Name NS crimes
Compensation for victims
Attack right wing tradition
Come to the antifascist hearing and following demonstration in Bad Reichenhall on Saturday, May 14th.
On 21 May 1941 the Wehrmacht started its airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete. The invasion of the paratroopers and mountain troops was met by fierce resistance by the population from the first day on. As soon as on the third day of the invasion, the commander of the 5th mountain division of the Salzburger Land, Julius Ringel (died 1967 in Bayrisch Gmain, near Bad Reichenhall) ordered retaliation measures against civilians: in conquered villages male hostages should be taken and in the case of acts of resistance, ten Greek hostages should be murdered for every killed Wehrmacht Landser, also villages should be burnt down. Based on Ringel’s command, many massacres were committed, mountain troops from Bad Reichenhall were among the perpetrators.
75 years after these events we want to make our own contribution to the culture of remembrance in Bad Reichenhall, a town where the invaders of Crete rather than their victims are still annually commemorated at a monument on a bridge named after the Greek island.
Even after several years of antifascist intervention, active denial and suppression from memory dominate in Bad Reichenhall. The victims of the NS regime are still explicitly left aside so as not to cause the slightest discontent on the part of the mountain troops, who are based in the town’s barracks. In this atmosphere of denial, Nazi commemorations remain accepted. This denial makes us sick. Therefore, we are obliged to travel to Bad Reichenhall again in 2016 in order to name NS crimes and to demand compensation of the victims. But first things first…
History Is Made
In early 2010 we, the antifascist network rabatz, for the first time informed the “civil society” of Bad Reichenhall about the annual SS commemoration in the town and demanded to take action against it. Unfortunately our call was ignored and we announced active protests for 2011. Further research revealed that that the SS commemoration ceremony is only the tip of the right-wing iceberg: our call to the first demonstration in May 2011 was entitled From Mittenwald to Bad Reichenhall. Central inspiration was the campaign Angreifbare Traditionspflege (roughly translates as both ‚Approachable Heritage‘ and ‚Heritage Open to Attack‘). This campaign scandalized in various ways the Whitsun event of the mountain troops (2002 and 2009) at the Hohen Brendten near Mittenwald, then the biggest recurrent Wehrmacht meeting. (In 2016 the Brendten commemoration will take place on Friday, 13 May – watch out for announcements of protests).
This event’s Bad Reichenhall counterpart is the commemoration of the anniversary of the departure to the occupation of the Greek Mediterranean island. It is carried out by the local branch of the Comrades Association of the Mountain Troops (Kameradenkreis der Gebirgstruppe) with kind support from the city of Bad Reichenhall and the German Armed Forces (this year most probably on Wednesday, 18 May, at 11 am). In 2011 we managed to disrupt this form of NS glorification that cloaks itself in a semblance of bourgeois respectability. We also managed to appropriate town’s official advertising slogan “Where time takes a vacation” as a motto for our demonstration. Since then, it has not been used by the Bad Reichenhall’s marketing department any more to lure tourists to the spa town.
However, Bad Reichenhall only received attention in the national media in the weeks after the demonstration: at the open house day of the armed forces barracks, children aimed with target-recognition systems of anti-tank missiles (bazookas) at a miniature village with the name “Klein Mitrovica” (“Litte Mitrovica”). Photos of this were shown when media internationally reported about “Little Mitroviaca scandal”. At that time the barracks were still named after general Rudolf Konrad, the “antisemitic butcher of the Crimea” and one of the “fathers” of the mountain troops. In the following year 2012 we received support, in particular from the “Initiative gegen falsche Glorie” (“Initiative against false glory”) and from the historian Jakob Knab. They shared our demand for a renaming of the barracks, which indeed took place in autumn 2012. This did not prevent the Comrades Association of the Mountain Troops (Kameradenkreis der Gebirgstruppe) from continuing to honour general Konrad at his grave. Neither did large Landser painting at the entrance of the German Armed Forces barracks disappear. The aim and demand of the demonstration to Re-educate Bad Reichenhall and to denazify this city has only marginally been realized. Therefore, in 2013 we addressed the population with a poster action announcing ten political demands. Among these demands were the removal of a historical-revisionist painting on one of the city‘ churches on which the allied forces are depicted as horsemen of the apocalypse. We also demanded the Kreta (Crete) bridge to be renamed as Winkler-Reischl bridge, in memory of the antifascist and anti-militarist resistance – which indeed existed in Bad Reichenhall, until the activists were forced to flee or were murdered by the Nazis. Also, we created a minor scandal when we quoted a German TV channel’s description of the Comrades Association of the Mountain troups as a “self-help group for war criminals”.
Though our demands were indeed discussed in the local media, nobody in the town came up with the idea putting any of them into practice. So we had to keep our promise and take another trip to the Bavarian provincial town on 10 May 2014. This time, the Nazi commemoration of the SS division Charlemagne moved in the focus of our demonstration, because it took place at the same time. In plain language: While on 8 and 9 May people all over the world celebrate the capitulation of the Wehrmacht and the liberation from national socialism, the SS is being paid tribute to in Bad Reichenhall – for which there are advocates in the middle of society: “After all, they did not fight for an objectionable ideology”, thus Karl Welser, founder of the adult education center (Volkshochschule) in Bad Reichenhall and former member of the city council, characterized the french volunteers in the Waffen SS, who were shot in May 1945 in the area of Bad Reichenhall Karlstein by the American liberators.
