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Behind the Headlines a Frightening Reality

September 18, 1987
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The success of the neo-Nazi Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) party in gaining a seat in the State Parliament of Bremen in last Sunday’s elections has badly shaken the West German political establishment, whose leaders have consistently dismissed such rightwing extremist factions as little more than a nuisance incapable of winning sufficient votes to penetrate even local governments.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), may well be embarrassed by the developments in Bremen. Only a week earlier, when visiting Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed concern over reports of resurgent anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in the Federal Republic — especially after the suicide in Spandau prison of Hitler’s former deputy, Rudolph Hess — Kohl assured him there was no danger of neo-Nazi groups becoming more than a minor irritant, creating isolated, if unpleasant incidents from time to time. But now, even the most optimistic West German politicians cannot ignore the reality that for the first time in 20 years, a neo-Nazi candidate managed to get elected to a state legislature. The success of the DVU moreover greatly improved the chances of future support at the polls by conservative voters with rightwing leanings.

The situation in Bremen was unique. While all of the federal states require a party to poll at least five percent of the popular vote to gain representation in parliament, the Bremen constitution makes a party eligible if it wins five percent in either one of the two cities comprising the state. The DVU did poorly in Bremen. But it easily exceeded the five percent barrier in Bremerhaven, the deep-water seaport at the mouth of the Weser.

As a result, its candidate, 62-year-old retired engineer Hans Altermann, has become one of the 100 Deputies in the State Parliament. The DVU employed a successful strategy by choosing a little known candidate to head its election list. It avoided frightening off voters who would not support a prominent neo-Nazi.

Moreover, the DVU had the support of a rival, much better known neo-Nazi faction. The National Democratic Party (NPD), whose notoriety apparently convinced it that it could not win, mobilized its followers on behalf of the DVU and made its headquarters in Bremen and Bremerhaven available to the smaller party.


Observers here are now pointing out that a small but sizeable minority of the electorate is ready to support neo-Nazi groups. The latter possess the devotion, a certain degree of unity and are capable of working hard to mobilize support and translate it into votes.

The success of the DVU also may improve the chances of other neo-Nazi parties in states where the five percent barrier applies throughout. Both the DVU and NPD as recognized political parties can receive tax-deductible contributions from individuals and businesses. The NPD already receives financial support from the federal government, according to law, because of its relatively good showing in the last Bundestag elections.

The DVU is headed by Gerhard Frey, who publishes the Munich-based Nazional Zeitung, which among other things calls the Holocaust a Jewish hoax and the gas chambers “Zionist propaganda.” The DVU campaigned in Bremen largely on the “need” to rid Germany of a community of some five million foreign workers, mostly Turks. It avoided attacking Jews.

But right after election day, Carla Mueller-Tupath, a Jewish community member who commented on the election results on the local radio station, received a flood of threatening letters and telephone calls, all anonymous, warning that the time has come for the DVU to address the “Jewish question.”

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