East Berlin’s Jews Keeping Eye on Trial of Neo-nazi Thugs

Western observers and East Berlin’s small Jewish community are closely watching the trial in an East Berlin district court of neo-Nazi thugs accused of an anti-Semitic attack on a Protestant church that maintains friendly relations with Jews.

The trial amounts to the first acknowledgement by the (East) German Democratic Republic that neo-Nazis are indeed active in what the authorities like to call the “first anti-fascist state on German soil.”

The accused are members of a “skinhead” group charged with storming the Zion Church in East Berlin last October, inflicting serious injuries on some members of the congregation. They broke into the church shouting “Jewish pigs” and “send the Jews to the chambers.”

“Skinheads,” youthful roughnecks who shave their heads, wear Nazi-like uniforms and wield chains and other weapons, are a phenomenon that has surfaced recently in the West, including the United States. Most of these groups are vocally and violently anti-Semitic.

The state prosecutor has demanded prison sentences of 14 months to two years for the neo-Nazis. A verdict is expected some time next week.

CHARGES NEVER HEARD BEFORE

According to observers, the charges against the group have never before been heard in the East German courts. East Germany has repeatedly claimed that neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism are “capitalist” manifestations that do not exist in the communist Democratic Republic.

More recently, the authorities charged that East German neo-Nazi activists. Western reporters say they have seen on many occasions East Berlin municipal workers rushing to erase swastikas on walls and buildings.

The Zion Church has been promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue and its leaders have warned of recent outbreaks of anti-Semitism in East Germany. The East Berlin Jewish community was seriously disturbed last week when the secret police, Stassi, arrested several church activists in East Berlin and elsewhere and confiscated books.

For a time it was feared the crackdown would extend to the Jewish community. But members of the community told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Sunday there seems to be no immediate threat. The Police action was seen as a warning to opposition groups in East Germany that enjoy some degree of support by the church.

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