Fears that the German police force contains neo-Nazi sympathisers have been sparked after disdainful cadets delivered an extraordinary rebuff to a Holocaust survivor.
Students at the Berlin police academy refused to listen to the harrowing testimony of Isaak Behar, 83, who had been invited to lecture them on his experiences as a Jew in the Third Reich. Mr Behar lost his parents and his two sisters in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The cadets shouted that they did not want to hear about the Holocaust any more, and said that the Jewish community was emotionally blackmailing Germany, according to German press reports. Dieter Glietsch, Berlin’s police commissioner, has opened an investigation.
German police officers are given compulsory Holocaust-awareness training. Visits to sites where Nazis murdered or deported Jews are part of the curriculum.
Mr Behar and other Jewish survivors frequently lecture at police and army colleges. “There have always been antiSemitic incidents in the army as well as the police,” said Mr Behar. “But senior officers take action when they hear of them.”
This episode, though, which occurred on Feb 27, is seen as part of a broader and more menacing trend. Last month it was revealed that at least three police bodyguards assigned to protect Michael Friedman, a leading Jewish activist, were neo-Nazi sympathisers.
One dressed in his free time in a black SS uniform and put photographs of himself on the internet. Another printed out a fake certificate declaring himself to be a member of the SS “M.F” Division — M.F. being the intitals of Michael Friedman, who was for many years the deputy chairman of the German Jewish community. The wording of the certificate began: “In the Name of the Föhrer . . .” mimicking a genuine SS document.
Yet another police guard stored the Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel song, on his computer and played it out loud when colleagues were in the room. The policemen claimed that they were no more than harmless pranks.
But Mr Friedman, who has received many death threats because of his vociferous support for Jewish causes, is taking the case seriously.
He has demanded a parliamentary inquiry from the state of Hesse, which is responsible for protecting him. According to the mass circulation newspaper Bild, one of the investigated bodguards threatened “to spill the beans about far-right activity at Frankfurt police headquarters” if charges were pressed against him.
The bodyguards have been suspended from duty. The German press and Police Workers’ Association have called for their dismissal from the force.
“These incidents show that far-right thinking is now anchored in the mainstream of German society,” said Mr Friedman, “and it is increasingly obvious in the police force”.
That sentiment was echoed by Andreas Nachama, a leading rabbi. “This antisemitism is appearing everywhere and it is as threatening as it is reprehensible.”
Insiders say that police antisemitism is usually more discreet, confined to comments at the police station after a stint of duty.
The guarding of Jewish sites, from synagogues to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, is particularly unpopular among the police rank-and-file. Their task is to head off neo-Nazi attacks or report antisemitic symbols daubed on buildings overnight.
Displaying Nazi symbols and the production of pro-Nazi materials is illegal in Germany
Overt support for neo-Nazi groups rose after reunification of East and West Germany, with attacks on immigrant communities
Four men linked to neo-Nazi groups firebombed a house of Turkish immigrants in Solingen in 1993, killing five
Marius Schoeberl, 16, was murdered in 2002 by three youths in East Germany because he looked Jewish
Support is growing for the German far-right National Democratic Party