Far-right terrorists killed a regional politician on his front porch near the central city of Kassel, attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle and shot dead nine people of immigrant descent in the western city of Hanau.
This summer, the government took the drastic step of disbanding an entire military company in the special forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS paraphernalia were found on the property of a sergeant major in the eastern state of Saxony. A disproportionate number — about half — of those suspected of far-right extremism inside that unit, the KSK, were from the former East, its commander said.
Nationalism and xenophobia are more ingrained in the former East, where the murderous history of World War II was never confronted as deeply on a societal level as it was in the former West. The AfD’s vote share is twice as high in the eastern states, where the number of far-right hate crimes is higher than in western ones.
Officially, there were no Nazis in old East Germany. The regime defined itself in the tradition of communists who had resisted fascism, giving rise to a state doctrine of remembrance that effectively exculpated it from wartime atrocities. Far-right mobs who beat up foreign workers from fellow socialist states like Cuba or Angola were classified as “rowdies” led astray by western propaganda.
But a potent neo-Nazi movement was growing underground. In 1987, Bernd Wagner, a young police officer in East Berlin, estimated that there were 15,000 “homegrown” violent neo-Nazis, of whom 1,000 were repeat offenders. His report was swiftly locked away.
Two years later, as tens of thousands took to the streets in anti-communist protests that eventually brought down the regime, the pro-democracy activists were not the only marchers.
“The skinheads were marching, too,” Mr. Wagner recalled.
The battle cry of those anti-communist protests — “We are the people” — later became the battle cry for the far right at anti-Muslim Pegida marches during the 2015 refugee crisis, far-right riots in Chemnitz in 2018, and again at the current anti-coronavirus protests.