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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Current Anti-Semitism in East Germany

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

  • Nonofficial chronologies of NGOs give evidence of a considerable extent of anti-Semitic graffiti and destruction in East Germany. They are directed against concentration-camp memorials, commemorative plaques, or other tokens of Jewish victims of National Socialism, but also against Jewish institutions and cemeteries. Several recent anti-Semitic incidents in East Germany have even attracted the attention of the international media.
  • An extensive and deeply rooted right-wing subculture exists in the five new German federal states. These states comprise almost 20 percent of the German population but, also, almost 50 percent of the potentially violent right-wing extremists.
  • In the last two parliamentary elections for East German federal states, the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) achieved significant success. The NPD’s extreme nationalism includes the rehabilitation of National Socialism.
  • Anti-Semitic attitudes are also widespread in West Germany. In all of Germany and not only on the extreme Right, anti-Semitism is expressed increasingly openly and aggressively.


The Tip of the Iceberg

Several recent anti-Semitic incidents in East Germany have attracted the attention of the international media. In June 2006, the extreme right-wing society Heimatbund Ostelbien organized “midsummer celebrations” with seventy participants in the small municipality of Pretzien. Later that evening the young men of the Heimatbund lit a “midsummer bonfire” and one of them shouted: “He who has something to put in the fire that is alien to our kind may do so now!” An American flag was thrown in to burn, shortly after an edition of The Diary of Anne Frank. Dozens of bystanders watched passively including the mayor of the municipality, who is a member both of the SED1 follow-up party PDS and the Heimatbund.2

In September 2006 in the amateur District League B, the Jewish soccer team TuS Makkabi Berlin played East Berlin VSR Altglienicke. The match had hardly begun when ten or fifteen VSR supporters began shouting epithets such as “Synagogues must burn,” “Auschwitz revisited,” and “Gas the Jews.” The Jewish players asked the referee several times to intervene, but he did not do so and claimed not to have heard anything. When finally the Makkabi players took him to task, the referee sent their captain off the field, after which the Makkabi players left the field as one.3

In the small municipality of Parey in October 2006, three boys aged fourteen to sixteen forced a fellow student during the break to wear a placard saying “I am the biggest swine in the place, I only hang around with Jews” and to walk across the schoolyard with it.4 All over Germany more and more students reportedly stigmatize others as weak by shouting “You victim, you Jew!” Right-wing and Muslim students in particular are said to be responsible for the word Jew becoming a “fashionable insult.”5

Slogans, Graffiti, Destruction

These only represent the most extreme among almost daily anti-Semitic incidents. About every ten days a Jewish cemetery is desecrated. In 2005, the police all over Germany registered a total of 1,658 anti-Semitic offenses (a rise of 26 percent over 2004), primarily involving banned propaganda but also including forty-nine acts of violence (+32 percent). This is part of a general increase of extreme right-wing offenses to 15,361 (+23.5 percent), again mainly propaganda but including 958 acts (+23.5 percent, mostly involving bodily harm) of violence mostly against those identified as “foreigners” or “left-wing people.” Relative to population size, the five new federal states occupy the top ranks regarding right-wing acts of violence: these states comprise almost 20 percent of the German population but, also, almost 50 percent of the potentially violent right-wing extremists.

There are no figures for the regional distribution of anti-Semitic offenses and acts of violence.6

Nonofficial chronologies of NGOs give evidence of a considerable extent of anti-Semitic graffiti and destruction in East Germany.7 They are directed against concentration-camp memorials, commemorative plaques, or other tokens of Jewish victims of National Socialism, but also against Jewish institutions and cemeteries. Swastikas or slogans such as “Don’t buy from Jews!” and “Jews out!” are sprayed on the walls of houses and cemeteries, on memorials and gravestones. Commemoration plaques are damaged and gravestones are toppled.

