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How a German Nazi ideologue's hometown dealt with neo-Nazi marchers

Neo-Nazis gather in Spandau

Neo-Nazis gather in Spandau   | Photo Credit: AP

All you need to know about the neo-Nazi rally in Spandau, Berlin

On Saturday, over 500 neo-Nazis are expected to attend a rally in Spandau, Berlin, to commemorate the 30th death anniversary of Rudolf Hess, a former deputy of Adolf Hitler during World War II. Police have reportedly given permission for the rally to take place, subject to certain conditions.

Who is Rudolf Hess?

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1894, Hess, a German national, served during World War I. Hess was with Hitler during what turned out to be their failed takeover of the Bavarian government in 1923, known as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Both were sent to jail, where Hitler dictated most of the material for his memoir Mein Kampf to Hess. This book spelt out Hitler’s political ideology on Germany, which was to have a devastating impact on the world.

In 1933, Hess was appointed deputy to Hitler in the Nazi Party and in 1939, when World War II broke, Hess was third in command after Hitler. Hess was Hitler’s right-hand man until 1941, when he abruptly left and flew to Scotland when he tried to broker peace with the U.K. It was the start of the end for Hess as his intentions misfired, leading to his arrest.

Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess   | Photo Credit: AP

He even served time briefly in the Tower of London and later during a trial in Nuremberg he said he “regretted nothing” and was sentenced to life in prison.

Hess served out the rest of his term in a prison in Spandau. In 1970, Hess’s son campaigned for his father’s release on health and humanitarian grounds as he had been suffering from stomach ulcers. It proved unsuccessful.

 

Hess died in prison in 1987, aged 93. It was widely believed that he had hanged himself, but that has been disputed, with one theory going around that he may have been murdered. Following his death, the Spandau prison was demolished by West Germans, fearing that neo-Nazis would convert it into a shrine for Hess. Hess has been revered as a martyr by neo-Nazis.

Why is this demonstration of particular importance now?

This comes just days after the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the U.S.A, where three people were killed and several injured. The decision to take down certain statues and monuments that glorify leaders who supported slavery and white supremacy during the American Civil War, did not go down well with white supremacists who subsequently staged the protests. These protesters also included neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Counter-protesters had also gathered in Charlottesville.

 

Things got out of hand when the two groups clashed and one protester rammed his car into the counter-protesters, killing one woman. Two policemen were also killed.

What are the conditions being enforced at the Hess demonstration?

As a lesson of sorts from Charlottesville, Berlin police have imposed restrictions such as banning any military music and anti-Semitic chants and allowing only one banner for every 50 demonstrators. Shields, helmets and batons will not be allowed either. While the march has been given the green signal, anything that “glorifies Hess” will not be tolerated.

Is this the first such march in honour of Hess?

No. It began as early as 1988 and it continued on and off till 2005. The town of Wunsiedel, where Hess was buried, has hosted these marches over the years. The residents had grown tired of the influx of neo-Nazis every year and so in 2011, Hess’s body was exhumed.

But that still didn’t deter neo-Nazis from pouring in so in 2014, the residents came up with an ingenious way to teach them a lesson in the most non-violent manner possible. They launched their own “charity” walk, named “Nazis Against Nazis”. The purpose was to donate €10 for every metre walked by the neo-Nazis, the proceeds going to EXIT-Deutschland, an organisation that helps neo-Nazis build new lives. The organisers claimed that the neo-Nazis had raised over €10,000 to fight, ironically, Nazism. There were banners such as “If only the Fuhrer knew”, a reference to Hitler.

This comical ridiculing succeeded in bringing down the number of neo-Nazis and far-right wingers from visiting the town.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 8:14:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/how-a-german-nazi-ideologues-hometown-dealt-with-neo-nazi-marchers/article19524385.ece

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