In this, or in a similar way it is probably seen by the local Nazi scene, which upholds the annual commemoration since it lost its status as a meeting of fascists and old Nazis from all over Europe. As another essential element of our demonstration in 2014 we installed a commemorative plaque which denounced the war crimes of the mountain troops and the Wehrmacht in Crete. This kind of discussion about the role of the mountain troops during World War II is obviously unwelcome in Bad Reichenhall: the plaque was stolen while the demonstration was still going on.
Around the 70th anniversary of the liberation from National Socialism on the 8 May 2015 offered the same scenario as in previous years: while Nazis bewailed their defeat and commemorated the SS, the semi-official remembrance policy commemorated the mountain troopers killed in WWII and the victims of allied bombings at the Kreta bridge and thereby actively ignored the raid of the Wehrmacht on Crete.
This shows that even today it is necessary to indicate lines of conflicts that run through society and to take a stand as antifascists.
Compensation for victims – now!
The occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany and its allies lasted from 1941 to 1944. Members of the occupying forces soon began to plan and carry out the systematic extermination of the Greek Jews. Approximately 60,000 of the 77,000 Jewish Greeks were murdered, most of them in the extermination camp Auschwitz Birkenau. The German occupying forces also acted with extreme violence against the non-Jewish population. In Greece it is assumed that at least 300,000 people lost their lives as a result of the occupation. The numerous massacres of the Greek civilian population, amongst others committed by the mountain troops of Bad Reichenhall, differ in number, but not in how they were committed, from the atrocities carried out by German soldiers in Yugoslavia, Poland and the Soviet Union.
The 115 millions D-Mark paid “to citizens who suffered from imprisonment or health impairment due to National Socialist persecution on grounds of race, religion or political opinions, and to the surviving dependants of citizens killed in the persecution” in 1960 are mere window dressing.
The biggest part of the victims remained excluded: the amount paid in reparation to the hundreds of thousands of people who found their homes in rubble and cinder and whose families, friends and neighbors were extinguished in the countless massacres committed by the cruelly raging occupying forces still amounts to zero.
Neither the robbed gold reserves of the Greek national bank nor the forced loan of 500 million Reichsmark from 1942 have been paid back by the Federal Republic of Germany. During the occupation, the Nazis had blackmailed the loan from the Greek state to keep the German war machinery running. Today, inflation adjusted and without interest, the modestly estimated repayable worth of the forced loan might amount to 10 to 12 million Euros.
After Syriza was elected to government, even in the German bourgeois media, demands for compensation were picked up, a subject that is usually extensively circumnavigated.
Numerous newspapers reported the fact that the economic recovery of Germany after WWII, dubbed the “economic miracle”, would not have been possible if the reparation demands to the Federal Republic of Germany, legal successor of the Deutsches Reich, had not been deferred by the London Debt Agreement of 1953 up to the end of a peace treaty. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany of 1990 by which the German reunification was regulated has de facto to be seen as a peace treaty.
When in January 2015 the present government of Geece was voted out of office, there were hopes that with Syriza the question of repayment of the forced loan as well as compensation and reparation payments could successfully settled by political means against the German state and the ruling capitalist class. Years later these hopes are destroyed. The EU savings policy has tightened the screws on the new Greek government. For the Greek population this means social disaster. It is a persistent humiliation of the victims of Nazi Germany when the German state now acts as a creditor. After all, the German fascist plundering raid through Europe has proved to be extremely profitable for the German industry and economy up to this day in spite of Nazi Germany’s war defeat. Germany’s refusal to pay its war debts is clearly a breach of international law.
Because the demands for compensation could not be cleared politically, hopes are now placed on juridical means. With the decision of the Italian constitutional court on 22 October 2014, the access to the courts in Italy was opened again. A huge juridical success in the fight for justice. The decision of the Italian constitutional court stands opposed to the present legal view after which Germany could appeal to state immunity concerning NS war crimes. This decision also enabled Greek victims to take legal proceedings again.
However, Germany will continue to shirk its payment obligation by all political and juridical means. As far as it is known, there are hopes of opening a new trial at The Hague. Moreover, it is said that negotiations behind the scenes with the Italian government are taking place to circumvent the judgments of the Italian courts. Nevertheless the chances for a juridical success never have been better. This would give new impetus to the question of compensation in general. To put through compensations also for all the other victims of the NS crimes, it will be necessary to show solidarity with the victims specifically in the country that is responsible for the crimes.
Nothing forgiven – No one forgotten….
Besides, sensible juridical reappraising has to consider three aspects: The first aspect concerns individual justice and reparation; for the persons affected by war crimes and their relatives the German state has to be called to account and compensations have to be paid. The second aspect is connected to this. Precisely because no compensations and only exceptionally low reparations have been paid, the raid through Europe has turned out profitable for Germany and the segments of capital there. At the very least, they managed to deflect any financial damage from themselves. To change this is what matters for living together without war in the future. Modern wars always follow capitalist interests first; the fight for compensation can increase their price, so that they turn out unprofitable.
A third aspect concerns the individual conviction and punishment of the acting persons: potential soldiers should have to think twice whether they really want to expose themselves to the risk of being convicted as war criminals because of practicing a murderous craft. This is valid not only historically, but, for example, also for the persons responsible for the air raid in Kunduz in September 2009 by which more than 140 afghan civilians lost their lives. Demilitarization is reached when nobody is willing to practise obedience and to serve in the barracks of Bad Reichenhall at Nonner Street.
….Murderers have names and addresses!
This year, we have invited guests from Greece, witnesses, historians and lawyers to a public hearing to emphasize our positions and demands. This has been made possible by the Hans Frankenthal Preis, which was awarded to us by the foundation Auschwitz Committee.
Of course, we will also demonstrate on Saturday, 14 May 2016. Bad Reichenhall deserves having to face another antifascist intervention.