- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

BERLIN

An estimated 6,000 neo-Nazis in Dresden staged one of the biggest far-right demonstrations Germany has seen in decades.

The neo-Nazis, most of them dressed in black, rallied Saturday in the eastern German city to stage a “mourning march” in commemoration of the 64th anniversary of the 1945 firebombing of Dresden by Allied planes.

A counterdemonstration drew more than 10,000 participants, who marched against rising neo-Nazism in eastern Germany. The demonstration featured several top German politicians who helped carry a large sign that read, “This city is sick of Nazis.”

Some 4,000 police had been dispatched to Dresden, the capital of the state of Saxony, to ensure that the two groups would not clash (far-left groups repeatedly tried to interrupt the neo-Nazi march but were stopped by police).

The anniversary of the Dresden bombing, which took place at the end of World War II from Feb. 13 to 15, 1945, long has been abused by neo-Nazis to portray their backward ideology.

“They are trying to bring to the fore the German victims of the bombing and at the same time neglect or even deny the victims of the Holocaust,” Hajo Funke, an expert on neo-Nazism at Berlin’s Free University, told United Press International in a telephone interview Monday.

David Irving, a British writer notorious for his involvement in the Holocaust-denial movement, has called the raids targeting Dresden “the true Holocaust,” and Germany’s neo-Nazis over the weekend gladly played to that tune, carrying signs that read “Dresden - Hiroshima” or “Allied Holocaust bombing.” They did not write on their posters, however, that Dresden was a Nazi stronghold during the Third Reich, or that the German invasion of Russia was planned there.

The bombing nevertheless remains one of the most controversial Allied military operations in World War II, with many historians having criticized it as disproportional some 12 weeks before Germany’s capitulation. (Some 1,300 British and U.S. bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices in four raids, destroying 13 square miles of the city and igniting a horrific firestorm that wiped out mostly residential downtown Dresden).

Neo-Nazis, however, have tried to turn Germany into a war victim and to belittle the Holocaust by claiming the Dresden raid was “worse or at least as bad as Auschwitz,” Mr. Funke said.

This is an outrageous claim by sheer numbers. An estimated 1.3 million Jews were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp. While neo-Nazi groups often state that hundreds of thousands of Germans perished in the Dresden air raids, a recent study commissioned by the city concluded that some 25,000 civilians were killed.

Germany’s neo-Nazi scene isn’t interested so much in facts, however, as in demonstrations of strength. The march, organized by the neo-Nazi group Junge Landsmannschaft Ostdeutschland, drew nearly twice as many participants as last year’s event. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, Mr. Funke said.

“Within the neo-Nazi milieu, the far right’s strength has been unbroken since the early 1990s,” he told UPI.

The Verfassungsschutz, a domestic intelligence agency, estimates the number of far-right extremists and neo-Nazis in Germany at some 31,000. Roughly 7,200 of them are organized within the National Democratic Party, or NPD, a far-right group that because of its anti-constitutional tendencies is monitored by the Verfassungsschutz.

The NPD has supported the Dresden march and sent several of its senior officials to join the front rows. For the NPD, this makes sense: It is more successful in Saxony than anywhere else in Germany.

While the NPD still is far from clearing the 5 percent hurdle on a national level, it scored more than 9 percent of the vote in the 2004 state elections in Saxony. The NPD currently occupies eight seats in the state parliament and will try to at least retain them when Saxons go to the polls in late August.

“The march was an important signal for the NPD,” Mr. Funke said. “In Saxony, they are still strongest.”

The march also was a signal for Germany’s democratic forces, Mr. Funke said, as they should unite and step up their efforts to defeat neo-Nazism.

“If the German democratic public does not confront marches like that, then these phenomena will become larger,” he warned.

Stefan Nicola is a UPI Europe correspondent.

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