To the dull beat of a drum, 200 black-clad neo-Nazis and grizzled German war veterans marched through this hilltop Bavarian village yesterday to make their own contribution to Remembrance Sunday.
But in a move that is being hailed as a model of civil disobedience, the whole village revolted. Some locals swaddled themselves in white sheets and pinned life-size photographs of concentration camp victims to their backs. Songs from Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement — blared out through megaphones. And as they marched through the medieval gate of the village, the neo-Nazis passed underneath a large improvised banner announcing “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”) — the cynical slogan attached to the entrance of Auschwitz.
The neo-Nazis, holding aloft banners saying “We honour the Fallen of the Wehrmacht”, were confronted by massive pictures of emaciated Jewish prisoners draped over Grafenberg’s 15th-century facades. A few of the marchers flinched. Most turned their heads away or just smiled.
“I think it is extraordinary what this village is doing,” said Gisela Naomi Blume, chairwoman of the Jewish community in nearby Fuerth. “If Germans had made such a strong showing against Nazis in 1938, history would have turned out differently.”
The nationalist radicals made their way up the valley in driving rain and sleet to lay their wreath on the Michelsberg, a striking war memorial.
Neo-Nazis have targeted the village with monthly marches, making it a de facto shrine for the extreme Right. It may be because an ancient Germanic burial ground is reputed to be near by. Or it may be that the far-right National Party of Germany is trying to win council seats in Bavaria.
The village of 4,000 has responded by privatising the ground near the war memorial.Villagers have drowned out the neo-Nazis’ speeches with loud music, chainsaws and banged pots and pans. The plan yesterday was to stay silent and let the pictures speak for themselves. But as the neo-Nazis shuffled through Market Square, glaring at the villagers glaring at them, a small group started to yell “Nazis Out!”
The neo-Nazis had planned to light torches but the wind was too strong, the rain too relentless. So they shuffled back down the valley, swearing to be back soon.