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Never Again. Back Again. Still There. Right-Wing Extremism in Germany since 1945


The murders committed by the terrorist cell National Socialist Underground and the attacks on asylum-seekers' accommodation and on refugees have once again increased public awareness of the issue of right-wing extremism and right-wing extremist violence. Right-wing populist parties are fomenting xenophobia, while supposed ‘patriots’ are stepping up to ‘save the West’ and are contributing to a general increase in crude language and modes of thought.

The Documentation Centre's new special exhibition addresses these developments and shows the place they occupy in history and in society. It traces right-wing populist, right-wing radical and right-wing extremist actors, organisations and parties from the immediate post-war period to the present day. Using authentic documents as examples, most of them from Munich and Bavaria, it illustrates the activities – including acts of violence – of members of the right-wing spectrum. A separate section of the exhibition devoted to right-wing extremist ideology explains the anti-democratic and hostile elements of this view of the world, including racism, social Darwinism and national chauvinism. The exhibits elucidate the strategies and methods used to disseminate right-wing extremist ideology and looks at the extent to which it has infiltrated mainstream society. The exhibition also surveys the – frequently inadequate – democratic opposition to the activities of the extreme right.

The exhibition is in German. It was realized in cooperation with Fachstelle für Demokratie der Landeshauptstadt München and Antifaschistische Informations-, Dokumentations- und Archivstelle Mün­chen e. V. (a.i.d.a.).

Actors, Organisations and Networks of the Extreme Right

Protest march by the NPD and its youth organisation ‘Junge Nationaldemokraten’ (Young National Democrats, JN) against the exhibition Crimes of the Wehrmacht in Munich’s city hall, 1 March 1997. The demonstration was one of the largest right-wing extremist rallies to take place in the Federal Republic of Germany | © Stadtarchiv München, F-ERG-Q-0124, Photo: Erich Weichelt

In current usage the term right-wing extremism denotes all organisations, actors and tendencies to the right of the established party system. The security authorities classify parties, associations and groups as right-wing extremist if their actions are directed against the basic liberal-democratic order.

The development of the right-wing extremist movement over the past seven decades has been characterised by a constantly changing parade of different actors, trends, organisations and networks. The common thread running through the entire period is the ideology, the rhetoric and the acts of violence committed by the extreme Right.

Only a few months after the collapse of the Nazi regime, unrepentant Nazis joined forces to form new action groups and founded parties, publishing houses and groups in order to prolong the effects of the evil spirit of Nazism.

Today, the small right-wing extremist parties ‘Die Rechte’ (The Right) and ‘Der Dritte Weg’ (the Third Way) exist alongside the NPD. The right-wing populist party ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (Alternative for Germany, AfD) also exhibits right-wing extremist tendencies. Tellingly, although right-wing extremist organisations have been banned time and again since the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany, this has not succeeded in curbing, let alone eliminating the problem in society as a whole.

Chronology of Violence

Memorial to the victims of the bomb attack on the Oktoberfest at Theresienwiese on 26 September 1980, photo 2014 | © Michael Nagy / Presseamt München

The chronology of right-wing extremism after 1945 is a chronology of verbal and physical violence: the string of violent attacks and aggression towards Jews, asylum-seekers and other minorities and groups remains relentless to this day. The Documentation Centre’s presentation documents the shockingly large number and prevalence of such incidents using well-known and less well-known examples from the past seven decades: acts of violence and other offences, including insults and disparaging remarks, threats, attacks involving arson and explosives on Jewish entities, asylum-seekers’ accommodation, US caserns, party offices and memorial sites; attacks on immigrants, homosexuals, the homeless and many others

The first acts of violence to be classified as terrorism were committed in the 1970s, reaching an unprecedented scale in the 1980s. The bomb attack on Munich’s Oktoberfest on 26 September 1980, which killed 13 people and injured more than 211, some of them seriously, was the bloodiest act of terror since the founding of the Federal Republic. Right-wing violence grew further following German reunification. In the 1990ies there were repeated pogrom-like excesses and arson attacks: Hoyerswerda 1991, Rostock-Lichtenhagen 1992, Mölln 1992 and Solingen 1993. Even outside Germany these place names became synonyms for unfettered xenophobia.

The number of right-wing extremist acts of violence rose again dramatically around 2000. While the authorities did respond with programmes to prevent extremism and to strengthen democracy, the terrorist group ‘National Socialist Underground was able to kill ten people undiscovered in the years up to 2007. As the flow of refugees increased, the xenophobic atmosphere intensified further. This is expressed in the spectacular rise in racially motivated violence since then: in an interim report, the Federal Ministry of the Interior recorded 3,500 attacks on refugees and their accommodation for the year 2016 alone.

