Neo-Nazis from U.S. and Europe build far-right links at concerts in Germany

Of note. As if we don’t have enough to worry about these days…

As the deafeningly loud, rapid-fire music known as “hate rock” blasted out, hundreds of white nationalists, skinheads and neo-Nazis nodded their heads and swigged their drinks.

Among them was Keith, 46, a welder from Las Vegas, who for the second year in a row had traveled from Nevada to Germany to attend several far-right events.

“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” Keith told NBC News in June.

However, he was not there just to enjoy the music. He said he was also hoping to share ideas and strategies with like-minded people — a small part of what Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said was becoming an increasingly interconnected international movement with “clear links” between Europe and the U.S.

“You can’t just sit at home and eat cheeseburgers anymore. It’s time to mobilize,” said Keith, who did not wish to have his last name published, for fear of reprisals back in the U.S.

Events like the one in Themar, a small town in central Germany, are reluctantly tolerated and strictly controlled by the authorities. Both federal and local police could be seen monitoring the gathering, and riot squads with water cannons were braced for trouble nearby.

Keith changed his clothes before venturing to the event. At a privately run hotel before the event, he had been dressed from head to toe in clothing full of white power symbolism, and he wore a necklace showing Odin’s wolves and Thor’s hammer.

His big steel-capped boots, with 14 lace holes representing a popular white supremacist slogan, were scuffed from “brawling,” he boasted.

He said he was prevented from wearing them outside because German police considered them a weapon.

The country’s laws also ban the display of Nazi imagery and any action that could be deemed an incitement of hatred. To avoid arrest, many attendees walked around with Band-Aids on to hide their swastika tattoos.

“You’ll notice there’s a whole lot of people with scratches or bruises around here,” Keith said, adding that while he had given Nazi salutes many times, he would not do so in Germany because he would likely be arrested

Like other events of its type, it was held just outside the town, cordoned off to keep it separate from the local community. Keith and his fellow attendees then faced a gauntlet of searches and Breathalyzer tests from the authorities and jeering from a handful of anti-fascist protesters.

Separated by police and metal barriers, one of the demonstrators blew bubbles at them, while another taunted them with a beer can on a fishing rod.

As they have at many events of this type, police had banned the sale of alcohol, citing violence at similar events in the past. In March 2019, journalists and police officers were attacked at a far-right rock concert in Saxony.

Once inside the event in Themar, attendees, including a number of Americans like Keith, were greeted by Patrick Schroeder, who runs a weekly internet TV show espousing far-right views. He handed them free red baseball caps emblazoned with “MGHA,” shortform for “Make Germany Hate Again.” They mimick the “Make America Great Again” hats used to promote Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“We make it look like the Donald Trump party when he was elected,” said Schroeder, who has been dubbed a “nipster,” or “Nazi-hipster,” by the German media.

While the German government does not regularly publish the number of far-right events and concerts, the Interior Ministry has provided them when asked by members of Parliament. The last time they were made public, the figures showed that there had been 132 events of this type from January to September 2019.

There was a “major increase” in the number of violent crimes linked to the far right in Germany in 2017, according to the latest report from the Interior Ministry. The rise in right-wing extremist offenses motivated by anti-Semitism during the reporting year was also “noticeable,” it said, without providing figures.

In the U.S. meanwhile, the FBI recorded 7,036 hate crimes in 2018 — the latest figures available — of which 59.6 percent were racially motivated. That was a 17 percent spike in hate crimes overall, and there was a 37 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents — the most common kind.

While it is unclear how many Americans attend events like the one in Themar, “there’s a great deal of cross-pollination” between the far right in Europe and the U.S., said Greenblatt.

“There are clear links between white supremacists in the United States and their ideological fellow travelers in Europe,” Greenblatt said in an interview, adding that the alt-right in the U.S. and Europe’s far-right Identitarian movement were both young and sophisticated and used the internet and social media to spread their messages.

“Both these movements have a lot in common,” he added. “They are anti-globalization, they are anti-democratic, they are anti-Semitic to the core, and they are highly opposed to multiculturalism and diversity of any sort.”

European white supremacists were marching in 2017 at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer was killed when a car was deliberately driven into a crowd, he said.

A few months later, American white supremacists marched at the Independence Day rally in Poland, he added.

Greenblatt said there was a “through line” between a series of atrocities linked to attackers inspired by far-right thinking, including Anders Breivik, now 40, who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terrorist attack in July 2011.

Breivik told a court that he wanted to promote his manifesto, a mixture of his thinking, far-right theories and other people’s writing. This included sections from a manifesto produced by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who over a number of years sent letter bombs to several universities and airlines, killing three people and wounding 23 others.