Soccer fans may be taken as a seismograph. The past few years have seen, all over Germany, a clear increase of extreme-Right, racist, and anti-Semitic slogans, particularly in the lower divisions and at East German matches. Unpopular decisions by referees often evoke the chorus “Referee-Jew!” Fans of the rival team are also called Jews. In December 2005 during a match between Dynamo Dresden (DD) and Energie Cottbus, the Cottbus fans unfurled a huge banner with “Jews” on it in Gothic capital letters. To the right and to the left was a Star of David, and at their center was written “DD.”8 In February 2007 during a match between 1. FC Lok Leipzig and Erzgebirge Aue II, the Leipzig fans shouted slogans such as “Aue Jews!” or “Aue and Chemie-Jewish company!,” Chemie referring to another team the Lok Leipzig fans dislike. During another match the Leipzig fans arranged themselves in the form of a swastika in the stands.

East Germany’s Extreme-Right Youth Subculture

Extreme right-wing offenses, the atmosphere at soccer matches, and events at schoolyards show that in the new German federal states there exists-particularly in rural regions and in small towns-an extensive, deeply rooted right-wing subculture. It reaches from neo-Nazis organized in so-called Free Comradeships through skinheads to a broader ambience of extreme right-wing values, most of all among young people. In many places shops sell clothes and other accessories of the subculture, CDs of right-wing rock bands, and relevant fanzines. In many schools this subculture has become predominant. In many areas people looking “foreign” or “left-wing” lead a dangerous life, particularly in the evening.

Anti-Semitism is an integral part of this subculture. This is particularly evident in the lyrics of right-wing bands. For example, the CD Zyklon D-Frontalangriff by the Dessau hip-hop group DissauCrime, which was sentenced for incitement in May 2006, includes the lyrics: “I shoot with my flak at the Jewish pack.”9

Skinhead concerts, right-wing music labels, and distribution structures are centered in East Germany. Because of legal persecution, however, most of the CDs are produced in the United States and smuggled to Germany from there. One CD by the band Kommando Freisler says in the song “Judenschwein” (Jewish Swine): “Jew…you better flee when the brown-clad are roaming in the streets. Every child in Germany knows that Jews are only for heating.” In the song “Der ewige Jude” (Eternal Jew) on a CD of the same title, the band Volkszorn sings: “Eternal Jew, he is still around. Eternal Jew, the worldwide danger. He poisons and bribes the entire wide world. The Jew must die or our days are numbered.”10

Success of the Neo-Nazi NPD in East German Elections

In the last two parliamentary elections for East German federal states, the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) achieved significant success. In 2004 in Saxony it won 9.2 percent of the votes; in 2006 in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, 7.3 percent. In some small municipalities it even became the strongest party. The NPD particularly attracts young people with a low level of education: in Saxony, 21 percent of voters aged eighteen to twenty-four voted NPD, and for those under thirty-five with only basic secondary education the figure was 26 percent.

This success for the NPD-for decades an unimportant party winning less than 1 percent of votes-also reflects the modernization and radicalization of its politics and propaganda. First, the NPD focuses its work on East Germany. Second, it has opened up toward explicitly neo-Nazi individuals and groups (such as the grassroots, unofficial Kameradschaften). Thus, the “left-wing”-völkische, national-revolutionary tendency within the NPD has clearly gained in importance.

Third, the NPD cultivates the image of a “people-oriented” middle-class party. By cooperating with schools and citizens’ groups, organizing children’s events and leisure activities, and offering free private tuition for students, the NPD deepens its local roots. Fourth, it has successfully made contacts with the right-wing youth subculture. It distributes free right-wing rock CDs at schools, projects an activist-rebellious image for the NPD youth organization Junge Nationaldemokraten, and offers concerts by skinhead bands after NPD events.

