German Neo-Nazis Honor Hess Anniversary

Reuters/August 17, 2000

Schwerin -- Posters and flyers hailing Nazi Rudolf Hess a "martyr of peace" appeared around Germany on the 13th anniversary of his death Thursday amid national concern over the far-right movement.

Police broke up a torchlit procession by some 60 neo-Nazis late Wednesday in the east German port of Rostock. Three of the marchers were charged with displaying symbols with banned racist or Nazi content.

Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, was found hanged in Berlin's Spandau prison in 1987.

He continues to exert a fascination for Germany's small band of neo-Nazis, many of them disaffected youths from the depressed former communist east. They believe he was murdered by his British military captors. Hess fell into Allied hands in 1941 after parachuting into Scotland in an apparent personal bid to broker peace with Britain.

Posters and flyers hailing him as a "martyr of peace" were found in Rostock and neighboring towns across the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Police detained a 14-year-old youth caught in possession of 1,200 Hess stickers in the eastern town of Jena, in Thuringia.

Police also confiscated small numbers of similar posters in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Lower Saxony states in the former west Germany, generally perceived to have less of a problem with the far-right than the east.

No incidents were reported at his grave in the Bavarian town of Wunsiedel.

Neo-Nazis ordered to pay up

Also Thursday, a court in Potsdam, near Berlin, ordered two neo-Nazi skinheads convicted of a race hate attack on a black British building worker to pay several hundred thousand dollars in civil damages.

This year's anniversary of Hess's death comes amid a debate over the extent of far-right attitudes and racist violence in a country still painfully conscious of its Nazi past.

Media commentators were quick to point the finger at the far-right after a bomb at a railway station in Duesseldorf last month wounded 10 ex-Soviet immigrants, including six Jews -- although the culprits and their motives are still a mystery.

Despite almost daily media reports of new racist attacks, there is little evidence to suggest a wider increase in far-right violence in the decade since the Berlin Wall fell.

German parliament speaker Wolfgang Thierse said the annual commemoration of Hess's death, while not involving huge numbers of people, nonetheless showed the wider problem with the far-right and neo-Nazism was not likely to go away soon.

"Despite the public debate, appeals by politicians and legal threats, the activities of the far-right do not go away -- in fact it's almost as if they see it as a challenge and feel more self-confident," he told South West German Radio.

Wednesday the government announced it would spend a further $35 million over the next three years to combat right-wing extremism with educational and social projects.

One state leader warned, however, the government could not take the lead in the fight against the far-right and racist violence if the population as a whole were not more prepared to come forward and denounce the culprits. "Individuals have got to show their teeth and stand up and fight," said Bernhard Vogel, conservative leader of Thuringia.

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