The Feeling that the Führer Was my Uncle'

Neo-Nazi dropout tells her story

Speigel/May 28, 2008

She spent 20 years as a leading member of Germany's neo-Nazi scene, but then decided to quit and changed her identity. Katja Wolf* tells Speigel Online about how she grew into a world of far-right ideology, and how she now fears revenge for turning her back on it.

The woman is sitting on a bench in the park. There's hardly anyone about. She's wearing the white woollen hat and sunglasses to hide her identity. She feels like she is being pursued. "If my former comrades get hold of me my life might be in danger. My children would probably get kidnapped."

Katja Wolf* spent 20 years in the uppermost echelons of Germany's neo-Nazi scene. She agreed to talk to us on condition that we don't reveal her true name or describe what she looks like. The meeting was arranged by an intermediary.

She can remember every detail about the day she escaped. It was a warm morning in early May 2005. The sky above her farm was cloudless and blue, she had sold the horses and had the pigs slaughtered a few days earlier. Now everything was quiet.

"I was getting more nervous with every passing minute," Katja recalls. "The moving truck was hours late. While my children and I waited for it, police were searching the house of my ex-husband." Katja had filed a police complaint against her former husband, the former regional chairman of the far-right Free German Workers' Party (FAP), and now time was running out. "I wondered who would arrive first at the farm," she says. "The moving van or neo-Nazis seeking revenge."

'The Feeling that the Führer Was my Uncle'

She speaks softly and exudes calm. "You could say I was born a neo-Nazi," she says. She was brought up mainly by her grandfather who had fought in the German army in World War II. "As an old veteran of the Wehrmacht he described the war to me in bright colors. He spent hours telling me why the Jews are evil and how to recognize them."

But her grandfather didn't just talk. "Sometimes I had to go on hill walks with him with a heavy rucksack. He drove me on until my feet bled." And he kept telling her about the war. "After I while I had the feeling that the Führer was my uncle."

At 13 she was wearing Doc Martens boots and a bomber jacket. The back of her head was shaved and she distributed swastika stickers in her school. And she was a member of the neo-Nazi youth group "Viking youth," which was later banned.

When she was 16 she shouted at her female religion teacher in class: "You Jew, I'm not going to let you teach me!"

"An endless anger was burning in me," she remembers. "I felt I had to carry on my grandfather's fight."

After he classroom outburst Katja was expelled from the school. Her mother put her in a children's home but she ran away from it. "I climbed over the high wall of the home at dusk." Her comrades were waiting for her in a car. "As we drove off I knew there was no going back."

"I kept changing apartments every few day. People I'd never met before would put me up. Sometimes it was pensioners, sometimes it was young couples who walked around in Nazi uniforms all day long."

Plans for the Fourth Reich

She entered a secluded far-right existence removed from the outside world. On Hitler's birthday she and her comrades would celebrate by reading out passages from "Mein Kampf" and toast the Führer with sparkling wine. She married her husband, the man she fled from in 2005, on Hitler's birthday. They had several children together, and received money from their neo-Nazi group for each child they bore. They called it "litter premiums", says Katja.

Katja quickly ascended through the ranks of various organisations in the far right scene including the FAP and the National Democratic Party. She knew Holger Apfel, deputy chairman of the NPD and Udo Pastörs, head of the NPD's parliamentary group in the parliament of the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "I would coordinate stunts with them, organize demonstrations, forge plans for the Fourth Reich," says Katja.

But the higher she rose, the more she started to have doubts. Cracks started to appear in her hermetically sealed off world. Ideology and reality started to drift ever further apart.

"On the one hand I didn't like the violence. On the other, I thought that many of my comrades weren't politically consistent enough. They would mouth off in front of the cameras and then quietly go to the office the next day." She said she never understood that approach. "I lived according to the motto: If you're bothering to do it, then do it right. Even if that sounds wrong today."

There was something else that drove Katja out of the neo-Nazi scene. The violence of her husband, who had a criminal record. "He beat me black and blue," she says. "He also injured the children. Once he even burned our daughter's skin."

Fanaticism, Violence and Schizophrenia

When he wasn't beating her or the children he would increasingly shut himself off. "He would speak to no one for weeks, not even to his comrades. He would just sit there watching films about the Third Reich and TV reports about suicide attacks."

Bernd Wagner, who helps people quit the far-right scene, says this behaviour is typical. "Many neo-Nazis realize that something's wrong about their view of the world. To get rid of this feeling they close themselves off from the rest of the world." They blank out everything that doesn't fit in with their ideology. The constant suppressions of feelings and thought often lead to "fanaticism, violence and schizophrenia," says Wagner.

He says many right-wing extremists sooner or later reach a point at which they want to quit. "But many don't do it because they're afraid of being pursued or punished." To help them overcome that fear Wagner and former neo-Nazi leader Ingo Hasselbach formed an organisation called Exit Deutschland which helps neo-Nazis get out of the scene.

They say they have helped more than 300 right-wing extremists to abandon neo-Nazism and start new lives over the last eight years. Katja Wolf is their most prominent dropout.

It was almost midday when the moving van finally arrived. "I knew I would lose everything by dropping out. Friends. Family. My ideology." She fled to a town in eastern Germany located between Dresden and Pirna, a region with an above-average proportion of neo-Nazis. "I thought my pursuers would least expect me to be living among them," she says. But the plan didn't work and she soon realized that her family was in danger. "I found out that my former comrades were looking for me," she says. "They called all kinds of government offices to try to find me."

Even though she was being hunted she held a news conference six months after she fled to explain why she had dropped out. The state-run organisation that was helping her at the time, called AussteigerhilfeRechts, criticized her move. "Frau Wolf didn't heed advice or stick to agreements," Georg Wessling, spokesman for the organisation, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "She sought publicity even though that put the measures taken to protect her at risk."

'You'll Only Die Exhausted'

Katja says the authorities weren't doing enough to hide her identity. While she argued with them, the neo-Nazis continued their hunt and eventually found out where she lived. Her ex-husband was the first to let her know she'd been found. He wrote her a letter.

Katja doesn't want to say what the letter said. But she said the contents largely match an article he published in the Internet shortly afterwards, and which SPIEGEL ONLINE has seen. In that article he indirectly refers to Katja as a "treacherous pig" who was now helping the domestic intelligence which "criminalizes, provokes, sows discord, buys and sells people, misinforms, corrupts, harasses and destroys families."

He indirectly threatened Katja in the article. He wrote that he wasn't interested in "physical attacks against his wife" because they would hit his children. But he said that he hoped the "traitors will one day be brought before a Reich court and get their deserved punishment."

Her husband's message had an effect. "People watched our house, photographed me and followed me," she says. No one ever assaulted her though. "They knew that I'm in touch with the authorities and the media." But she described the stalking as "intolerable psychological terror."

New threats kept appearing in the Internet. One read: "Don't try to run away, you'll only die exhausted."

The family moved again, and Katja again appealed to the media. "The work I did to help Nazi dropout programs and other initiatives against the far right didn't make our flight any easier," she says. "But there was no other way. It was may way of dealing with the past."

She kept on running for three years before her pursuers lost the trail. Today the family is relatively safe. "As safe as a 'treacherous pig' can ever be," she says.

Her children are gradually adjusting to normal life. "The older ones are preparing for jobs. With the smaller ones I'm happy that they can go grow up without pressure, duress or violence." They have the chance to shake off the dark past of their family. *name changed by the editors

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