“Ten murders traced to neo-Nazi terrorists!” More and more ugly facts splashed through the German media, with echoes around the world. Politicians from the “respectable” parties expressed shock and surprise. In 2007 a German policewoman had been shot to death and her colleague badly wounded. The murder weapon was now found in a partly burned-out building in the East German town of Zwickau. Nearby lay the corpses of two men, probably suicides, both guilty of a recent bank robbery and mostly likely of killing the policewoman. Nine retail merchants, eight of Turkish, one of Greek, background had also been murdered as far back as 2000, often with the same weapon.
The two men and a woman accomplice who has since given herself up to police belonged to a “National Socialist Underground” with a brutal Nazi program. Why did it take years to find the culprits? Another group member, arrested on November 12th in Hannover, was arrested in 2006 for mailing phony explosives — and then freed. Why was there no checkup on him? Was the group responsible for 14 bank robberies all over Germany, at least as far back as 1998, for a bombing in Cologne in 2004 which wounded 22 people in an immigrant neighborhood, and perhaps for other acts of violence, sometimes fatal, against people with immigrant origins? While the list of mysteries grew, one question kept recurring: what took the police so long?
Some answers are breaking through the fog. It is no secret that the Nazi movement, both its legal component, the National Democratic Party (NPD), and its illegal thug element are riddled with secret agents of the “Constitution Protection Agency” (“Verfassungsschütz”), the German FBI. Their number and because they themselves often wrote Nazi propaganda, even holding leadership positions, had stymied an attempt to outlaw the NPD in 2003. The court found that the indictment was partly based on texts written by the agents and stated that: “A governmental presence at the leadership level of a party renders its influence on decisions and activities inevitable.” So it threw the case out. The winner was the NPD.
Those agents are still in there, preventing new attempts to ban the organization, at least without risk of exposing, or having to withdraw, the agents. The government would not know what the Nazis planned if they were removed, it was asserted, while a second mishap in the courts would give the Nazis a big new propaganda advantage. Remaining legal not only guarantees the NPD large sums of badly-needed government money for election purposes and gives it the chance to elect legislators (now in two states and three Berlin boroughs), but gives it police protection for weekly, threateningly reminiscent anti-foreigner marches all around Germany, which feature fearsome-looking gangs of thugs they are closely connected with.
But now their murderous menace has dramatically come to light. A video film was found, using the jolly “pink panther” film and TV cartoon figure to boast of the crimes already committed and those to come. Once again: Did the Constitution Protectors, especially in Saxony and Thuringia, where these three had been hiding out, know nothing about them?
Now an upsetting new fact has come to light. At the murder of one of the young Turkish merchants in his shop in 2006, an agent of the “Protectors” from the West German state of Hesse was present, holding a heavy object in a paper bag, quite probably a gun. He was found and arrested. But 24 hours later he was freed. Some believe they saw the same man at some of the other murder sites. Who was he, why was he hired — and paid — by the forces of law and order in Hesse?
New connections have also come to light between the former chief of the Constitution Protectors in the state of Thuringia, an extremely right-wing historian, and a pro-Nazi who was paid as a secret agent while vice-president of one such fascist group.
Leading politicians, with worried voices and furrowed foreheads, are now demanding a “total investigation”! No stone must be left unturned. Coalition party leaders, always opposed to a ban on the NPD, now, in dramatic tones, call for a reevaluation of the question.
What hypocrisy! What would a true reevaluation reveal? Historical studies, known for decades but recently reinforced, supply countless facts on how former Nazis dominated police, secret police, and intelligence-gathering institutions in the Federal Republic from the start. The police apparatus was built up by and with SS officers and Gestapo men with the bloodiest of hands. At least a thousand ex-Nazi judges and prosecutors dominated the courts, many of them guilty of death sentences against opponents of fascism. The same held true of the military general staff, the diplomatic corps, and the political scene. It has recently been disclosed that until 1966, in Hesse, a quarter to a third of Christian Democratic deputies and 60 to 70 percent of their Free Democratic partners had been in the Nazi Party, some in high positions. In charge of personnel questions nationally was Adenauer buddy Hans Globke, in great measure responsible for the criminalization and easy identification of German Jews.
