John Wilkins
John Wilkins

Fellowship Title:

The German Right: Old Nazis Call Upon Youth

John Wilkins
November 27, 1967

Fellowship Year


Federal Republic Of Germany

November 19, 1967


Mr. Wilkins is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from The Tacoma News Tribune. Permission to publish this article may be sought from The Managing Editor, The Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington.

Well before 9 a.m., delegates began taking seats at long tables in the big auditorium. It was Sunday, Nov. 12, in Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony. Soon waiters carrying trays laden with mugs of creamy-headed beer were moving down the aisles. Brassy, jingling with bells, “Preussens Gloria” broke forth from loudspeakers, followed by “Badenweiler Marsch, “ said to be Hitler’s favorite, though you don’t have to be a “neo-Nazi” or even a German to enjoy it.

By 9:30 a.m. the 1500 delegates were seated. Four or five hundred other men and women were standing in the hall because this, the last session of the three-day convention of the National Democratic Party (NPD), was open to the public instead of merely to delegates and newsmen.

The atmosphere was relaxed. The previous two days I had looked in vain for the swaggering behavior that might be expected to flourish among what most of the world press and most Germans have been calling either “Nazis” or “neo-Nazis.” There was no evidence of internal strife such as had erupted periodically since the party was formed late in 1964 from bits and pieces of post-war rightist movements that had foundered. An almost universal glow of satisfaction surrounded the delegates. Things had been in 11good order” since former chairman Fritz Thielen had been ousted early this year and his “clique” had resigned. The party now claimed a membership of 33,500 members, almost double what it had been a year and a half ago.

Now that the meeting was open I watched for heckling, but there was to be none inside the building.

The previous day about 50 pickets had stood outside the specially erected fence in front of the building, holding signs that denounced the “radical right” and asked the question, “Haven’t you learned anything yet?” There had been nose-to-nose debates across the fence, with jeers and laughter flying but no fists. Police, some with dogs, were there in force, but in the background. Delegates going through the gate needed no protection.

(The big anti-NPD had been staged during the first day of the convention but not near the ball. About 5,000 participated, mainly trade unionists. It was lively but peaceful.)

**Delegates, above and below-left, ran a gauntlet of jeers but there was no violence as they gathered for the third national convention of the National Democratic Party. Flag ordered “Nazis” to leave town.


… At 10 a.m. the march music stopped and there were a few minutes of Bach. Then the resolutions — vague, emotional, nationalistic — were read. They will probably carry this nationalistic party into the Bundestag in the 1969 election. If this happens, and if neither of the two major parties wins an absolute majority, the Grand Coalition might well feel forced to continue its uneasy partnership, thus giving the NPD respectability as the only parliamentary opposition. (The Coalition is trying to agree on a new electoral system designed to keep small parties out of the Bundestag and to give the largest party an efficient majority in the Bundestag. But such changes would not be operative until the 1973 election.)

Next on the program Sunday morning was the announcement — a foregone conclusion — that Adolf von Thadden, prominent in right-wing movements since the end of the war, had been elected party chairman by a very strong majority.

It now seemed time for von Thadden to give the windup speech, anticipated as even more rousing than his speech the previous day. On the stage, 20 party leaders sat motionless at a long table, without von Thadden. Behind them was a huge emblem: NPD. Flanking them were two huge identical flags: an evocative red field; an evocative white circle; and in the circle, the black letters NPD rather than the black swastika which would have been the final, and illegal, touch.

But the person who stepped behind the lectern was not von Thadden.

She was 25 years old. She was tall, slender, blond, blue-eyed, with a very pretty face and a serious, “wholesome” expression. She was Sigrun Jobst — from Munich, though she could have been a “Miss North Germany” or a “Miss Denmark” from her appearance.

Miss Jobst spoke on a high moral plane, in keeping with the puritanistic, “Vőlkisch” ethos that stamps many of the party’s statements. She said what had been said repeatedly those three days, that Germany must be reunified as a free people among free European nations unshackled to either The United States or The Soviet Union. Old NPD stuff, but nevertheless a significant speech.

Significant because she gave it.

Her young age symbolizes the big change taking place in the party: young people are being attracted. Though she might have been selected to speak because of her good looks and as window dressing to overcome the party’s image of “former Nazis” and “old conservatives,” she represents a reality.

The reality is that with the failure of the Grand Coalition to produce much tangible progress toward easing the “human” problems — let alone the political ones — that stem from the division of Germany, a small but significant number of young people are being attracted to the NPD. They are impatient. They want to feel they flare doing something” about a situation which causes fellow Germans to be shot for trying to leave home.

The drift to the NPD includes young Social Democrats. When the SPD was the parliamentary opposition, they had a goal: achieving power and implementing the SPD aspiration of a more flexible approach to the German Democratic Republic (DDR). But as a coalition partner the SPD has been unable to perform miracles. Also, in more general terms, as the SPD over the years has become more pragmatic and less doctrinaire, it has paid the inevitable price: loss of the emotional “idealism” for which youth hungers.