American white supremacist Dylann Roof, now 25, who killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in a bid to promote a “race war” in June 2015, cited Breivik as an influence, as did white nationalist Alexandre Bissonnette, now 21, who shot six people dead at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017. Bissonnette also praised Roof.

After 11 people were gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, the suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, was found to have repeatedly threatened Jews in online forums. British lawmaker Jo Cox was killed in the street in 2016 by a man inspired by far-right beliefs.

In March 2019, a man walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 59 people as he livestreamed the attack on Facebook. He referred to Breivik, Roof and Bissonnette in his writings.

“We are no longer talking about one-off events, but a loosely coordinated chain of far-right attacks across the world, where members of these networks inspire — and challenge — each other to beat each other’s body counts,” said Peter Neumann, a professor of security studies at King’s College London.

These killers want to “launch a race war,” he said, adding: “The aim is to carry out attacks, claim responsibility, explain your actions and inspire others to follow.”

Describing himself as “a white internationalist because I’m international at this point and I’m participating in political activities on more than one continent,” Keith said he did not approve of violence.

But he said he thought the far-right attacks were a “direct result of the terrorist attacks that have happened against Christians and white people throughout the world.”

Keith said he did not believe that Trump was a white nationalist, although he said the U.S. president was “definitely white” and “definitely a nationalist.”

However, he added: “To put the two together is suggesting that he has some kind of desire to be associated with people like myself, and I don’t believe he does.”

Nevertheless, he said it is “great” having a national leader who “makes common-sense decisions in line” with his own beliefs.

Greenblatt said he found it “deeply disturbing” to see neo-Nazis “taking cues from our commander in chief.”

Trump has been criticized on a number of occasions for his use of language and his failure to condemn racist behavior from his supporters.

After Heyer was killed, Trump declared that there were “very fine people on both sides,” although in a later White House briefing he said the “egregious display of “hatred, bigotry and violence” had “no place in America.

Similarly, as the president stood by, the crowd at a Trump rally last year in Greenville, North Carolina, chanted “send her back” about the Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, collectively known as “the squad.”

Trump later disavowed those chants, telling reporters: “i was not happy with it. I disagree with it.”

Asked about whether white supremacists were taking their cues from Trump, a White House spokesperson told NBC News the the president had consistently and repeatedly rejected racism, racial discrimination, and anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

That should be a real cause for concern, Greenblatt said. “The racists feel like they have someone who is in their corner, and that is a total break from the role of the presidency.”

Source: Neo-Nazis from U.S. and Europe build far-right links at concerts in Germany

Germany tries to halt U.S. interest in firm working on coronavirus vaccine

Pretty reprehensible actions if true (in line with the America first rhetoric):

Berlin is trying to stop Washington from persuading a German company seeking a coronavirus vaccine to move its research to the United States, prompting German politicians to insist no country should have a monopoly on any future vaccine.

German government sources told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. administration was looking into how it could gain access to a potential vaccine being developed by a German firm, CureVac.

Earlier, the Welt am Sonntag German newspaper reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had offered funds to lure CureVac to the United States, and the German government was making counter-offers to tempt it to stay.

Responding to the report, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, wrote on Twitter: “The Welt story was wrong.”

A U.S. official said: “This story is wildly overplayed … We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help. And any solution found would be shared with the world.”

A German Health Ministry spokeswoman, confirming a quote in the newspaper, said: “The German government is very interested in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the new coronavirus are also developed in Germany and Europe.”

“In this regard, the government is in intensive exchange with the company CureVac,” she added.

Welt am Sonntag quoted an unidentified German government source as saying Trump was trying to secure the scientists’ work exclusively, and would do anything to get a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the United States.”

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told a news conference that the government’s coronavirus crisis committee would discuss the CureVac case on Monday.

CureVac issued a statement on Sunday, in which it said: “The company rejects current rumors of an acquisition”.

CureVac’s main investor Dietmar Hopp said he was not selling and wanted CureVac to develop a coronavirus vaccine to “help people not just regionally but in solidarity across the world.”

“I would be glad if this could be achieved through my long-term investments out of Germany,” he added.

A German Economy Ministry spokeswoman said Berlin “has a great interest” in producing vaccines in Germany and Europe.

She cited Germany’s foreign trade law, under which Berlin can examine takeover bids from non-EU, so-called third countries “if national or European security interests are at stake”.

EXPERIMENTAL VACCINE

Florian von der Muelbe, CureVac’s chief production officer and co-founder, told Reuters last week the company had started with a multitude of coronavirus vaccine candidates and was now selecting the two best to go into clinical trials.

