Germany: The Nazi next door
15 February 2011
In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany right-wing extremists dominate entire villages. A few people go against the flow – and find the struggle a lonely one.
For the Lohmeyers it was a good week in Jamel, which was unusual. On Sunday the police moved in with a special task force and arrested their worst neighbour. As of Tuesday the brass plaque is gone from the entrance to the hamlet. “The community of Jamel: Free, Social, National” was etched on the plaque to leave visitors in no doubt as to who has the last word here. And the wooden signposts showing the way to Braunau, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, had to be taken down finally by order of the municipal office.
Outwardly at least, Jamel looks again like a normal hamlet in Mecklenburg – and not like the Nazi stronghold that it still is.
Horst and Birgit Lohmeyer were invited to Berlin by President Christian Wulff for a New Year reception, and encouragement is flowing in from Germany and all over the world by e-mail. The musician and the writer are practically model citizens. But when they moved from Hamburg to the countryside six years ago they only wanted a little peace and quiet. They thought they would find it in Jamel, a hamlet between Wismar and Grevesmühlen, at the end of a narrow side road. And rather far from the norms of democracy.
The police raid on Sunday had headed once again for Sven Krüger, a twelve-times convicted NPD (National Democratic Party) member of the district council. The 36-year-old has managed to build up his little brown Reich in Jamel and its surroundings. “We’re the boys for the tough jobs” goes the slogan of his demolition company, which he runs out of nearby Grevesmühlen.
Krüger is regarded as particularly violent, and those who can get out of his way do. Now he sits in custody. Receiving stolen goods for commercial purposes and breach of the Kriegswaffen-Kontrollgesetz (law restricting the sales of armaments) are the accusations against him. The worldview that Kruger is at home in is betrayed by his “Thing-House” in Grevesmühlen, where the NPD has set up its command centre. The property is secured by a wooden fence and barbed wire, behind which looms up a watchtower with searchlights. Dogs run up to the fence when pedestrians approach. The NPD's office is strongly reminiscent of a concentration camp – which it is probably meant to be.
For the Lohmeyers, fear is mixed with satisfaction that Kruger is locked up for the time being. They admit their fear of him and his cronies. “They think the hamlet is theirs,” says Birgit Lohmeyer. Once she found a dead rat in the mailbox, which she lets drop into the conversation as casually as she talks about the shooting practices in the forest. But what’s really awful are the drunken parties of the comrades in the hamlet square. In the evenings the men bawl out Nazi songs around campfires. When Krueger got married in the summer, hundreds of right-wing extremists came to celebrate in the “nationally liberated” Jamel.
It’s not just here where neo-Nazis and the NPD have taken hold with great aplomb. Right-wing extremists are also terrorising the population in two villages neighbouring Jamel. And it’s not just the community representatives who don’t want to talk about it openly. “Many people here think: ‘He who leans too far out of the window needn’t be surprised if he tumbles’,” says Horst Lohmeyer, describing the atmosphere in the area. He and his wife dared to go public in 2007 when a newspaper story on “Brown Jamel” gave the people a scare. Not everyone in the hamlet was a Neo-Nazi, the Lohmeyers explained. The few neighbours who weren’t among Kruger's followers broke off contact with them afterwards.
Dieter Massmann also knows what it feels like to stand alone. He is the mayor of Hoppenrade, a village a hundred kilometres further east, in a lonely stretch of land with hamlets such as Jamel – and similar problems.
In December the brown mob threatened Massmann’s counterparts in the neighbouring community. He had refused to hand over to a right-wing extremist mother – a co-founder of the Rings Nationaler Frauen (National Women's Circle) – a sponsorship certificate from the President and € 500 on the birth of her seventh child. Since then the mayor has been under police protection. “The extremists here are only so confident because the police aren’t really taking any action against them,” says Massmann. “But to live here in the community requires some civil courage.”
What he says sounds bizarre: The far-right family belongs to the orbit of the Artamanen. This is what the “blood-and-soil” farmers who have settled here since the fall of Eastern Germany call themselves. They see themselves as descendants of the “völkisch” (ethnic) Artamanen movement from the 1920s, which counted Reich SS Leader Heinrich Himmler as one of its members, along with the later Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.
The neo-Artamanen appear outwardly to be peaceful. They live in extended families, pursue organic farming, campaign against genetic engineering – and support the NPD, which has six seats in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament. In 2009 scandal rocked a nursery not far from Hoppenrade, when children of the Artamanen sang Nazi songs that they had obviously learned at summer camp. The Artamanen are educated and adept at manoeuvring. “They try to play public roles in associations and the fire department,” Massmann says.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution briefs the community representatives twice a year, but otherwise there is little support coming from outside. Every summer the Lohmeyers put on a music festival to show that the hamlet doesn’t belong entirely to the Nazis.
What do Birgit Lohmeyer and her husband want? A ban on the NPD. Only then can the organisational basis be withdrawn from the neo-Nazis. That’s also what Dieter Massmann from Hoppenrade thinks. But they don’t hold out high hopes for a new ban on the NPD. As long as Berlin considers the right-wing extremists a purely east German problem, the chances are slim.
The Lohmeyers will be putting on their concert in Jamel again in August. “We’re needed here,” says Birgit Lohmeyer. She and her husband want to stay, now more than ever.