© NS-Dokumentationszentrum München

Never Again. Back Again. Still There. Right-Wing Extremism in Germany since 1945 Exhibition

Nov. 29, 2017 until April 2, 2018

About the exhibition

The murders committed by the terrorist cell National Socialist Underground and the attacks on asylum-seekers' accommodation and on refugees have once again increased public awareness of the issue of right-wing extremism and right-wing extremist violence. Right-wing populist parties are fomenting xenophobia, while supposed ‘patriots’ are stepping up to ‘save the West’ and are contributing to a general increase in crude language and modes of thought.

The exhibition addressed these developments and showed the place they occupy in history and in society. It traced right-wing populist, right-wing radical and right-wing extremist actors, organisations and parties from the immediate post-war period to the present day. Using authentic documents as examples, most of them from Munich and Bavaria, it illustrated the activities – including acts of violence – of members of the right-wing spectrum. A separate section of the exhibition devoted to right-wing extremist ideology explained the anti-democratic and hostile elements of this view of the world, including racism, social Darwinism and national chauvinism. The exhibits elucidated the strategies and methods used to disseminate right-wing extremist ideology and looks at the extent to which it has infiltrated mainstream society. The exhibition also surveyed the – frequently inadequate – democratic opposition to the activities of the extreme right.

The exhibition was realized in cooperation with Fachstelle für Demokratie der Landeshauptstadt München and Antifaschistische Informations-, Dokumentations- und Archivstelle Mün­chen e. V. (a.i.d.a.).

Actors, Organisations and Networks of the Extreme Right

In current usage the term right-wing extremism denotes all organisations, actors and tendencies to the right of the established party system. The security authorities classify parties, associations and groups as right-wing extremist if their actions are directed against the basic liberal-democratic order. The development of the right-wing extremist movement over the past seven decades has been characterised by a constantly changing parade of different actors, trends, organisations and networks. The common thread running through the entire period is the ideology, the rhetoric and the acts of violence committed by the extreme Right.

Only a few months after the collapse of the Nazi regime, unrepentant Nazis joined forces to form new action groups and founded parties, publishing houses and groups in order to prolong the effects of the evil spirit of Nazism. Today, the small right-wing extremist parties Die Rechte (The Right) and Der Dritte Weg (the Third Way) exist alongside the NPD. The right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) also exhibits right-wing extremist tendencies. Tellingly, although right-wing extremist organisations have been banned time and again since the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany, this has not succeeded in curbing, let alone eliminating the problem in society as a whole.

Protest march by the NPD and its youth organisation Junge Nationaldemokraten (Young National Democrats, JN) against the exhibition Crimes of the Wehrmacht in Munich’s city hall, 1 March 1997. The demonstration was one of the largest right-wing extremist rallies to take place in the Federal Republic of Germany | © Stadtarchiv München, Photo: Erich Weichelt

Chronology of Violence

The chronology of right-wing extremism after 1945 is a chronology of verbal and physical violence: the string of violent attacks and aggression towards Jews, asylum-seekers and other minorities and groups remains relentless to this day. The Documentation Centre’s presentation documented the shockingly large number and prevalence of such incidents using well-known and less well-known examples from the past seven decades: acts of violence and other offences, including insults and disparaging remarks, threats, attacks involving arson and explosives on Jewish entities, asylum-seekers’ accommodation, US caserns, party offices and memorial sites; attacks on immigrants, homosexuals, the homeless and many others.

The first acts of violence to be classified as terrorism were committed in the 1970s, reaching an unprecedented scale in the 1980s. The bomb attack on Munich’s Oktoberfest on September 26, 1980, which killed 13 people and injured more than 211, some of them seriously, was the bloodiest act of terror since the founding of the Federal Republic. Right-wing violence grew further following German reunification. In the 1990ies there were repeated pogrom-like excesses and arson attacks: Hoyerswerda 1991, Rostock-Lichtenhagen 1992, Mölln 1992 and Solingen 1993. Even outside Germany these place names became synonyms for unfettered xenophobia.

The number of right-wing extremist acts of violence rose again dramatically around 2000. While the authorities did respond with programmes to prevent extremism and to strengthen democracy, the terrorist group ‘National Socialist Underground was able to kill ten people undiscovered in the years up to 2007. As the flow of refugees increased, the xenophobic atmosphere intensified further. This is expressed in the spectacular rise in racially motivated violence since then: in an interim report, the Federal Ministry of the Interior recorded 3.500 attacks on refugees and their accommodation for the year 2016 alone.

For a long time, the social and political dangers posed by right-wing extremism were underestimated. For decades, the security forces, the judiciary and politicians believed that right-wing extremist acts were committed by isolated individuals, which did not help to solve the crimes in question.

Memorial to the victims of the bomb attack on the Oktoberfest at Theresienwiese on September 26, 1980, photo 2014 | © Michael Nagy / Presseamt München

Ideology of Unequal Worth

At the core of right-wing extremist ideology is the idea that some individuals and people are of greater value than others. This idea blatantly contradicts fundamental and human rights, which assume that all human beings are of equal worth. Around this core ideology various other elements are grouped that cannot be clearly distinguished from one another and that constitute the world outlook of right-wing extremists. The exhibition examined ten terms and themes, which are repeatedly related to one another. The exhibition illustrated that this mixture of views displays continuities that in many respects can be traced back to Nazi ideology. Central elements, such as aggressive ethnic chauvinism, antisemitism, racism and social Darwinism continue to be typical strands of right-wing extremist thinking, whether in the Third Reich, in the Neonazi scene of the 1970s and 1980s or among the contemporary ‘New Right’.

A revisionist approach to history and a rejection and defamation of the culture or remembrance as a ‘culture of guilt’ began directly after the Second World War and remains just as virulent today. The exhibition also addresses hostility to Islam as a more recent variant of right-wing hatred. According to studies, around 5 per cent of Germans had a cohesive right-wing extremist view of the world in 2016. Current studies show, however, that certain elements of this view of the world are by no means limited to the right-wing extremist scene, but can be found in almost all segments of society and in many political camps.

This means that even mainstream society is susceptible to ethnic chauvinist-racist ideas, a state of affairs that is exploited by right-wing extremist parties and organisations for propaganda purposes. Traditionally, they disseminate their hostile ideology at rallies and demonstrations, in the form of posters, leaflets, stickers and graffiti, and more recently on a large scale on the Internet, via social networks and their own pseudo-journalistic blogs. Here the exhibition showed a wealth of recent examples from Munich and Bavaria made available by the a.i.d.a. archive.

Incitement to racist murder ‘Tötet alle Moslems und Nigger’ (Kill all Moslems and niggers) in Rachelstraße, Munich, January 2017 | © Robert Andreasch

View of the exhibition

© NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, photo: Connolly Weber Photography

© NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, photo: Connolly Weber Photography

© NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, photo: Connolly Weber Photography