The privately-held company based in Tuebingen, Germany hopes to have an experimental vaccine ready by June or July to then seek the go-ahead from regulators for testing on humans.

On its website, CureVac said CEO Daniel Menichella early this month met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and senior representatives of pharmaceutical and biotech companies to discuss a vaccine.

CureVac in 2015 and 2018 secured financial backing for development projects from its investor the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working on shots to prevent malaria and influenza.

In the field of so-called mRNA therapeutics, CureVac competes with U.S. biotech firm Moderna and German rival BioNTech, which Pfizer (PFE.N) has identified as a potential collaboration partner.

Drugs based on mRNA provide a type of genetic blueprint that can be injected into the body to instruct cells to produce the desired therapeutic proteins. That contrasts with the conventional approach of making these proteins in labs and bio-reactors.

In the case of vaccines, the mRNA prompts body cells to produce so-called antigens, the tell-tale molecules on the surface of viruses, that spur the immune system into action.

Companies working on other coronavirus-vaccine approaches include Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (INO.O).

Source:  Germany tries to stop U.S. from luring away firm seeking coronavirus vaccine

Canada shares expertise with Germany on successfully integrating immigrants

Over the years, there has been a steady stream of German politicians and officials coming to Canada to learn about Canadian immigration policies and programs.

Environics and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung did an interesting comparison of public attitudes between the two countries: Public sentiment toward immigrants and refugees: Current perspectives in Canada and Germany

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino was in Germany this week to share what Canada has learned from an immigration program that helps newcomers find jobs and learn about life in Canada before they arrive.

At the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mendicino took part in a summit looking at best practices for integrating migrants. Canada was the only foreign country the Germans invited to take part in the summit.

“Our friends in Germany see Canada as a role model, as a country that has achieved success,” Mendicino told CBC News.

Canada’s pre-arrival settlement services provide newcomers with information and supports, including employment assistance, while they’re still overseas. The goal of the program is to better prepare immigrants to ease into Canadian society by educating them about life in Canada and navigating roadblocks they could encounter.

An internal government audit in 2018 found that while the program was valuable in helping newcomers, it had a low uptake due to a lack of widespread awareness about the services available. It concluded there was a “missed opportunity.”In response to that finding, the government set aside $113 million to raise the profile of the program. Mendicino said a recent survey showed that 85 per cent of people who used the services said the program helped them find them a job, and about 88 per cent said the program helped them get foreign credentials recognized in Canada.

Boost for productivity, growth

“If we are able to facilitate integration by speeding up the processes and helping immigrants to land a job, then that will contribute to productivity and growth. It will mean that one more job vacancy is filled and that will contribute to a stronger economy as a whole,” Mendicino said.

The minister said Canada’s pre-arrival settlement services program has been around for about 20 years, undergoing various refinements and adjustments over that period.

Describing Canada and Germany as “like-minded countries,” Mendicino said the two nations have shared values and an understanding that solid integration of immigrants leads to better outcomes for both the newcomers and the country’s economy.

Canada has been praised in past on the world stage for programs that attract and retain workers to communities outside large urban centres, and that link immigration to labour gaps.”What we’re discovering is that some of our strongest G7 partners like Germany are starting to look at Canada as a role model, so that tells me that we certainly have been recognized for having a specific expertise in this area,” he said.

Last year, the OECD praised Canada’s economic migration system as one of the most successful in the world. It said Canada is widely seen as a “benchmark” for other countries.

Programs that assist in successful immigration and attract skilled workers are key to meeting the economic challenges of the future, Mendicino said.

“We will really benefit from continuing to grow our country and our economy through immigration, and that’s part of the narrative that I shared with our friends in Germany,” he said.

Germany’s new labor immigration law explained

Good overview:

It has never been easy for foreigners to come to Germany for work. For many decades, political leaders have insisted the country wasn’t pursuing active immigration policies. But this has changed in recent years due to the fact that Germany is lacking more than a million skilled laborers to keep its economy going.

As of March 1, a new law will facilitate the immigration of qualified workers to Germany. Below is a list of the most important changes for all those who are seeking a job from abroad.

Who is considered a skilled worker?

Contrary to previous legislation, being considered a skilled worker, or “specialist,” is no longer restricted to a person with a university or college degree. Instead, the term now also applies to someone who has acquired a vocational training certificate. The training program must be at least two years in length, and the resulting degree needs to be recognized as equal or similar to a German degree.

If you want to check whether your qualification suits the requirements, you can access an information portal set up by the German Labor Ministry. How this works is explained on the “Make it in Germany” website, where you can also find links to other issues related to working in the country.

