A small German town came up with a brilliant, peaceful and fun way to have neo-Nazis raise money against neo-Nazis.
For the past 25 years, the residents of Wunsiedel (a small town in Southern Germany) were exposed to an annual celebration of Nazism and racism, having to watch neo-Nazis marching through their town to pay respects to the grave of Rudolph Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy (considered the number 3 man in Hitler’s Germany after Herman Goring).
This year, on November 15th, the residents of Wunsiedel decided to change their habit of observing the march from a distance and welcome the neo-Nazis, cheer them on, encourage them and even offer them sustenance in the form nourishing bananas (good marching food). Before you jump to the obvious conclusion that these small town residents are simply Nazi sympathizers, please note that nothing could be farther from the truth.
As reported by the Washington Post, and simply put, ingenuity won. Instead of organizing a counter protest, and following the long history in Germany of violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing protestors, each attempting to stop the others protests, the group Rights versus Rights (Rechts gegen Rechts), created an ingenious plan where for every meter the neo-Nazis walked, local businesses and residents would donate 10 euros ($12.50) to a nongovernmental organization devoted to making it easier for neo-Nazis to leave behind their hateful politics and fascist Nazi affiliation.
On their website, Rights versus Rights explains:
“Ever since 2000, the initiative EXIT-Germany has helped right-wingers to escape from the scene and build a new life for themselves. This work is dependent on donations. This is why a charity walk was organized with the help of numerous local supporters for the march registered to take place on 15/11/14. It had the effect of turning the neo-Nazis into donors who ended up unwittingly protesting against right-wing extremism with every step they took.”
This was a drastic departure from facilitating and enabling violence by neo-Nazi groups (which escalates after the fall of the Berlin wall), by responding in kind when the Nazi groups abused commemorations of WWII events (like the annual commemoration, by Dresden residents, of the bombardment and destruction of their city during the war). These confrontations, the result of organizing huge gatherings and marches that often ended in street violence with authorities and left-wing activists, were not advancing the cause of tolerance and peace and were simply adding fuel to the fire.
Since the counter peaceful protest plan was kept secret and only revealed to the neo-Nazis at the beginning of their march, it left the 200 odd marchers with a difficult choice: 1. Proceed with the march and indirectly donate money to the Exit-Germany initiative, or 2. Acknowledge their defeat and suspend their planned and announced event.
The neo-Nazi marchers chose option 1, ending up participating in raising more than 10,000 euros for an organization committed to facilitating the defections of their members, as well as their eventual downfall.
Fabian Wichmann, and education researcher at EXIT-Germany indicated “we wanted to create an alternative to counter-demonstrations.” And it worked perfectly. They succeeded in turning a neo-Nazi in-your-face spectacle into a fun fundraising event for tolerance and the diminishment of Nazi hate and violence.
Although World War II ended many years ago (officially in 1945), the war and Germany’s domination of that global conflict, and its function as initiator and catalyst for horrific deaths, genocide and massive destruction experienced by many millions, is still a raw and painful subject for many millions. Although we must always remember the mistakes and violent events of the past (to learn from them and make sure we are not doomed to repeat them), it is refreshing and uplifting to see this peaceful and brilliant initiative by the inhabitants of Wunsiedel, Rights versus Rights and EXIT-Germany. They came together and managed to turn a painful and frustrating neo-Nazi show of force into a fun fundraising event that helps neo-Nazis escape the clutches of their organization and its hateful philosophy and life style. One has to wonder what is in store for the annual Neo-Nazi march through Wunsieldel next year, now that the word is out about this plan. No doubt, the brain trust is already hard at work on new ideas, although if the neo-Nazis decide to march again, the same plan will beautifully work again.