German city Dresden declares Nazi emergency

Racist: Marchers demand the expulsion of Muslim immigrants. © Getty

Does talk of a Nazi revival belittle the past? Last week, Dresden declared a “Nazi emergency” over right-wing extremism. But many say there’s no serious comparison to the party of the Holocaust.

Perhaps it was just a stunt pulled off by a minor satirical politician and never intended to become headline news all over the world. If so, it failed terribly.

When Dresden City Council considered a motion last week to declare a “Nazi emergency” in the city, leading politicians dismissed it as an exaggeration and a distraction.

But when councillors voted to back the motion by 39 to 29, it set off a chain reaction of horrified media coverage across the world and a new focus on Germany’s worst nightmare.

The motion declared that “anti-democratic, anti-pluralist, misanthropic and right-wing extremist values and actions, including violence in Dresden, are increasingly becoming apparent.”

It demanded increases in funding for education and civil engagement, and called upon the authorities to outlaw far-right marches.

More than 70 years after the Allied Occupation Force attempted to put a stake through the heart of the monster by abolishing the Nazi Party on 10 October 1945, was it rising once more from the grave?

First, that this should happen in Dresden of all places is a particular irony. If there is one German city scarred forever by the horrors of World War Two it is “Florence on the Elbe”.

Beginning on the night of 13 February 1945, more than 1,200 British and American heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city, in four successive raids.

In what was almost certainly a war crime, it was literally reduced to dust — old photos show heaps of white ash. More than 25,000 people were killed and over 75,000 dwellings destroyed.

Second, no country has worked harder to learn from its past than Germany. There is even a special word for it in German, which describes the attempt to analyse, digest and learn to live with the past, in particular the Holocaust.

The state of Saxony has long been a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany Party. In elections in September, support surged, up 17.8% from 2014 to finish at 27.5%.

Its capital city Dresden is also where the anti-Islam Pegida movement began in 2014, and where it continues to hold rallies.

Anger has been stoked by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s principled belief in providing sanctuary for refugees from the war in Syria and other conflict zones.

On Dresden council, Germany’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU) were among those to vote against last week’s emergency resolution.

“State of emergency means [...] a serious threat to public order,” said Jan Donhauser, chairman of the CDU City Council Group. “That is not a term to be used loosely. Also, the focus on right-wing extremism is not what we need. We are the guardians of the liberal-democratic order and we tolerate no violence, no matter from which side it comes," he said.

Donhauser added that the “vast majority” of Dresdeners were “neither right-wing extremists nor anti-democratic”.

Does talk of a Nazi revival belittle the horrors of the past?

Undead

Of course it does, say many wise voices. Just consider. There have been fewer than 100 deaths due to German neo-Nazi terrorism in the past 20 years. Hitler killed 10 million people in half that time, in the biggest state-sponsored, industrial-scale murder the world has ever seen.

It does not belittle the past to see its echoes in the present, say others. Nobody is pretending this is a repeat. But the racist and violent language is very similar. The “siren call” of a “Fourth Reich” is spreading again, says respected historian Gavriel Rosenfeld in a new book. We ignore it at our peril.

You Decide

  1. Do you think racism is getting worse?
  2. Should we stop talking about World War Two so much?

Activities

  1. Make a timeline of the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, and some of the main events in its history.
  2. Research the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945. Do you think it was a war crime? Give your answer on one side of paper.

Some People Say...

“Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana (1863-1952), Spanish-born philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Nazis persecuted people who they didn’t think were worthy members of society — most notably, Jewish people. They introduced laws that discriminated against them, and took away their rights. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis created more than 40,000 concentration camps in areas they controlled. Some were work camps and some were extermination camps, where the Nazis could kill people in great numbers.
What do we not know?
Whether Germany’s rising anti-immigration parties are really “Nazi” parties or more correctly described as right wing populist parties. Many commentators, for instance, see their rise as part of the same international trend that saw voters in the UK vote for Brexit and Americans elect Donald Trump as president.

Word Watch

Satirical politician
Max Aschenbach is from the left-leaning German satirical political party, Die Partei.
Anti-pluralist
Being opposed to the idea that minority groups in society should maintain their unique cultural identities, and that their values and practices should be accepted by the wider dominant culture.
Misanthropic
Showing a dislike of other people.
Allied Occupation Force
After the war, Allied Occupation Force divided Germany into occupation zones for administrative purposes, under the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union.
Florence on the Elbe
A nickname for Dresden which compares it to the Italian city of Florence but refers to the Elbe, Dresden’s great river.
Word
Vergangenheitsbewältigung literally means “the process of coming to terms with the past”.
Alternative for Germany
A far-right political party in Germany, founded in April 2013.
Pegida
Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, abbreviated Pegida, is a German nationalist, anti-Islam, far-right political movement founded in Dresden in October 2014.
Christian Democrats
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is a Christian-democratic, liberal-conservative political party in Germany and the biggest party in the country.
Siren call
The appeal of something that is alluring, but also potentially harmful. The reference comes from Greek mythology. The Sirens were dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
Fourth Reich
An imagined future German regime that is the successor to what Hitler called the Third Reich (1933–1945).

Subjects

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