The government’s aim is to finish the recognition process of an applicant within three months after all the necessary documents have been provided. A work visa will be issued four weeks later.

Who is allowed to work in Germany?

In principle, applicants from outside the European Union are generally allowed to work in Germany if they have a work contract with a firm based in Germany and the relevant professional qualification for the job. The new law has stripped away a key regulation: That people from outside the EU can only take a job if there is no German or EU citizen who is able to do it instead.

Job seekers with qualifications lower than the vocational training level are, however, excluded by the new law. They can nevertheless apply for immigration if they possess a work contract or a job offer from a German employer. The employer then has to train the applicant and make sure he or she acquires a professional-level certificate within two years.

What else is needed?

All those with a work contract or a specific job offer are granted residency status for four years, or the duration of their contract. After four years, they can apply for a permanent residence status.

If you’re looking for a job, you are also allowed entry into Germany — on the condition that you can prove you’re able to support yourself and that you speak sufficient German (B2 level).

The new law also applies to foreigners seeking professional qualifications or a university degree in Germany. In addition, they must have obtained a diploma from a German school abroad or any other degree that qualifies them for university or professional education, and they must not be older than 25. After working for two years in Germany, people in this category can apply for permanent residence status.

Foreign skilled workers who are older than 45 have to prove they earn a minimum of €3,685 per month in their German job, or possess adequate old-age retirement funds.

Special rules for special skills

In sectors with an acute shortage of skilled professionals, the bar for emigrating to Germany has been lowered as well. Medical doctors, IT specialists or registered certified nurses, for example, don’t need to have their qualifications recognized by German authorities as long as they can prove a minimum of five years of on-the-job experience.

However, employers are obliged to take on financial responsibility for up to one year, including repatriation costs, for an employee whose contract has expired and who refuses to leave Germany voluntarily.

Family members are allowed

Under the new law, qualified workers are also allowed to bring their spouses and minor children to Germany. But they must prove to be able to support their family members financially and must provide them with sufficient living space. They cannot receive state benefits such as social welfare payments.

Welfare organizations including the Catholic charity Caritas have criticized the regulation, saying it would tear families apart. Those foreigners working in social occupations or the care sector wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements for families, they said.

Are refugees and asylum-seekers also welcome?

In principle, the new regulations also apply to asylum-seekers and refugees, although politicians admit only very few of them would qualify for it, namely those granted exceptional leave to remain.

Such foreigners with no residential status but who cannot be deported for various reasons are allowed to start training under certain conditions. They must have been working at least 35 hours a week for 18 months, and need to be able to support themselves. In addition, they must have sufficient command of the German language (B2 level) and must not have committed a criminal offense.

Anti-Islam Pegida rally meets resistance in Dresden

Of note:

Thousands of people rallied in the eastern German city of Dresden on Monday to protest against Germany’s anti-Islamic and xenophobic Pegida movement.

Pegida supporters, including Bjorn Hocke of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), gathered for the group’s 200th demonstration in the city.

Hundreds of anti-Pegida demonstrators arrived in Neumarkt square, with posters carrying slogans such as “Red card for Nazis” and “Grandmas against the right.”

Organizers of the counterrally said earlier on Monday that they had expected around 1,000 people to attend, but 90 minutes into the event, they estimated that 2,500 people had arrived, according to German news agency DPA.

Local media reported that Pegida leaders complained and threatened to cancel planned speeches due to the level of noise from counterprotesters.

Nazi rhetoric

The Pegida movement, created in 2014, is led by Lutz Bachmann,who has previously been convicted for incitement.

As one of the AfD’s most contentious figures, Hocke has been accused of using Nazi rhetoric in his speeches.

Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.”

Local chapters of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the state of Saxony called for a counterrally under the slogan “Democracy needs backbone.”

Both parties have the support of Saxony’s Association of Jewish Communities, the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.

State premier Michael Kretschmer, and a number of his ministers, have offered their support in a private capacity.

Bjorn Hocke has been accused of using Nazi rhetoric in his speeches.

AfD presence

AfD executive board member Alexander Wolf told the DPA news agency that Hocke’s rally attendance was risky ahead of elections in the northern German city of Hamburg on Sunday.

“As legitimate as the issue may be, a demonstration does always hold risks because you cannot control who takes part,” he said.

Thousands of anti-Pegida protesters took to Dresden’s Neumarkt square

The Pegida movement has also had the support of Hocke in the past.  In 2016, he said in a speech that: “Without them, the AfD would not be where it is.”