Worst of all was the espionage apparatus directed against the Soviet bloc. Nazi spy General Reinhard Gehlen, first used by US intelligence after 1945 to build up its secret network, was then switched to the new West German government. A study by historian Martin A. Lee described how “Gehlen proceeded to enlist thousands of Gestapo, Wehrmacht, and SS veterans. Even the vilest of the vile — the senior bureaucrats who ran the central administrative apparatus of the Holocaust — were welcome in the ‘Gehlen Org,’ as it was called, including Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s chief deputy. SS major Emil Augsburg and Gestapo captain Klaus Barbie, otherwise known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon,’ were among those who did double duty for Gehlen and U.S. intelligence (San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 7, 2001). Lee also quoted the Frankfurter Rundschau: “It seems that in the Gehlen headquarters one SS man paved the way for the next and Himmler’s elite were having happy reunion ceremonies.”
Nearly all these men have died. But their disciples remained, and so did their inclinations. The Gehlen gang and their friends in top army and government offices used the Cold War to justify their return to strong positions. In the twenty-one years since Germany was unified, the main device has been a constant stress on the “totalitarianism” theory: one nasty dictatorship in Germany was replaced, in the East, by another one, equally bad or, to judge by the amount of propaganda, really far worse. The constant attacks on the system in the GDR and anyone who can be linked with it as being as bad as or worse than Nazis, and similar denunciations of “both right-wing and left-wing terrorism,” again stressing the latter, have permitted most politicians and Constitution Protectors to concentrate on attacking those on the left.
This reflects fears that uncertain economic conditions, like a recession or worse, might cause Germans, especially in the East, to reflect that despite the bad features in the old German Democratic Republic, the limits on travel, far fewer high-quality consumer goods, and the other pressures and defects, there were good features as well, like job security, women’s rights, no financial burdens with child care, medical care, or education. Maybe socialism. . .?
Faced by fears of any such reflection (and possible growth of The Left), some leaders felt that Nazis, though not pleasant folk, are good to have around as a preferable, perhaps useful means of channeling dissatisfaction if things get rough. This was the same philosophy which led their grandfathers in politics and the economy to support Hitler.
Is such a stand really possible in today’s Germany? Luckily, neither the NPD nor other openly racist (usually anti-Muslim) parties win nearly as many votes as similar parties in many other countries — most dangerously in Hungary, Austria and possibly even France. And while there is always potential support among racists, nationalists, and economically hopeless groups, wherever Nazis demonstrate there is almost always a rally of anti-fascists to stop and usually to outnumber them. “No Nazis in Our Town” is a simple but common statement. But while there are still many good exceptions, all too frequently it is the city governments or the courts which not only protect the Nazis but harass and often arrest their opponents.
Last February, like every year, the Nazis wanted to misuse for their own purposes ceremonies in Dresden mourning those killed in the air raid of February 1945, largely to counterbalance recollections of the Holocaust. 18,000 anti-fascists gathered to prevent their march and their rally for the second year in a row and, with no violence, sent them home in helpless rage. But after most Nazis and anti-Nazis had left the city, one group of “anti-fascist” youngsters, their faces covered and almost certainly led by provocateurs, as on past occasions, skirmished with the police. This is always meat for the mass media; it has been tried recently against Occupy groups. During the day thousands of cell phones were hacked by the police. At night the skirmish was used to justify a brutal, fully illegal raid on The Left headquarters and to remove the legal immunity as legislators of the leaders of The Left in Saxony, Dresden’s state, and neighboring Thuringia. They are to be brought to court for sponsoring “illegal blockades.” Voting against them were the Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, and the neo-Nazi NPD. Once again it was: “When in doubt support the far right.”
Until last week the media was full of angry articles about “right-wing terrorism and left-wing terrorism,” with Angela Merkel joining the chorus. As ever, it was hinted, both were much the same but the latter were possibly worse, as proved by the burning of luxury cars in Berlin, blamed on “left-wing terrorists.” Even when an unemployed, very distressed young man with no political ties was caught in the act, the chorus hardly let up. Now, with increasingly frightening details about genuine right-wing terror, strong indications that government spies were involved, and the mysterious failure of Constitution Protectors to find the culprits in fifteen long years, they may decide to be just a little quieter, at least for a while.
Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).