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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Neo-Nazis' silent support scheme
1992 neo-Nazi demo
In the early 1990s neo-Nazis attacked asylum seekers
By Paul Henley in Berlin

Set up as a clandestine society to support Germany's wanted war criminals after World War II, Stille Hilfe - Silent Help - is now very much up-to-date.

Evidence is emerging that the organisation is protecting and educating a new generation of German Nazis, playing a key role in fostering the neo-Nazi scene.

Joerg Fischer, a former member and key player in the organisation, says it has penetrated high levels of German political and judicial society and wields enormous power.

Now 32, Joerg was first recruited to the far-right cause when he was only 13.

These are Nazis in pin-stripe suits but they're just as dangerous as the nazis in the street who do the killing

Former neo-Nazi Joerg Fischer
It was a state employee who introduced him. His social worker suggested he come along to meetings and join the "Brown Comrades" of the main neo-Nazi party, the NPD.

By 18, he was regional deputy leader. He became a founder member of another far-right party. He was responsible for preparing leaflets, writing party literature and planning demonstrations.

Stille Hilfe assigned him a lawyer of its own to keep him and his projects out of obvious trouble.

He was told his future as a far-right activist was a glowing one.

Power in the wings

But Joerg then began to realise the scale of Stille Hilfe's support network and how efficiently partisan lawyers were allowing people who had clearly broken the law to evade punishment.

"These are Nazis in pin-stripe suits, they're not the kind you might see running down the street after foreign immigrants," he says.

When a neo-Nazi faces trial, he'll do his utmost to get before a Bavarian court, because the whole legal system is likely to be much more lenient

Joerg Fischer
"But they have real influence on the political scene in Germany. And they work very powerfully in the wings, so that they're not easily recognised and for that reason they're just as dangerous as the Nazis in the street who do the killing."

And when there was a spate of vicious arson attacks on asylum seekers in Germany in the early 1990s, he says he found himself unable to stand on the same side as the culprits.

He also realised he was gay - a fact which sat less than easily with his NPD membership.

And warning signs were flashing about the type of people he had to support.

Bavarian stronghold

Joerg talks openly about the levels of power Stille Hilfe's activists have attained.

He puts the endless delays and obstructions of several high-profile prosecutions against Nazi war criminals very firmly down to the group's activities.

NPD demonstration
A social worker introduced Joerg to the NPD
He says they are close to senior parliamentarians.

He says he even knows of one case where a Stille Hilfe lawyer shares an office with a Conservative member of parliament in the southern region of Bavaria - a particular stronghold of power.

"It's no surprise, when you consider that the most radically right-wing and neo-Nazi publishers and newspapers are based there, that that's where most far-right demonstrations take place," he says.

"When a neo-Nazi faces trial, he'll do his utmost to get before a Bavarian court, because that's where very many Stille Hilfe lawyers operate and where the whole legal system is likely to be much more lenient".

Silent topic

Although there are leading politicians in Germany who have condemned Stille Hilfe's activities as a national scandal, it is still not a story that gets talked about much in Berlin.

And there are no plans whatsoever to ban Stille Hilfe in Germany.

The state security service has officially described them as "harmless" and there has never been an open debate in parliament about them.

Hardly the "national scandal" their opponents speak of.

Paul Henley investigated the activities of Stille Hilfe for BBC Radio Five Live's Euronews.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Europe
Germany sets up neo-Nazi hotline
08 Feb 01 | Europe
German racist attacks soar
10 Nov 00 | Europe
German Senate backs neo-Nazi ban
03 Sep 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Race hate in Germany
30 Aug 00 | Europe
German racist killers jailed
07 Aug 00 | Europe
Germany agonises over neo-Nazis
30 Jul 00 | Media reports
Germany agonises over bomb attack
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