JAMEL, Germany — This is a town taken over by neo-Nazis.
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Wooden signposts by the main road point to Vienna, Paris, and Braunau am Inn — the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. A far-right leader runs his demolition company from home, its logo featuring a man smashing a Star of David with a sledgehammer.
Every few months, townsfolk host outdoor parties where guests sing "Hitler is my Fuehrer" to chants of "Heil" around a massive bonfire.
Jamel is the most extreme manifestation of a chilling phenomenon in the
former communist East Germany: a creeping encroachment of neo-Nazism
that makes Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania one of only two states where
Germany's biggest far-right party, the National Democratic Party, or
NPD, sits in parliament.
The extreme-right is believed to be behind some 40 attacks in the state
over the past year, including stones thrown through windows of political
parties and fireworks blown up in a prosecutor's mailbox. Last year in
Jamel, witnesses say, a neo-Nazi punched a visitor and shouted his
allegiance to Hitler.
The state has Germany's highest unemployment rate outside Berlin, at
12.7 percent in December, and few industries — fueling xenophobia the
neo-Nazis have capitalized on. Only 2 percent of the population is
foreign born, but officials say that lack of immigrant contact itself
has reinforced suspicions.
"Federally the Islamic extremists are the biggest problem; for us the
extreme right is the biggest problem," said Reinhard Mueller, who heads
the state branch of Germany's domestic intelligence agency.
In Jamel, six of the 10 houses are in the hands of the far right, and
authorities consider 10 of the village's 28 adults right-wing
extremists. Town life is dominated by one man: Sven Krueger, a
36-year-old leading NPD official, who grew up here.
Officials say Krueger has been known to authorities for small-time
criminal activity, but had stayed off the radar in recent years after
turning to politics. That changed a week ago, however, when Krueger was
arrested on charges of receiving stolen property and weapons violations
after a five-month investigation.
In a search of his home, authorities confiscated power tools they
believe stolen and a submachine gun with 200 rounds of ammunition.
A few days before the arrest, a pit bull and a German Shepherd roamed
the fenced yard of Krueger's home in the middle of town, and an NPD
poster with the pledge "we keep our word" hung from a blue industrial
trash bin out front, filled with waste from his demolition work. A woman
smoking a cigarette in the yard said she didn't know where Krueger
could be found.
At the end of the road, a man with closely cropped hair in a green tank
top, arms covered with tattoos, ran out of another house and yelled "get
out you dirty pest" at a photographer. Others did not answer their
doors, and Krueger did not answer calls to his business or cell phone.
His demolition company's main building is about six miles (10 kilometers) away, and doubles as the regional NPD headquarters.
It is set behind a six-foot (two-meter) wooden fence topped with razor
wire; a guard tower shines a floodlight at night, and dogs bark
incessantly through the padlocked steel gate. The black-white-and-red
German imperial flag used in the last years of the Kaiser flies overhead
— a common neo-Nazi substitute for the outlawed swastika banner.
Through the fence on an inside door the smashed Star of David logo can
Legally, very little can be done to expel the neo-Nazis — they carefully
skirt German laws against displaying Nazi symbols, like the swastika or
the SS runes, and the banned songs people hear in the night cannot be
pinned on any one individual.
Still, residents say their sympathies are clear. Horst and Birgit
Lohmeyer, who have lived in Jamel for the past seven years, say the
local far-right scene attracts scores of neo-Nazis for parties a few
times a year — including several hundred at Krueger's wedding last
"They sit around the bonfire and sing these songs — 'Adolf Hitler is
mein Fuehrer' they sing — they call out 'heil' — there are sometimes as
many as 300 right extremists at these parties," Birgit Lohmeyer said.
In protest, the Lohmeyers organized a party of their own — an annual
music festival on their nearly two-acre (0.8-hectare) property that
started in 2007.
"We hold this festival for democracy and tolerance to show that this
town is not entirely in right-hands — that there are others here who
don't believe in their ideology," Birgit Lohmeyer said.
The regional mayor of the 2,700-person district said he hopes the
attention will help expose the agenda of the NPD to people who may
otherwise have voted for them again in September. The party won 7.3
percent of the vote when Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where Chancellor
Angela Merkel has her constituency, last held state elections in 2006,
giving them 6 of 71 seats.
"The NPD is nothing less than the successor to the Nazi party and their
goals are the same," said Mayor Uwe Wandel in an interview at the
Mercedes dealership he runs about 200 yards (meters) from Krueger's
"Maybe today they're not talking about Jews but about foreigners in general, but their ideals are exactly the same.
Krueger was the only known far-right extremist in the village when the
Lohmeyers moved there in 2004 from Hamburg. But his presence started
attracting more extremists; as they moved in, others moved out — and
Krueger encouraged his friends to buy up the property.
Lohmeyer said she and her husband for the most part keep to themselves
in their 150-year-old half-timbered restored farmhouse with their 13
cats. She said they haven't suffered any retaliation from the neo-Nazis
for holding their music festival.
The NPD is marginalized at the national level in Germany, and wherever
the party holds rallies, the hundreds who show up are dwarfed in numbers
by thousands of counter-demonstrators. And even though its popularity
has slipped slightly in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, it appears poised
to remain over the 5 percent of the vote needed to keep its seats in
the upcoming Sept. 4 state election.
Germany's domestic intelligence agency estimates that as of 2010 there
were about 1,400 far-right extremists in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania —
a small fraction of the state's 1.6 million population. Of them, 400
are NPD members. Still, officials acknowledge the far-right extremists
in the state make up a disproportionate number of Germany's overall
Mueller said the state government supports a ban of the NPD, which would
cut it off from funding given to all parties that receive a certain
proportion of the vote, based on a sliding scale. The NPD got some €1.19
million in 2009, the last year for which a figure was available, while
by contrast Merkel's conservative party got €41.9 million.
There is little support federally for a ban, however, after a previous
attempt was thwarted in 2003 by Germany's highest court as it emerged
that the argument for the ban was partially based on statements by NPD
members who were also paid informers for state authorities.
Still, Birgit Lohmeyer thinks it's worth putting pressure on politicians
to try again — even though she acknowledged a ban might actually make
her own situation worse, by further antagonizing her neighbors.
"People need to mobilize against the NPD or for the ban of the NPD,"
Lohmeyer said. "This is something that has to come from the grass roots.
We will not be terrorized."