Uproar As Probe Claims Unexpected Number Of Pro-Nazi Soldiers In German Military
The New York Times reports:
It started with an investigation into a suspected terrorist plot by an army soldier aimed at top government officials. But it quickly uncovered a larger problem.
Military police searching through barracks turned up Nazi-era military memorabilia that revealed a much broader presence of far-right extremists in the German Army’s ranks, something commanders are now accused of having long ignored.
They are currently investigating 275 cases involving accusations of racism or far-right extremism stretching back six years, according to the Defense Ministry. The number represents a small minority in a force of nearly 180,000. But nearly 70 percent of cases have emerged in the last year and a half, pointing to an accelerating problem that German military authorities are only now scrambling to address.
“In the past, individual cases were always examined, but it wasn’t seen or understood that these cases are not isolated, but there are networks and connections, also
“Now it is glaringly obvious to everyone that this problem has existed for a long time and poses an immediate threat to people,” she added.
The revelations, in the middle of an election year, have set off sniping between the civilian and military authorities bordering on scandal. They have also added a disturbing new dimension to Germany’s effort to address a surge of extremist activity since the country took in nearly one million refugees in 2015.
With Europe facing a host of challenges — including populism and the propaganda machine of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — the investigation has revived questions about whether Germany can step beyond the shadow of its Nazi past and become a “normal” country, one that assumes a fuller leadership role on the Continent, including a military one.
In particular, the widening scandal has revived concerns about Germany’s shift to a volunteer force, which began in 2011. That step, some have warned, could narrow the ranks to youths susceptible to Nazi nostalgia, or to other extremists looking for free training and access to guns and ammunition in a country with strict weapons laws.
Starting in July, all applicants seeking to join the military will have to undergo a security check aimed at weeding out potential extremists. But that raises questions about how to handle those currently serving, at a time when the military is struggling to attract recruits.
Last week, the inspector general ordered a search of all military installations for displays of souvenirs or images glorifying the Nazi-era military, the Wehrmacht.
After World War II, the reconstituted German Army was formed in 1955 in the former West Germany as a conscription force, with the aim of ensuring peace by defending the national borders.
Since its founding, the military has instituted measures to distance itself from, and stigmatize, its Nazi-era antecedent. Since 1982, a 30-point decree has stipulated which traditions and norms guide the forces, and which do not.
Yet many barracks were built in the 1930s. A few, like the Rommel Barracks in the western city of Lippe, still bear the names of Hitler’s generals. […]
The investigation stemming from the terrorism case came as military officials released a report detailing episodes of some soldiers’ extremist sympathies.
One soldier attached a Nazi-era war flag to the hood of his car and drove past a refugee shelter, while drawing his hand across his throat. Another posted a photo of two soldiers in SS uniforms to a chat group. A handful of others were reported to have shouted “Sieg heil” and “Heil Hitler.”
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