For a long time, the social and political dangers posed by right-wing extremism were underestimated. For decades, the security forces, the judiciary and politicians believed that right-wing extremist acts were committed by isolated individuals, which did not help to solve the crimes in question.

Ideology of Unequal Worth

Incitement to racist murder ‘Tötet alle Moslems und Nigger’ (Kill all Moslems and niggers) in Rachelstraße, Munich, January 2017 |© Robert Andreasch

At the core of right-wing extremist ideology is the idea that some individuals and people are of greater value than others. This idea blatantly contradicts fundamental and human rights, which assume that all human beings are of equal worth. Around this core ideology various other elements are grouped that cannot be clearly distinguished from one another and that constitute the world outlook of right-wing extremists. The exhibition examines ten terms and themes, which are repeatedly related to one another.

The exhibition makes illustrated that this mixture of views displays continuities that in many respects can be traced back to Nazi ideology. Central elements, such as aggressive ethnic chauvinism, anti-Semitism, racism and social Darwinism continue to be typical strands of right-wing extremist thinking, whether in the Third Reich, in the Neonazi scene of the 1970s and 1980s or among the contemporary ‘New Right’.

A revisionist approach to history and a rejection and defamation of the culture or remembrance as a ‘culture of guilt’ began directly after the Second World War and remains just as virulent today. The exhibition also addresses hostility to Islam as a more recent variant of right-wing hatred.

According to studies, around 5 per cent of Germans had a cohesive right-wing extremist view of the world in 2016. Current studies show, however, that certain elements of this view of the world are by no means limited to the right-wing extremist scene, but can be found in almost all segments of society and in many political camps.

This means that even mainstream society is susceptible to ethnic chauvinist-racist ideas, a state of affairs that is exploited by right-wing extremist parties and organisations for propaganda purposes. Traditionally, they disseminate their hostile ideology at rallies and demonstrations, in the form of posters, leaflets, stickers and graffiti, and more recently on a large scale on the Internet, via social networks and their own pseudo-journalistic blogs. Here the exhibition shows a wealth of recent examples from Munich and Bavaria made available by the a.i.d.a. archive.

Exhibition Catalogue, Events and Educational Programme

As well as documenting the entire exhibition, the catalogue also contains thirteen contributions by experts, who approach the theme of right-wing extremism from a number of different perspectives. The authors are all experts and have concerned themselves intensively with right-wing extremism in their respective field. Alongside historians and political scientists, they also include educators, jurists and journalists as well as professionals from victims’ associations and organisations for people who have decided to leave the right-wing extremist scene. Alongside current scholarly analyses of the ‘extreme Right’ (with contributions by Wolfgang Benz, Alexander Häusler, Beate Küpper and Andreas Zick), political and societal counter-strategies as well as the perspective of the victims are presented (contributions by Miriam Heigl, Marcus Buschmüller, Jutta Neupert and Siegfried Benker). The spectrum of views is supplemented by two journalistic case studies on what are probably the right-wing crimes most deeply engraved in Germany’s collective memory since 1945: the Oktoberfest attack (Ulrich Chaussy) and the murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (Thies Marsen).

Exhibition catalogue (in German): Nie wieder. Schon wieder. Immer noch. Rechtsextremismus in Deutschland seit 1945, ed. Winfried Nerdinger in collaboration with Mirjana Grdanjski and Ulla-Britta Vollhardt, 280 Pages, Metropol Verlag. Museum edition (Softcover): ISBN: 978-3-946041-18-4, 28 Euro (available at the bookshop of NS-Dokumentationszentrums München); publisher's edition (Hardcover): ISBN: 978-3-86331-369-2, 34 Euro (available via booktrade and the publisher Metropol Verlag)

In the accompanying Programme of Events (in German) the main themes presented in the exhibition will be examined and discussed in more detail in various formats. It is being realized in cooperation with Fachstelle für Demokratie der Landeshauptstadt München und Antifaschistische Informations-, Dokumentations- und Archivstelle München e. V. (a.i.d.a.).

Every Tuesday at 17.30 p.m. there is a guided tour of the exhibition for visitors (included in the entrance fee; not on bank holidays).

The Educational Programme (in German) includes bookable tours as well as seminars on the special exhibition designed for school and adult groups and teachers.

> Download Brochure Events and Educational Programme (in German) PDF | 82,1 KB

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