Angermuende, Germany — The football-sized rocks crashed through the window of Holger Zschoge’s ground-floor apartment on the night of Jan. 30 while he was sleeping.
Not surprisingly, Zschoge, a 35-year-old schoolteacher, has come to conclude that right-wing extremists from this small, bleak town in eastern Germany are mobilizing for an onslaught on people like him from what Germans call the “alternative scene” — a loose and ill-defined coalition of leftists, foreigners and others who view themselves as apart from German norms.
Increasingly, though, Zschoge is not alone in his analysis. Across the former East Germany, sociologists, politicians and local residents say, a neo-Nazi wave is building on the spoiled hopes of Germany’s unification, drawing as much on nostalgia for the clear-cut conformism of Communist dictatorship as on the equally unambiguous nationalism and racial exclusivism of Nazism.
Styling themselves, moreover, as freedom fighters — paradoxically in the tradition of leftist guerrilla warfare — young neo-Nazis are seeking to establish what they call “national liberated zones,” drawing their tactics from a five-page manifesto that circulates on the neo-Nazi Thule Net computer site.
“We must create the space in which we exercise real power, in which we are capable of imposing sanctions — that is, we punish deviants and enemies, we support comrades in the struggle, we help fellow citizens who are oppressed, marginalized and persecuted,” the manifesto declares.
Of 6,400 violence-prone neo-Nazis estimated to be in Germany, according to Interior Ministry statistics, 3,700 — more than half — live in eastern Germany. In the first six months of 1997, moreover, the police recorded 4,829 crimes committed by neo-Nazis — 353 of them involving violent attacks. Just over half the attacks on foreigners were in the former East Germany, according to these figures, despite the much smaller eastern population of 17 million and the much smaller proportion of foreigners there.
Predominantly in their teens, though some are even younger, these jobless or school-age skinheads boast their own emblems like shaven heads and paratroop boots, and even their own heavy rock music. Drawn largely from the huge, anonymous housing projects of the old East Germany, many espouse the anti- American views expressed in songs like that of one rightist rock-band called Tonstoerung, meaning “sound-jamming”: “USA, we don’t want you/USA, we don’t need you here.”
After 65 years of dictatorship — first under Hitler, then under the Communists — and after more than seven years of widespread disillusion with the fruits of reunification, social workers say, extremist, right-wing ideology offers young people a nationalistic vision of superiority that translates frequently into violence.
And, they say, at a time when teen-age violence is rising in many parts of Europe, this new ground swell of neo-Nazism is markedly different from the wave of extremist arson attacks on foreigners that marked the first three years of unification. Then, rightist rage was directed primarily against the Turks and other foreigners who make up 9 percent of Germany’s 82 million population.
Now, the drive for so-called liberated zones divides towns like this into rival fiefs of left and right.
The railroad station here, for instance, is considered off-limits by many of those who frequent the Alternative Literature and Info Cafe — the youth club Zschoge set up four years ago in a low building adorned with Che Guevara and anti-Nazi murals. Intended as refuge from neo-Nazism, it is now virtually a bunker with boarded-up windows covered in steel mesh to shield against firebombs and with an iron grille over the door.
“There are situations to avoid,” said Nicole, an 18-year-old high-school student who declined to give her full name. Even among her school classmates, she said, “The right is in the majority.” Some young leftists and local journalists say they believe tacit support for the rightists spreads into more official strata. When the cafe was firebombed, the police did not even open a docket to investigate the incident.
“We certainly avoid the railroad station,” said another 18-year-old, willing to be identified only as Stefan. The reasons are clear: last November, for instance, a 16-year-old girl was beaten to the ground by five other young women who ended their attack by stubbing a lighted cigarette in her face, residents said.
“What is happening here is unfortunately nothing unusual,” said Annegret Klatt, a police spokeswoman. Another police official said this town was like many others in the surrounding state of Brandenburg. “There is not a single town that doesn’t have swastikas turning up or a banner being seized.” the official said.
With a national election looming in September, it might be thought the neo- Nazi wave in eastern Germany should be causing some concern to the politicians in Bonn. In some eastern states, notably Saxony and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, the right-wing National Democratic Party says it is recording its fastest growth. And in towns like this, where a Soviet war memorial offers a reminder of the old socialist days of artificial full employment before unification in 1990 wrought 25 percent joblessness — twice the national average of 12.6 — the seeds of discontent are all too visible.
“People have discovered an identity as nationalists because there’s nothing left of their old identity except that they are Germans,” said Anetta Kahane, from a state-financed organization that seeks to help foreigners cope with racism. Thus, while rightists regard themselves as repositories of those same values claimed by Hitler — industriousness, cleanliness and racial superiority — the left and foreigners are called parasites who feed on the Aryan Volk: “Zecke Verrecke” — death to the ticks — has become the rightist battle cry.
Unlike young people in western Germany, whose education drums home an anti- Nazi message, moreover, young easterners are more conditioned by the old East German propaganda that denied historical responsibility for the Third Reich. “That means there are fewer inhibitions” about espousing the neo-Nazi cause, Ms. Kahane said. Not only that, Germany’s prohibition of Nazi emblems and propaganda make the extreme right a natural focus of revolt. Even in the former East Germany, said Ms. Kahane, herself an easterner from the small population of Jews there, rebellious teen-agers adopted neo-Nazi totems.
The mass unemployment that followed the dismantling of the East German economy means that some young people have come to associate the arrival of Western values with disgruntled, jobless parents and a society that is going nowhere. And 40 years of Communist dictatorship created a conformist society ill-equipped to deal with new challenges.
“In the West there is an important layer of society who would say they were against this,” said Zschoge, referring to neo-Nazism. “That layer is missing here.”
Indeed, said Stefan Graubner, a social worker in Eberswalde, 12 miles west of here: “There is no parental image of how to succeed. People know at 18 that they won’t make it.”
Goetz Aly, a prominent historian of the Nazi era, wrote recently in the Berliner Zeitung that opinion surveys indicated that 80 percent of eastern Germans opposed the presence of foreigners in their land — even though the proportion of non-Germans in eastern Germany is around 1.8 percent, far lower than the national average of 9 percent. Echoing Maoist theory of guerrilla warfare, he wrote that, “The radicalized right-wing fish frolic in the warm waters of open or shamefully hidden broad public approval.”
Such assessments do not, however, seem to have intruded onto the agenda of the politicians in Bonn, where the euphoria of German unification that once won Chancellor Helmut Kohl vigorous support has dissolved into a long-haul, unwelcome slog through impenetrable difficulties that few in the West anticipated, neo-Nazism included. Neither government nor the opposition has made neo-Nazism an issue for the September election.
“They think that if they deny it for long enough, it will go away,” Ms. Kahane said.