Pegida held its first rally in Dresden in October 2014, calling for an end to the “Merkel dictatorship” and protesting against Islam and refugees

During the movement’s peak, tens of thousands of people participated in Pegida rallies.

Source: Anti-Islam Pegida rally meets resistance in Dresden

Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered

Worrisome:

Sometimes, it takes an earthquake to reveal what’s below the surface.

In the eastern German state of Thuringia this week a regional election displayed the disastrous state of Germany’s political center — and how far the country now stands from the anti-fascist consensus it proclaims to maintain.

On Wednesday, the state Parliament of Thuringia elected Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democratic Party as the new governor. The only reason Mr. Kemmerich was able to win, though, was because he received the backing of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials AfD. The Free Democrats in Thuringia, along with members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed to the deal to ensure Mr. Kemmerich took office.

In doing so, the center-right parties broke a taboo that has been in place in German politics since the end of the Nazi era. Mr. Kemmerich became the first high-ranking German politician since World War II to be elected by relying on votes from a far-right party.

The centrists’ decision to side with the far right is especially worrying in Thuringia, where the AfD is not only the second strongest party in the regional parliament, but also more extreme than in any other state. The AfD’s boss there, Björn Höcke, is the leader of a hard-line movement inside the party known as “Der Flügel” — The Wing. In a 2018 book, he warned of the “coming death of the nation through population replacement.” Last year, a court ruled that he could legally be termed a fascist.

The events in Thuringia have shaken German politics. Ms. Merkel called the outcome “unforgivable.” Lars Klingbeil, the secretary general of the Social Democrats, spoke of a “low point in Germany’s postwar history.” Even the conservative tabloid Bild called the result a “disgrace.” After a wave of public fury — including protests across the country — Mr. Kemmerich announced on Thursday that he would resign in order to allow new elections. (It’s far from clear that a new election wouldn’t produce even stronger results for the AfD, however.)

But what led to these shameful machinations goes far deeper: the increasing normalization of the radical right in German politics. Even if Germany’s conservatives and liberals have not previously entered into formal agreements with the far right at the federal level, and are unlikely to let the AfD into a future government, they have nonetheless helped it gain power and far too often set the agenda. That dynamic won’t disappear soon.

This was not the first time that centrists have collaborated with the AfD. There have been at least 18 cases in which Ms. Merkel’s party has cooperated with the AfD on a local level, it was reported last fall. In the state parliaments of Berlin and Brandenburg, for example, the two parties have voted together on legislation. Leading Christian Democrats from several states have declared their willingness to work with the far-right party. In Saxony-Anhalt, the two parties teamed up in 2017 on an “inquiry on left extremism.” And in the same state, two Christian Democratic members of Parliament wrote a position paper last year in which they considered a coalition with the AfD. “We must reconcile the social with the national,” they stated, echoing neo-Nazi rhetoric.

The AfD has grown consistently since its founding in 2013 and is now present in the parliaments of every one of Germany’s 16 states. The parties of the center, meanwhile, have all shifted rightward. Both the Free Democrats, under their leader Christian Lindner, and the Christian Democrats have moved their policy platforms in an anti-immigrant direction. Neither Ms. Merkel nor the party’s new leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, have created clear boundaries between their party and the far right. But many voters, especially in the east of Germany, would rather buy the original product than its copies.

How did it come to this? One major factor is the obsession of many German centrists with the so-called horseshoe theory of politics, where the far left and the far right are equivalent.

Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have been guided by this theory. In an official resolution, the party stated that it will never enter coalition with either the Left Party or the AfD. In Thuringia, it was this unmovable opposition to the left — demonized in its entirety by conservatives and liberals, citing the Left Party’s history as successor to the East German Communist Party — that laid the groundwork for the latest scandal. To prevent a relatively moderate and highly popular Left Party politician, Bodo Ramelow, from taking power in a minority government, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats instead colluded with the AfD.

One day after the disaster in Thuringia, Friedrich Merz, a Christian Democratic politician whom some believe could be the next chancellor, appeared on a late-night talk show. After condemning his party’s decision to collaborate with the AfD in Thuringia, Mr. Merz also felt the need to warn of the “left scene” in Berlin torching cars; he went on to equate the Left Party with the AfD. Should Mr. Merz really become Ms. Merkel’s successor, we can expect a red scare to become ever more part of the centrist program.

For the far right, this week has been an outstanding success. AfD’s leaders have long predicted — and hoped for — a convergence with centrist and conservative parties. On Wednesday, when shaking hands to congratulate the newly elected Thuringia governor, Mr. Höcke smiled. The scene reminded many Germans of a famous picture from 1933 in which Adolf Hitler greets Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s president at the time.

