The steady flow of new immigrants and refugees into Germany has brought simmering racial tensions to the boiling point.

Young adults and teenagers have been drawn into racial confrontations in a big way. Today Germany boasts at least 50 fascist-oriented rock groups. A recording of the group Bösen Onkelz, though declared illegal, has nevertheless been a top seller. Another group, CPG, is harmonizing with this text: “A flamethrower is the only weapon with which I can win. Eliminate every gypsy, adult, and child.”

The growth of violent assaults, urban vandalism, and desecrations of Jewish memorials has deeply alarmed German Christians. At its recent annual meeting, the board of the German Evangelical Alliance, representing 1.3 million evangelicals, urged Christians to speak out against xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and abortion. Hartmut Steeb, the alliance’s general secretary, said Christians should expand their sense of political responsibility.

Rudi Pahnke, a Lutheran official and former East German dissident, believes the rightist world view has given many people a sense of stability without a moral orientation, and past guilt is being ignored.

Political issues, however, do not seem to be the driving force for discontent among disadvantaged young adults in German cities. Herbert Weimer, a charismatic evangelical youth leader based in Oranienburg near Berlin, said, “Their frustration is not primarily aimed at society. It rather is directed toward those adult superiors with whom they deal daily.”

Johannes Rosemann, a Baptist pastor in the formerly East German city of Plauen, recognizes a clear preference for authoritarian structures among the so-called skinheads, who find friendship, solidarity, clear structures, and ready answers in extremist groups.

Most skinheads with whom Weimer has contact have a criminal record. He is more worried about an increase in crime than about an increase in fascism.

Weimer said the time has come to “roll up our sleeves and begin acting.” Legions of discussion groups on the topic of fascism have changed little.

Uwe Siemon-Netto recently wrote in the Idea news service, “If the evangelical church wants to understand its godly mandate properly, then it must now evangelize aggressively among the least desirable Germans. Jesus did not self-righteously distance himself from the haters; instead, he mixed in with them.”

Dietmar Seiler, a Lutheran pastor active among neofascists in south Germany’s Sindelfingen, said, “We talk too much about others instead of [talking] with them.”

Getting behind the mask

Weimer reports that some young people enter the Oranienburg youth center and inform the workers they are leftists or “hooligans.”

“But we cut them short and say, ‘No, you’re just regular, decent kids.’ We need to get behind their masks.” He adds that a number of so-called fascists have dropped their façade in private and have wept during counseling.

“They also need to know that we do not fear them. It’s okay if they come in high boots and butch haircuts; we just take their weapons from them at the door.

“My wife always does that; she’s just a little thing. We give the weapons back when they leave. They sit here in full regalia and drink yogurt milk.”

Michael Hainisch, a church-sponsored social worker, has helped radical Right youths to rent and restore an apartment house in Berlin-Lichtenberg. Hainisch and others stress the need to differentiate between the endangered and the hard core, between the “show-offs” and the truly militant. Weimer reports that he “prefers to work with those on the [fascist] fringe.”

“One can still achieve something with such persons.”

Ironically, Hainisch is being attacked by militants on both fronts. In November, he was beaten up by militant leftists who saw him as a Neo-Nazi.

Graham’s trip in March

Pahnke and Weimer are concerned about whether the Billy Graham crusade in March will lead to lasting change. Pahnke concedes: “Many persons may come forward and confess their sins and then want to join a congregation. But if the churches don’t open themselves, the bubble will burst.” Weimer hopes for an awakening among those who are already Christians. “Christians need to wake up and learn how to evangelize.”

Uwe Dammann, a Baptist pastor in Berlin, says, “We are viewing social developments with great fear, surprise, and distance. We have become middle class, and the rightist movement stems from the working class.”

The evangelical Christian leaders of Germany realize they cannot solve the problem alone: The silent majority will need to be activated. In September, a Jewish museum barracks was destroyed by neo-Nazi arsonists at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Oranienburg. During a street protest, Weimer’s group of activists knotted a German and Jewish flag together to symbolize their strong support.

By Wilhelm Jotter in Berlin.

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