Fifth, in the context of its increasingly national-revolutionary orientation the NPD also adopts current topics and increasingly uses anticapitalist and anti-imperialist terminology. In East Germany, in 2005, it joined massive protests against cuts in unemployment support, while adopting aggressive populist propaganda against “those at the top” who did nothing for the “ordinary German.” The NPD also mobilized against the Iraq war of “U.S. imperialism,” its fierce anti-Americanism finding much sympathy. The NPD agitates massively against “capitalist globalization.” Employing slogans such as “Work for millions instead of profit for millionaires” or “Social instead of global,” it calls instead for a national “people’s economy” and for “Volksgemeinschaft” (people’s community).”11

Sixth, the NPD incites hatred against immigrants, declaring them to be the cause of unemployment, criminality, cuts in social security benefits, and the loss of “German identity.” Under the slogan “Germany for Germans,” the party demands an “ethnic reconquista.”12 It describes the German government as “far-Left” and “bribed.”

The NPD also seeks to rehabilitate National Socialism. Party chairman Udo Voigt considers Hitler “undoubtedly…a great German statesman.”13 The NPD member of Saxony’s federal-state parliament, Jürgen Gansel, cites a “just economic order,” “national sovereignty,” and “internal pacification” as great achievements of National Socialism.14 At the same time the NPD vehemently denies, minimizes, and relativizes German crimes, and it agitated against the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin with slogans such as “Kindergartens and old-age homes instead of a Holocaust Memorial” and “Stop the memorial! Seventy-six million for the people!”15

For the NPD, the Allies were the true warmongers and the Germans the real victims of World War II. In January 2005, on the anniversary of the Allied air raid on Dresden, the NPD members of the Saxony parliament spoke of the “bomb-Holocaust of Dresden” stemming from British “eliminatory anti-Germanism,” of “industrial mass murder of the civilian population that was planned in cold blood.” They said a memorial for German victims should be built instead of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial.16

Anti-Semitism in NPD Propaganda

Although open anti-Semitism is prohibited in Germany, the NPD uses it in only slightly moderated form throughout its propaganda. Mostly the NPD presents Jews as the main obstacle to putting German crimes aside and building a proud “national identity.” A member of the NPD executive stated:

We are not to be pseudo-morally blackmailed, politically treated like children, and financially squeezed dry by the Holocaust industry…sixty years after the end of the war…. No German needs to put up with the Jews constantly presenting themselves as victims and the cult of guilt that the Jewish side has exercised for sixty years. Similarly, the psychological warfare by Jewish power groups against the German people must be stopped immediately.17

Again it is the Jews who blackmail and exploit the Germans, and again the “German people” must protect themselves. The NPD finds Jews to be the originators of dangerous “work undermining the foundations of German communal life.” The “critical theory” of Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and others-“all of them the sons of rich Jewish fathers”-is said to be a “destructive program of undermining people, state, culture, and family,” a “poisonous muck that was supposed to damage the internal organs and the brain of the body of the German people.”18

Anti-Semitism is also prominent in NPD propaganda against globalization and “U.S. imperialism.” Even when not explicitly mentioning Jews, the NPD says the world is dominated by a conspiracy of “controllers of capital,” “globalists,” and “plutocrats.”19 Characterizing the United States as a “decadent society of the West,” “civilization of grocers,” or “embodiment of the antination” also has clear anti-Semitic overtones.20 The NPD often conflates anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism: “Just like a squid, dollar-imperialism has the world in its stranglehold,…the global power of Jewish capital strategists…seems to have reached its world-historic climax.”21 “Jewish-America”22 is said to be working to destroy all “peoples” throughout the world: “In Washington and New York-it may remain an open question if the tail called Israel wags the dog called the USA or not-there are the deadly enemies of all peoples.”23

Of course, the NPD is also hostile to the Jewish state. “Jews and Americans who are driven to the same extent by Old Testament hatred of other peoples and the belief in chosenness,” “Jewish-America,” and “USrael” are said to be foisting their “neoprimitive dollar civilization” on the world, with “the Jews” intending to “build up ‘Eretz Israel’ through a campaign of extinction against the Arabs.”24

Notwithstanding the NPD’s usual hostility to foreigners and Islam, all Arab and Muslim enemies of Israel are guaranteed its solidarity. The party particularly approves Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of his threats to annihilate Israel and his recent Holocaust-denial conference. As for Iran’s earlier Holocaust-cartoon contest, the NPD submitted a caricature showing the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as an Israeli missile launching site.

