BERLIN (JTA) — Berlin Jews joined hundreds of demonstrators to protest a meeting marking the merger of two neo-Nazi parties.
Police estimated that fewer than 80 right-wing extremists showed up to the Jan. 15 meeting in which the National Democratic Party (NPD) of Germany and the German People’s Union (DVU) formally announced their merger. Meanwhile, nearly 100 times that number demonstrated on the streets outside the public school where the party meeting was held, in the Berlin district of Lichtenberg.
Berlin’s Jewish community and others had criticized the Max-Taut School for allowing the neo-Nazis to meet there, but the courts upheld the party’s right of assembly. Their right was protected by about 300 police in the assembly hall. Protesters in the hall reportedly tried to disrupt the proceedings by clapping at inappropriate moments.
The neo-Nazis obviously were not welcomed either by neighbors or by Max-Taut students, Judith Kessler, editor in chief of the Berlin Jewish community’s monthly magazine, juedisches berlin, told JTA.
The students had put up anti-Nazi posters on the walls of the school, and neighbors had signs in their windows making it clear the ultra-right-wingers were "not wanted here," Kessler said. She said she understood the party had a legal right to meet, but they should have been given "a barn or a field," not a public school, she said.
Kessler called the turnout "ludicrous."
Both parties blame "foreigners" for Germany’s economic and social problems, and relativize the Holocaust, claiming it was not so bad and that the suffering of "Germans" has been ignored. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany, but both parties come close to that, critics say.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and the newly elected chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, both have called for banning the National Democratic Party as a threat to democracy.
Meanwhile, the NPD, with an estimated 7,000 members nationwide and 14 representatives in state-level parliaments, mostly in the former East Germany, announced recently that it would merge with the smaller DVU to form the "NPD-The People’s Union." Their goal was to present a stronger force in the many local elections in 2011.
"The opposition finds this OK," Kessler said, "because it is easier to fight against only one party."