in Germany which is beginning to anger intelligent people from the whole spectrum of political orientations. These people, including me, see no problem in being e.g. opposed to Israel’s behaviour and politics, as well as aggressions, regarding Palestine, and still being of a generally leftist or ecologic political stance quite firmly on the grounds of democracy. There is quite some resentment brewing among younger Germans especially in this area.

    In conclusion I can only say, that countries like e.g. the USA, or the UK, or even France, all endowed with extreme right parties (all of which are much more successfull than these are in Germany), show no sign of being turned into new nazi regimes. The USA, even though it allows full denial of the holocaust to its citizens, seems to experience no major resurgence of fascist/nazi agitators. Personally I think it is time Germans and Germany is allowed full freedom of speech and discussion.

    There’s no way tables can be turned again unless democratic structures are willfully undermined. And this would need to come from the political sphere, not from the people. Hence politicians like Schäuble or Ms. von der Leyen ought to be considered way more of a threat to freedom and democracy in our country, than those few REPs and NPDlers.

  • Nanami

    Personally I think most people aren`t bothered by those signs because they know that they will never get a majority, anyway. They are legal posters but people just give them a bemused smile (“oh yeah, THOSE guys”) and then go on to vote for one of the five main parties.
    Neo-nazi groups exist all over the world, they just have different labels, people are just a bit more sensitive about them in Germany though I think especially in Germany you can count on the government to not treat incidents of nazism lightly.

  • Rarehero

    Well, that’s funny. If we intend to ban the far right parties, UK, Canada or even the USA tell us, that we have to remain democratic, which means that we have to allow the far right parties to speak or place their posters. But at the same time we allow the far right parties to make use of their democratic rights, the people are shocked that the right wing radicalism seems to be tolerated in this country.

    The truth is, that Germany can be veeery undemocratic when it comes to radicalism, especially from the right wing. Yes, there are still places were right wing radicalism is tolerated – simply because we have to tolerate it (and because we want to avoid situations we still know from the GDR). And yes, the Germans usually don’t remove these posters, mainly because they don’t want to commit a criminal act. But as soon as the right wing extremists raise their heads, there will be counter-demonstrations by the left wing (which can even lead to violence against right wing extremists unfortunately), and that in a country which isn’t really known for it’s demonstrations and the public awareness of it’s habitants (we are still a country of bourgeois :( ).

    Good point!
    We simply don’t take them very seriously. Well, of course we take them seriously because we don’t want them to enter a parliament, but we are also aware of their chances to do so, and those chances are very, very small. And at the few occasions at which their were actually elected into a parliament, they failed big time (and no other party wanted to work with them).

    P.S.: The right wing parties haven’t been very successful in the last elections to the Bundestag, not even in the current and not even in their eastern strongholds in the former GDR.

    P.S.S.: Minarets are still allowed in Germany.

    P.S.S.S.: I’m sure, that you can still move around in Germany without fear of hostilities.

  • Eric

    What you forget in your posting is that we (I am German) don’t have to tear down their posters to show our disagreement with their opinions. They get the bill for that when the election results are published. In my home state Baden-Württemberg, neither the Republikaner nor the NPD did even get into the parliament at the last election. Let them show us posters; we just won’t elect them.

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