Germany has not forgotten the lessons of the Nazis

The intolerance and hate shown by representatives of the right wing political party AfD in the Bundestag is by no means commonplace in Germany.

Many Germans helped welcoming and integrating refugees – and are still helping.
Many Germans helped welcoming and integrating refugees – and are still helping. dpa

Germany has a problem, and that problem goes by the name of Alternative for Germany (AfD), “the most popular party” in certain parts of eastern Germany. No one would question that. Paul Hockenos, in his New York Times op-ed from April 15, has this much right.

Has Germany really forgotten the lessons of the Nazis

It’s irrefutable that the AfD is a racist, nationalist political party, with members that are avowed homophobes, xenophobes and even anti-Semites. But the AfD also counts friends of Israel among their members, as well as Jews and Muslims, and gays and lesbians.

While Hockenos is not wrong in writing that “people wearing Jewish headgear are harassed on the street” in Germany, his statement that “expanded expressions of intolerance and hate” by AfD party members in the Bundestag have become “commonplace” cannot go uncontested. And it’s also off the mark to claim that “the AfD is riding a shocking rise of German anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”

But are anti-Semitism and xenophobia truly on the rise? Has Germany really “forgotten the lessons of the Nazis,” as the title of The New York Times piece asks?

A mistrust of the media – not only in Germany

Anti-Semitism and xenophobia were present in Germany 10 years ago as well, and 20 years ago, and 40 years ago. In 1981, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt commissioned the Nowak and Sörgel Social Science Institute (SINUS) to conduct a study that ultimately showed that around 13 percent of West German adults had “an ideologically closed, far-right frame of mind, the main supports of which are a National Socialist view of history, hatred of foreigners, democracy, and pluralism and an exaggerated devotion to das Volk, fatherland and family.”

The study revealed a frame of thinking that included a cult of leadership and anti-Semitism, as well as mistrust of the media – as we see again today, and not only in Germany. It also showed that more than one third (37 percent) of Germans were “disposed to authoritarianism,” but that this mindset did not lead to action.

Right-wing radicals and extremists rallied behind the AfD

It is not the case that anti-Semitism and xenophobia have risen in Germany. First of all, the far right’s hatred for refugees has a distinct target: Muslims. In 2014 already, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Dresden and elsewhere to protest the influx of migrants. At that time, there was no serious political party that dared admitting hostility toward foreigners.

Back then, the spokespeople for the AfD, and those of the party’s more radical faction, embraced this theme, despite resistance from the party’s less extremist leadership, who were focusing more on the EU and the euro crisis. As a result, right-wing radicals and extremists – as well as the more authoritarian slice of the middle class – rallied behind the AfD, and the far-right xenophobes gained the upper hand within the party.

Germany – the final destination for one million refugees

The far right now controls the AfD, which has absorbed most members and supporters of the NPD, the relatively insignificant former bastion of Germany’s right wing.

Fear of outsiders generally rears its head wherever a large number of foreigners settle upon “native soil.” This has been and still is the case not only in Germany, the final destination for one million refugees in 2015, most of whom were fleeing war and terror and Islamism in Syria. Germany originally welcomed these refugees and displaced persons with open arms.

Anti-Semitism is decreasing in Western Germany

Hundreds of thousands helped – and are still helping – the newcomers learn the language and cope with the hardships of everyday life in a foreign country. Xenophobia became apparent later when the refugees were to be resettled in various areas across the country, especially in places where there had so far hardly been any foreigners – like eastern Germany.

In this respect, the results of the recently published Leipzig authoritarianism study are particularly interesting. Last year, researchers surveyed 2,416 people in Germany (1,918 in the former West Germany and 498 in the former East) as to whether they agreed with certain stereotypes about Jews and whether the country should halt the immigration of Muslims.

The result was that almost one in four Germans were against accepting more foreigners, but the figure was significantly higher in the East. The study also found that anti-Semitism is decreasing, but only in the West, not in the East.

Read the whole text on The German Times website

Peter H. Koepf is editor in chief of The German Times as well as a co-author of the book by Franziska Schreiber titled “Inside AfD. Der Bericht einer Aussteigerin“ (Inside the AfD. The report of an ex-member), Berlin, 2018. 

© The German Times