The NPD says German politicians are entirely “true to and in serfdom to USrael.”25 Only the NPD, it claims, has the courage to stand up to the “impudent financial demands of the Zionist lobby,…the more and more unscrupulous lust for predominance over the world expressed by the American East Coast, [and] Israel’s state terrorism.”26

The NPD’s agitation against the “Israeli entity”27 features much anti-imperialist terminology and iconography that is typical of the Left. Neo-Nazis of the Kameradschaften and the Junge Nationaldemokraten demonstrate against Israel wearing keffiyehs, and the NPD youth organization flaunts posters of stone-throwing Palestinians. The NPD protested the summer 2006 war in Lebanon with slogans such as “No to war and repression,” “For the freedom of peoples,” and “Hurrah for international solidarity.”28

For the NPD, the Jews are the driving force behind every evil: globalization, immigration, “Wallstreet,” “East Coast,” “U.S. imperialism,” the pluralization of values, the democratizing and dissolving of “people,” the state, culture, and family. This classical anti-Semitism is supplemented by the specifically German accusation that the Jews seek to impose a guilt complex on the innocent Germans and destroy their national identity. This is the old, anti-Semitic principle: the Jews, now in combination with the United States, function as the global evil, the counterimage that is necessary for forming an integrated Volksgemeinschaft.

Current Anti-Semitism and Right-Wing Extremism: An Inheritance from the GDR?

Anti-Semitism in East Germany, the NPD’s success in elections there, and the latter’s hatred toward Israel, for which it gives anti-imperialism as a reason, raise the question of the extent to which the GDR’s decades-long hostility to Israel and partly anti-Semitic anti-Zionism are responsible for these phenomena.

East German public opinion surveys since 1990 support such a connection only to a small extent.29 Most of the surveys show attitudes of hostility to foreigners, racism, authoritarianism, and rejection of democracy to be much more widespread in East than in West Germany. Until the mid-1990s, however, the percentage of people expressing anti-Semitism in the new federal states was surprisingly less than half what it was in West Germany. Hostility to Israel also was no more intense than in West Germany, even though it had been propagated by the East German state.

Since the end of the 1990s, however, most studies show a new trend. Whereas in West Germany a constant figure of almost 20 percent hold anti-Semitic attitudes, in the new federal states anti-Semitism has steadily been rising toward the West German level. Secondary anti-Semitism in particular, which involves resisting feelings of guilt about the German past, is on the increase in East Germany. Furthermore, some surveys found anti-Semitism to be especially pronounced among younger East Germans, whereas for decades in West Germany it has been the older cohorts who are more anti-Semitic.

The apparent GDR influences on present-day anti-Semitism do not stem directly from its anti-Zionist policy and propaganda, but rather indirectly from certain basic conditions of Communist Party rule in East Germany. First, the GDR emphasized the workers, the party, and the Soviet population as having suffered most from National Socialism. The genocide of the European Jews was only one crime among many, to which the GDR hardly paid attention.

Second, communism misrepresented National Socialism as a sheer anticommunist dictatorship of capital. Thus the GDR drew a clear line between the “criminal Hitler regime” and the “enticed German people,” declaring them innocent and indeed the first victims of Hitler’s rule. In the eastern part of Germany there was no debate on the German people’s participation in discrimination, confiscation, and mass murder until 1989.

Third, from the beginning the SED legitimated its rule in terms of the German people. It called itself the “true national party of the German people,” which was fighting all capitalists, imperialists, and other “enemies of the people.” It promised a “people’s state” that would take care of its population and where there would be absolute harmony of people, party, and state. Fourth, the SED dictatorship demanded conformist acceptance of its values.

