‘Echoes of 1930s’ as German priest threatened

Dissenters: anti-Nazi priest Dietrich Bonhoeffer (left) and Father Ndjimbi (right)

A priest in Germany who objected to insults against refugees has resigned after getting death threats. As anti-immigration sentiment grows, some fear a repeat of the country’s Nazi trauma.

On Sunday, parishoners in the Bavarian town of Zorneding arrived at St Martin’s church expecting an ordinary sermon. But their priest had an announcement.

‘You cannot imagine what I have experienced here,’ said Father Olivier Ndjimbi-Tshiende. ‘The pressure is too great and I am tired.’

The Congolese pastor was resigning after receiving five death threats. A local resident told him: ‘We’ll get you after early evening Mass’. A letter read: ‘Off to Auschwitz with you’. He will now move to a different church.

He received the threats after criticising local politician Sylvie Bohrer, who called refugees from Eritrea ‘invaders’ in October. When Father Ndjimbi objected to her language, her deputy, Johann Haindl, responded with a racial slur against him.

There is currently a highly-charged debate over migration in Germany. Over a million people, from various homelands, entered the country in 2015. Most came after Chancellor Angela Merkel said in August there would be ‘no limit’ on the number who could seek asylum there.

Attitudes towards them have hardened. After mass sexual assaults in cities including Cologne on New Year’s Eve, 81% of respondents to a poll said Merkel’s government has ‘lost control’ of the situation.

Far-right political parties have profited. In local elections this Sunday, the AfD is on course to make the biggest gains by a far-right party since the fall of Hitler in 1945.

More than 200 violent attacks against immigrants have been reported in the last year. Last month, an empty shelter was burnt down by a cheering crowd. Germany’s Biedermanner (middle class) are becoming increasingly attracted to hardline protest groups such as Pegida.

Such behaviour is particularly sensitive in Germany, owing to the persecution and genocide of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. Father Ndjimbi’s case has drawn parallels with anti-Nazi dissenter Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a key founding member of the Confessing Church, who helped Jews to escape and assisted a plot to kill Hitler.

A bit of history repeated?

It is happening again, say some. Groups such as AfD and Pegida stress immigrants’ ‘otherness’ and give cover to thugs who attack them. Just as the Great Depression fed intolerance, so has the 2008 financial crash. This is a terrifying reminder of the 1930s, when the Nazis created an environment in which Jews could be persecuted.

That’s a simplistic reaction, say others. Germans now have faith in the ballot box, not the jackboot. Between the wars their political and economic system failed; now they set an example to the world. Events such as Cologne show Merkel’s open invitation has caused problems; those who object to it are mostly reasonable people who hate fascism.

You Decide

  1. Does the attitude towards immigrants in Germany scare you?
  2. Is history repeating itself in Germany?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to Father Ndjimbi, explaining how you reacted to the news of his resignation.
  2. Write a one-page essay plan under the following title: ‘How far is Germany’s anti-immigrant sentiment a repeat of the mistakes of the 1930s?’

Some People Say...

“History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Mark Twain

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this affect people who just stay where they are?
In a globalised world, it is inevitable that people will come into contact with others from different backgrounds. Migration changes societies, as people bring new ideas with them. Germany is facing the challenge of keeping the process harmonious even when people are arriving in large numbers.
Why does Germany matter to me?
Germany is at the centre of Europe, geographically and metaphorically. It has the largest economy and population of any country in the continent. Its decisions have guided the European Union’s decisions — for example, when the Greek debt crisis came to a head last year, Merkel was the most significant politician representing Greece’s creditors. So German attitudes have an important impact on the rest of Europe.

Word Watch

Auschwitz
More than a million people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest death camp of the Holocaust.
Sylvie Bohrer
She resigned as leader of the local chapter of the CSU political party after making the comments.
Deputy
Haindl also resigned after his comment.
81%
According to a poll by broadcaster ARD, released in early February.
AfD
Their name means Alternative for Germany.
Gains
Local elections are due to take place in three states: Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Palatinate. Last weekend, the AfD and the neo-Nazi NPD had significant success in the state of Hesse. AfD won 13.2% of the vote, while the NPD gained 17% in the town of Leun, where they became the third largest party.
Biedermanner
Named after Gottlieb Biedermaier, a fictional countryside teacher invented as a parody of a docile middle class in the 1840s. See the New York Times article for more detail.
Pegida
This stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West.
Confessing Church
A Lutheran church, set up in response to the Nazi-controlled National Reich Church.

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