Germany in 2020 is not Germany in 1933. But German politics have shifted in recent years in a disturbing way. Centrists and the far right share talking points on immigration. They share what they perceive as a common enemy in the left. And now, for the first time in decades, they even share a governor.

Source: Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered

Germany under fire over reform of Nazi citizenship rules

Ongoing:

Germany’s federal government has been criticised for taking a bureaucratic and contradictory approach towards restoring citizenship for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

On Wednesday, Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble told a special parliamentary sitting, attended by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, that Germany would never forget its historical responsibility to Holocaust victims and survivors – and their descendants.

Meanwhile, back at work a day later, the federal government used its parliamentary majority to block an opposition proposal to bed down in law liberalised procedures for people who either lost or were stripped of their German citizenship in the Nazi era.

Article 116 of the postwar Basic Law states that “former German citizens who between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds may have their citizenship restored. This generally also applies to their descendants.”

But some who have applied for German citizenship say a gap exists between theory and practice.

The issue has grown in significance since the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK. Where just 43 applications for citizenship restitution were filed in 2015, that had jumped to more than 1,500 annually in 2018. The growing number of applications mirrored a rise in complaints that restitution rules were problematic and applied narrowly.

Reasons for rejection

The UK’s Association of Jewish Refugees has a sizeable file of people denied citizenship, although family members fled Germany after persecution on political, racial and religious grounds. One common reason for rejection was a requirement that the person who fled – the relative of the applicant – is a man, reflecting rules on the transfer of citizenship by fathers only until postwar reform.

Other applicants tell of being refused citizenship because, though their Jewish grandparents saved their lives by fleeing Nazi Germany, they left too soon, in the eyes of today’s German authorities, to qualify as persecuted and thus eligible for restoration of citizenship.

Source: Germany under fire over reform of Nazi citizenship rules

German Court May Reject Appeal to Remove Anti-Semitic Relic

Similar to discussions in Canada about statues of former historical figures and leaders. Believe there is a greater risk in removing the ugly parts and aspect of our history and historical figures than not, and having interpretative plaques or adjacent exhibits is a better approach:

A court in eastern Germany indicated Tuesday that it will likely reject a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism from a church where Martin Luther once preached.

The Naumburg court’s senate said, at a hearing, that “it will maybe reject the appeal,” court spokesman Henning Haberland told reporters.

“The senate could not follow the plaintiff’s opinion that the defamatory sculpture can be seen as an expression of disregard in its current presentation,” Haberland said.

The verdict will be announced on February 4.

The so-called “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such anti-Semitic relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Located 4 meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

Judaism considers pigs impure and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what to do with the relief.

Tuesday’s hearing was the second round in the legal dispute, which comes at a time of mounting concern about anti-Semitism in Germany. In May, a court ruled against plaintiff Michael Duellmann, who wants the relief to be taken off the church and put in the nearby Luther House museum.

Judges in Dessau rejected arguments that he has a right to have the sculpture removed because it formally constitutes slander and the parish is legally responsible.

The relief “is a terrible falsification of Judaism … a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people,” Duellmann says, arguing that it has “a terrible effect up to this day.”

When the church was renovated in the early 1980s, the parish decided to leave the sandstone sculpture in place, and it was also restored. In 1988, a memorial was built on the ground underneath it, referring to the persecution of Jews and the killing of 6 million in the Nazi Holocaust.

Pastor Johannes Block from the Town Church says the church also considers the sculpture unacceptably insulting. However, he argues it “no longer speaks for itself as a solitary piece, but is embedded in a culture of remembrance” thanks to the memorial.

“We don’t want to hide or abolish history, but take the path of reconciliation with and through history,” he says.

In Berlin, the federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany told reporters he favored putting the relief down into a museum.

“This would be a good contribution by the church to overcome anti-Semitism,” Felix Klein told reporters ahead of the court hearing.

Anti-Semitism in the schoolyard: A new front in Germany’s struggle

Disturbing:

The security at the New Synagogue, located in Berlin’s city center, is regrettably familiar in Germany.

The approach is well protected: A chain-link barrier keeps vehicles at a distance, two guards flank the main entrance, and a metal detector arcs over visitors’ heads. It takes about five minutes to get through.

“In the U.S. you can go into a synagogue without any kind of controls,” says Sigmount Königsberg, the commissioner against anti-Semitism for the Jewish community in Berlin. His office is housed within the synagogue. “In Germany, we hardly remember a time like this. Even when I was 10, growing up in the 1970s, there was always a police officer standing in front of the synagogue.”