Thus, the communist dictatorship established certain ideological predispositions among parts of the population that, since its collapse, can develop in a right-wing direction. It is precisely this potential that the NPD addresses. It speaks of German nationalism, a strong state that must care for its people and take drastic measures against everything “non-German,” and of anticapitalism, anti-imperialism, antiglobalization, and anti-Americanism.

The Situation Overall

However, the influence of the SED state should not be exaggerated. In September 2004, in the elections in the West German state of Saarland, the NPD won 4 percent of the votes and 9 percent among those aged eighteen to twenty-nine. For the September 2005 Bundestag elections, the NPD won 4 percent of the votes of those aged eighteen to twenty-four throughout Germany.

Anti-Semitic attitudes in particular are widespread in West Germany. Despite democracy, Israel-friendly policy and media, and attention to the Shoah in schools and media, some studies find higher percentages with anti-Semitic views in West than in East Germany.30 The debates on German guilt initiated by Martin Walser, Jürgen Möllemann, Martin Hohmann, and others, which are laced with anti-Semitism, are West German phenomena. In a 2003 poll, 54 percent of West Germans agreed with the statement: “Today the Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust for their own advantage”; in East Germany, 45 percent agreed.31

In all of Germany, and not only on the extreme Right, anti-Semitism is expressed increasingly openly and aggressively. Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, remarked in 2007: “It seems as if in Germany a last taboo is falling…. From the invective letters that reach the Jewish communities, we can see that senders also come from the educated classes.”32

Since the NPD’s success in regional elections, the Federal Criminal Police Office has observed an “established self-confidence” in the extreme-Right sector.33 In 2006, the number of offenses with a right-wing background came to 17,597 (a 46 percent increase over 2004), and 1,047 of them were acts of violence (+35 percent compared to 2004). Anti-Semitic offenses and acts of violence in 2006 remained on the same high level as in 2005.34 Anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism will continue to be an acute problem in East and West Germany.

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Thomas Haury lectures in the Sociology Department of the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany. He received his PhD in 2001. His research focuses on anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Americanism on the Left. His recent publications include Antisemitismus von links? Kommunistische Ideologie, Nationalismus und Antizionismus in der frühen DDR (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2002) [German]; “The GDR and the ‘Aggressor State, Israel,'” in Otto R. Rombach, ed., Forty Years of Diplomatic Relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel (Frankfurt am Main: Tribüne-Verlag, 2005); “No-Globals, Antisemitismus und Antiamerikanismus,” in Hanno Loewy, ed., Gerüchte über die Juden (Essen: Klartext, 2005) [German]. Email: [email protected] 

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1. The SED was the ruling party of East Germany.

2. Die Zeit, 10, 1 March 2007, 61; Frankfurter Rundschau, 27 February 2007, 8. [these and all other sources are in German]




6. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2005, 33-56. This is the annual report on political radicalism of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution), a department of the Interior Ministry and a secret service.




10. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2004, 102-103.

11. Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, ed., Was tun gegen Antisemitismus?

2006, 15,

12. 1&detail=309.



15. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2001, 78.


17. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2005, 82.


detail=291; Verfassungsschutzbericht 2004, 104.







21. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2005, 83.









27. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2002, 64.


29. See Werner Bergmann, Die Verbreitung antisemitischer Einstellungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland,, templateId=raw,property=publicationFile.pdf/Extremismus_in_Deutschland_Id_25601_de.pdf, 25-55; Reinhard Wittenberg and Manuela Schmidt, “Antisemitische Einstellungen in Deutschland,” in Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung, 13, 2004, 161-83; Wilhelm Heitmeyer, Deutsche Zustände, 1-5, 2002-2006.


31. Bergmann, Verbreitung, 54-55.


33. Frankfurter Rundschau, 17 March 2007.

34. Verfassungsschutzbericht 2006, 23-32.