Last March, West German Interior Minister Paul Luecke reported, “…Most of the NPD’s supporters are clerks and small businessmen, aged between 45 and 60. There are only a few workers, more Protestants than Catholics, and more people expelled from former German territories now in the 6oviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia than people born in West Germany.”

However, the NPD claims that now 52 per cent of its members are 40 or under. Luecke’s report referred to supporters. It is likely that supporters do average older than actual members — but the surge of youth into membership is a recent development and it must signify that the Luecke profile is out of date. The Luecke report came shortly after state elections in Bavaria and Hesse produced an NPD vote of 7.4 and 7.9 respectively. Yet in each of the four subsequent state elections the NPD has hurdled the 5 per cent barrier to land in parliament — and the highest percentage — 8.8 — came in the Social Democratic stronghold of Bremen.

The Young Voices

The day before her speech, Miss Sigrun Jobst told me a bit about herself. Until a year ago, she said, she had two main interests, sport and foreign relations. An injury caused her to give up the women’s hurdles, and disenchantment with “empty promises” of the major parties caused her to investigate the NPD in pursuit of a party that would “do something” about divided Germany. Among her comments:

  • That meetings of the major parties she attended were poorly attended, but she was impressed by NPD turnout and enthusiasm.

**Accent On Youth

**Shaking the public image of the NPD as a party composed almost entirely of old people were faces like those of:

**Miss Sigrun Jobst, upper right, who joined less than a year ago and who spoke to the convention. (Her photo also on cover.)

**Ballot counters, at right.

**The huddle of students in photos below, in give-and-take with an older member. Youth at right in both photos is Reinhard Krien, quoted in this article.

  • That she is convinced the majority of NPD membership will soon be under the age of 35.
  • “During the war, everyone in political affairs was a Nazi. Today the other parties have former Nazis, but the NPD is the one that gets criticized. If Herbert Wehner (SPD cabinet member) says he was a Communist but is now a socialist, he is believed. But if an N’PD member says fie was a Nazi but now is riot, he is not believed.”
  • “If we in West Germany free ourselves of American influence and build our own strength, Moscow is more likely to be reasonable…Other nations, including the U.S. and France, are pursuing national parties, so why not Germany? The extreme nationalism between 1933 and 1945 was wrong, but the no-nationalism of 1945 to 1967 is just as bad. The NPD stands for the middle ground, nationalism combined with the democratic idea. We are not

Whereas older NPD members talk of the “old Reich” and the “lost lands” beyond the Oder-Neisse in a way that seems almost abstract, the young members with whom I talked were obsessed by the harsh border between the Federal Republic and the DDR. Youth reacts on the immediate, personal level: it is wrong for people to die on the wall, wrong for people to be penned in. The Germans from beyond the Oder-Neisse were expelled — but Germans are living in the DDR.

“We disagree with some of the older party members in our attitude toward the Soviet Zone (DDR),” said Reinhard Krien, a member of the NPD’s 400-member University League. “We wish the same thing for those Germans as we do for West Germans — increased freedom and strength — and we sometimes feel that older members of our party are blocking this development by the strength of their hostility to the Soviet Zone regime.”

Krien and the group of students around him acknowledged that the attitude he had expressed was quite close to that of many SPD members — but he added, “We don’t trust the SPD. We fear they will go too far, even recognizing the regime.”

His companions nodded vigorously. Two said they had been SPD supporters until recently. I would guess they had moved right in reaction to the “left-wing student movement,” especially its Berlin manifestations.

“Our main goal is reunification!” Krien emphasized. “But this must come from both parts of Germany being strong.

Even though the Zone is Communist, we must help them. They are strongly influenced by our opinion of them; we don’t want to lose them psychologically, and we don’t want to lose them in the minds of the West German people.”

West Germany’s particular brand of “student unrest,” which has been primarily leftist, centers on divided Germany. Now, the growing movement to a strongly nationalistic party raises the question whether the party will be changed as a result. Many of the young rightists seem much more flexible than the older members and the predominantly ex-Nazi presidium. If the party continues to grow and enters the Bundestag with the 50 seats predicted by many observers, the younger generation will be pushing for positions of leadership in what is likely to be the official Bonn opposition.

But for now, the old nationalists are firmly in control.

…Adolf von Thadden walked to the stage amid waves of thunderous applause. He was tall, gray-haired and solidly built. He wore a dark suit. He had an air of good manners and reserve. His posture was erect but not stiff. He had a quality of tightly controlled relaxation.

He read his speech but did not seem tied to it; his eyes frequently went out to the audience. His words didn’t stumble once, and he spoke in “good German.”

Almost imperceptibly the pace of his delivery quickened, his voice became vibrant and finally was thundering the cadenzas that the German language makes possible.

“Germany shall be one!” was his theme — and he made plain that he referred not merely to “Middle Germany” or even the Oder-Neisse territories, but to a Reich including the Sudetenland, Austria and German-speaking parts of the Italian Tirol.

Then the delegates stood and sang the two-verse national anthem, “Deutschland űber Alles.”

Formerly the anthem contained a third verse, with reference to old German borders. The verse is now illegal.

The delegates sang it.

**Adolf von Thadden, relaxing.

Received in New York November 27, 1967.