Such security remains critically necessary, as anti-Semitic incidents in Germany are on the upswing. A shooting outside a synagogue in Halle captured global attention in October, but the gunman couldn’t foil security measures to enter. Metal detectors also stand at the entrance to Jewish kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and homes for senior citizens.

Christian Mang/Reuters
Security like these police officers outside the New Synagogue in Berlin has long been used at Jewish institutions in Germany to protect from anti-Semitic incidents.

But Mr. Königsberg and other activists warn that though such measures are still needed, to root out anti-Semitism it must be fought someplace where it cannot be physically blocked: in schoolyards and classrooms. To stop an anti-Semitic hate that seems at once more aggressive and also more subtle, they say, it needs to be addressed at an early age. And that means ground zero must be schools.

“Nine of 10 children are in public schools,” Mr. Königsberg says. “You can start there.” Yet efforts to date are underfunded and a bit random; more systemic action is needed, he says.

Anti-Semitism in the schoolyard

Society-wide, the numbers around anti-Semitism are stark. Six of 10 Jews in Germany have experienced anti-Semitic “hidden insinuations,” while 9 of 10 Jews in Germany feel “strongly burdened” by anti-Semitism directed at their family, according to a 2017 qualitative study out of Bielefeld University titled “Jewish Perspectives on Antisemitism in Germany.”

Schools in Berlin have seen an uptick in incidents, reporting 41 incidents in 2018, up one-third from the previous year, according to RIAS, a monitoring agency that tracks anti-Semitic incidents.

Recently, at one Berlin public school, Mr. Königsberg says, a teacher was instructing a unit on religion. One boy offered up that he was Jewish, only to hear a classmate mutter in response, “I’ve got to kill you.” The teacher heard the remark, but did nothing to intervene, says Mr. Königsberg.

Other school situations can be understated or offhand, and even perpetrated by teachers, he adds. Take the time a Berlin public school took a field trip to the city’s Holocaust memorial. A 14-year-old Jewish girl, emotional over what she was seeing, began to sob. Her German teacher told her, “Why are you crying? It was so long ago.”

“There is no typical story, no typical solution,” says Mr. Königsberg. “Sometimes I need a lawyer, and other times I need a psychologist.”

Other times, one might need the police. A Jewish woman whose child attends an elite Berlin public school says she volunteered to run the Israel booth at the school’s international fair. She says she immediately felt uncomfortable. First, a child of about 5 years passed by and told her, “Israel is bad.” Later, as students assessed the falafel offered at the booth, several offered that the food had “nothing to do with Israel.”

Toward the end of the fair, a teenager leaned over the table to get in her face, snarling, “I wish the falafel were grenades, and that they would explode in your face.” Another parent intervened and moved the teen away from the table.

The woman visited with police over the verbal assault, but ultimately decided not to file a report. “I didn’t feel a 15-year-old should have a criminal record,” she says.

When she reported the incident to the school principal, she came away disappointed. “The issue was never raised with the community,” says the woman, who wished to remain anonymous since her child is still enrolled in the school. “Eventually the principal left. Nothing was done.”

That incident brings up the question: Where is the anti-Semitism coming from? Reporting around incidents doesn’t often include the background of the perpetrator, so good data is unavailable, says Mr. Königsberg. Yet, while it’s clear that some problems stem from increasing immigration from the Middle East, a greater hostility originates inside Germany’s increasingly vocal far-right, exemplified by the Halle shooting. The far-right is hostile to both Muslims and Jews, says Mr. Königsberg, and it’s important to tackle both. “People need to learn to accept minorities.”

Teaching teachers how to respond

Doing nothing is easiest in the face of an issue that’s “massively complex,” says Levi Salomon, lead spokesman for a lobbying group called Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism is the oldest form of group-targeted hatred, and 2,000-year-old stereotypes are archived in European memory. Teachers are hesitant and unclear how to deal with that history.”

On top of that, teachers are overwhelmed and overworked in the face of a massive educator shortage, says Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of Deutscher Lehrerverband, Germany’s largest teachers association. In other words, even if there were a nationalized curriculum for addressing the issue of prejudice, there’s little time to implement it.

There are also institutional problems: Reporting an anti-Semitic incident is not universally required. “Teachers should be required to report,” Mr. Meidinger says. “I also wish that every German state appointed an independent contact person in the school ministry to take reports.”

Administrators’ instincts also might be to keep the issues quiet. “For example, if a student does the Hitler greeting, school management is often afraid of reporting because they think, ‘If this reaches the outside world, we’re ruined,’” says Mr. Meidinger.

