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Neo-Nazis march in Berlin

Jan Philipp Reemtsma
Billionaire tobacco magnate and art patron Jan Philipp Reemtsma sponsored the exhibit's organisers  

BERLIN, Germany -- About 3,000 right-wing extremists have been protesting in Berlin against an exhibition on Nazi-era crimes by the German army.

The neo-Nazis were diverted away from a planned route through the capital's former Jewish quarter -- a plan that had been condemned by the government and Jewish groups.

The neo-Nazis -- chanting "glory and honour to German soldiers" and "German soldiers -- heroic deeds" -- marched on Saturday from Berlin's Friedrichstrasse station between rows of police with riot shields.

Small groups of counter-demonstrators shouted "Nazis out" from behind police lines.

Police used water cannons to disperse left-wing demonstrators at an earlier rally who had tried to break through police lines keeping them away from the far-right protesters, spokesman Norbert Gunkel said. A number of people were detained, he said.

About 4,000 police officers were in place to prevent violent clashes between anarchists and neo-Nazis that regularly accompany demonstrations by Germany's far right. Helicopters flew overhead, and several streets were sealed off.

Up to 1,500 people, carrying placards such as "No tolerance for Nazis," had earlier gathered for the counter-demonstration organised by left-wing groups to protest against the march by the National Democratic Party.

City authorities had said they were unable to prevent the far-right march, for which organisers were expecting 4,000 protesters.

The organisers wanted to march past a gallery where the army exhibit, which they denounce as "anti-German," opened on Wednesday -- on a route that would have taken them close to the restored synagogue in the heart of the former Jewish district. But in the end, lines of police and armoured cars kept them well away from the area.

The protesters were banned from carrying drums and three planned speakers were barred, although they were allowed to wave National Democratic Party flags.

The government is trying to ban the National Democratic Party, which it blames for encouraging a big increase last year in hate crimes. Government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye told The Associated Press on Friday the march was "an unbearable provocation," and expressed support for peaceful protests against it.

The exhibition created an uproar when it first opened in 1994 because it countered a widely held belief in Germany that the army, unlike Hitler's elite SS, were either not involved in the worst Nazi atrocities or participated only under duress.

'Terrific interest'

The original display -- about half the size of the current one -- attracted violent demonstrations by extremist right-wing groups in nearly every city it went to in Germany.

A bombing outside the show in 1999 was blamed on right-wing extremists. The bomb damaged a building hosting the exhibit in the city of Saarbruecken, but no one was hurt.

Police guards have been posted at the art gallery where the new exhibit is on display.

Although it attracted almost a million people during its four-year tour of German cities, it closed after historians said some photographs showed NKVD Soviet security police -- not the Wehrmacht, the Nazi-era German army.

The new exhibition, "Crimes of the Wehrmacht -- the dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941-1944," is organised by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The display spans three floors of a gallery in a former margarine factory.

Several hundred visitors were reported in the new exhibit's opening hours.

"As you can see there is terrific interest in this, and I am delighted with the response," Jan Philipp Reemtsma, the billionaire tobacco magnate and art patron behind the exhibition, told the Reuters news agency.

The disputed photographs have been removed from the exhibit, replaced by detailed documentation and video and audio displays.

"There is more text than in the first exhibition but the public have more of an opportunity to sit and read and go into detail more," said Reemtsma, who sponsored the organizers, the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

"The new edition is much more concrete about the cooperation, acceptance and active participation of the Wehrmacht," said Alf Luedtke, a history professor at the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen who served as an adviser on a section of the exhibit.

"At the same time, it gives the possibility to see where they didn't take part."

The exhibition runs in Berlin until January 13, then moves on to the western city of Bielefeld. There are no current plans to show it abroad.


• Nazi exhibition reopens in Germany
November 27, 2001

• Hamburg Institute for Social Research
• Crimes of the Wehrmacht exhibit site -- in German
• Kunst-Werke Berlin -- Institute for Contemporary Art

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