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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 18:55 GMT
Neo-Nazi outrage stuns Germany
Neo Nazi supporters in Leipzig
Support for neo Nazi groups is strong in eastern Germany
Katya Adler

Revelations of the brutal torture and murder of a teenager in eastern Germany blamed on neo-Nazis has sent shock-waves through the country.

Marius Schoeberl, who was 16, was killed apparently because he looked like a Jew.

His severely mutilated body was discovered in a farm silage pit in the remote village of Potzlow this summer.

Two brothers aged 17 and 23 and another 17-year-old from the village were recently found guilty of the murder.

The court was told that the boys were listening to neo-Nazi music, with its angry lyrics and furious sound, as well as drinking alcohol, before they set off into the night in search of a victim.

Horrific attack

They happened upon Marius Schoeberl. A shy boy, with learning difficulties and unkempt, bleached-blonde hair, a stark contrast to the shaved heads and aggression of his attackers.

There are many types of neo-Nazi scenes these days in Germany. In eastern parts of the country they've penetrated almost every single youth scene.

Lorenz Koerfler, EXIT
They called him 'un-German', 'a pest' and 'a Jew'. They dragged him to a deserted farmhouse, tortured and killed him - and then they went home to sleep.

The details of the murder were so gruesome that the State Prosecutor in the case, Gert Schnittcher, decided not to make them public.

He told me that during 25 years in his job, he had come across many mindless acts of violence. None as bestial as this, though, he said, with a shake of the head.

The murder has aroused particular concern in Germany. Not just because of its brutality but because of who the victim was.

Reports of violence by neo-Nazis are not infrequent in eastern Germany, but their usual targets are immigrants, asylum-seekers, or vagrants.

Marius, though, was a white German boy, known to his attackers.

Indiscriminate

During their trial, the boys reportedly told the court, that on that hot summer's night, they felt any victim would do.

Lorenz Koerfler works for EXIT, a help programme for neo-Nazis who want to leave the movement.

At his Berlin office, he played me some examples of neo-Nazi music and showed me clips from of a couple of videos, apparently cult classics in the scene.

I found the violence stomach-churning. Lorenz Koerfler says it is key to the neo-Nazi movement.

"You have to understand," he told me. "There are many types of neo-Nazi scenes these days in Germany. In eastern parts of the country they've penetrated almost every single youth scene.

"But it's the music in particular that brings the youngsters together. Listening to it, particularly at concerts, gives them a focus, something to do, something to identify with, in depressed areas where isn't anything else."

Bleak prospects

It is particularly in the small towns of eastern Germany, where unemployment is high and the future prospects for youngsters are bleak, that neo-Nazism has a hold.

And since, in these tiny communities, everybody knows everybody, the peer pressure to join the movement, and not to leave it, is enormous.

Many of them don't understand the dangers of being a Nazi. Because of communism, they aren't used yet to the idea of democracy

Matthias Adrian, former neo-Nazi
Matthias Adrian, used to be a neo-Nazi. He had to change his life completely to leave the scene: new town, new friends, new job.

He explained to me why he believes that, higher unemployment figures aside, neo-Nazism is more popular in eastern than in western Germany.

"For kids in the west who have a lot of frustration and who are looking for an identity, or a group to belong to, there's a left-wing scene, as well as a right-wing scene but in the east, after their bad experience with communism, no-one will join a left-wing group."

Eastern poverty

He thinks the problem is going to get worse: "Eastern Germans feel cheated. They didn't become rich after German re-unification, like they thought. They still get lower wages than people in western Germany and they want to express their frustration.

"Many of them don't understand the dangers of being a Nazi. Because of communism, they aren't used yet to the idea of democracy. They also don't have many foreigners there. It's easy to hate people you don't know."

But the President of the German Parliament , Wolfgang Thierse, disagrees. He says the scale of the problem is being blown out of proportion.

"Germany is always pointed at for having neo-Nazis," he said with exasperation.

"But look at the results from our general election in September. It was a total failure for the extreme right. In Belgium, France and Austria, it's a different story."

Certainly at the youth centre in Potzlow where Marius and his murderers used to hang out after school, the teenagers say they are angry at the way they are being judged because of Marius' death.

Distrust

They are reluctant to talk to me, though. They say they do not trust the media anymore. So many lies have been printed about them.

"They say we're all neo-Nazis in this town," one of them blurts out.

"But we're not, " he says, "We're not." Many of these kids have been in counselling since the murder.

A couple of the youngsters I met here saw Marius' mutilated body. They were taken to it by one of his murderers, a former friend of theirs.

But the former neo-Nazi Mathias Adrian sees the extreme right as a growing problem that could yet spiral out of control.

"It's like fighting the flames in one room when the whole house is on fire," he says.

Anti-Nazi campaigners agree. They say that the problem is not just a German one - but is spreading in certain areas across Europe.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | Europe
23 Jan 02 | Europe
01 Jun 01 | Europe
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