Other times, educators who are sensitive to the issue feel isolated or alone, found a 2017 survey of anti-Semitism in schools out of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences.

The German government has implemented a number of measures against anti-Semitism broadly in society. For example, denial that Jews were murdered during the Holocaust is a crime, as is the display of a swastika. Golden Stolpersteine, concrete cubes with inscribed brass plates, are displayed at thresholds to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

Regarding schools specifically, anti-Semitism has been introduced as a category of discrimination in the emergency response plans for schools in Berlin and two other states. This requires administrators to report any incidents to a government office starting the 2019-20 academic year. Politicians in other German states are considering following suit.

Yet the people working on this issue feel that much more awareness around anti-Semitism and structural change inside the education system is needed. “We’re hoping for a continuous conversation, rather than one-off approaches around single incidents,” says Marina Chernivsky, head of the Competence Center for Prevention and Empowerment. Her organization is focused on bringing change via outreach and providing educational workshops to teachers, families, and the public. “We can help educate and teach, but there needs to be a shift and systemic change.”

She’s working toward a time when a Jewish child won’t be asked to draw a family tree in class, without the teacher first thinking about the context and possible repercussions of such a request.

In that recent case, says Ms. Chernivsky’s colleague Romina Wiegemann, a child given such an assignment suddenly came home asking questions of a mother who wasn’t prepared to field questions about relatives lost to the Holocaust. When the mother raised the question with administrators, she found little support.

“We must think about the effect this has on children, and make sure schools engage with topics,” says Ms. Wiegemann.

Mr. Königsberg at the New Synagogue thinks that there’s reason to hope. “When I call the schools now, I get an appointment,” he says. “Last year, they ignored me.” But he sees the fight against anti-Semitism as a fight for democracy. “A true democracy doesn’t work with discrimination.”

Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD rejects shift further right

Better than the alternative but not by much:

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Saturday opened a two-day conference where, as it seeks to build on recent election successes, it rejected a swerve to the extreme right.

After delegates voted on Saturday evening, the relatively moderate candidate Jörg Meuthen secured another term as co-chair, while compromise candidate Tino Chrupalla was elected to replace outgoing co-chair Alexander Gauland.

Internal power struggles had been expected to dominate the halls of the conference center, where 600 party delegates, in addition to choosing co-chairs, were voting on 13 members of the executive committee.

An extreme-right faction known as the Wing (Flügel) had been hoping to boost its representation on the executive council and make a bid to swing the leadership in its direction.

The two-day gathering in the city of Braunschweig comes on the heels of state elections in eastern Germany in recent months that saw the AfD surge to second place in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia with more than 20% of the vote.

Meuthen used the moment to revel in the declining support for Germany’s traditional center-left Social Democrats and center-right Christian Democrats.

“We are experiencing the implosion of formerly dominant forces with the simultaneous strengthening of new forces … I believe that government-building without us will become more and more difficult, until it does not work at all anymore,” he said.

All parties represented in Germany’s federal and state parliaments have refused to work with the AfD.

As Meuthen expressed ambitions to enter government, some 20,000 protesters gathered outside the conference. Some shouted “all of Germany hates the AfD” and “no place for Nazis.”

Extreme right of the AfD

The Wing’s influence in the AfD has been strengthened after two of its key figures — Björn Höcke and Andreas Kalbitz — scored significant electoral victories in regional elections in eastern Germany this year. By some estimates, up to 40% of party members are sympathetic to the Wing, giving them a prominent role in choosing the executive council and co-leaders.

Chrupalla, who won the support of 54.5% of delegates, was viewed as a compromise candidate acceptable to moderates and radicals. He was ultimately able to battle off a challenge from a more hard-line lawmaker, Gottfried Curio.

At a press conference, Chrupalla disputed the idea that the AfD used incendiary rhetoric to win votes, saying “we have used reason” to gain centrist voters, which “requires no drastic language.”

Founded in 2013 as a euroskeptic party, the AfD has drifted to the right as it seized on the 2015 refugee crisis to promote an anti-Islam, anti-foreigner and pro-family program. Despite scoring above 20% in eastern Germany, it has stalled nationwide at about 13-15%.

Moderates within the party want to appeal to a broader political base and disgruntled voters by shedding its far-right image in a bid to capture support from other parties, particularly the ruling conservative Christian Democrats and their center-left Social Democrat coalition partners.

The battle over the future direction of the AfD is not only a strategic question, but an existential one.

It comes as Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some local AfD offices under further scrutiny. There is great concern within the party that its national associations could be put under observation if it swings too far to the extreme right.

Source: Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD rejects shift further right