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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 20:24 GMT
German locals wrestle with Jewish row

By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent in Neuhof, central Germany

In the Schutzenhof pub in the centre of Neuhof, the single customer didn't want to speak about Martin Hohmann.

"I don't want to face criminal prosecution too," he said, nursing a mid-morning beer and poring over a fax with the latest news on the anti-Semitism scandal that's propelled this town of 12,000 people into national headlines.

Local Christian Democrat (CDU) MP Martin Hohmann is currently under investigation for inciting racial hatred after a speech he made here a month ago.

In it, he suggested that Jewish people had served in leadership positions and death squads during the Russian revolution - making Jews culpable in the same way that Germans were held responsible for the Holocaust.
Martin Hohmann at a CDU function
Martin Hohmann's constituents are unfazed by his remarks

"There was a calm atmosphere in the hall, nobody dared to say anything against Mr Hohmann," says Helmut Moeller, a Social Democrat (SPD) MP who witnessed the speech.

"Afterwards there was polite applause. I felt unhappy about it and left.'"

But many people in Neuhof, an orderly town of well-kept gardens and tidy streets, stand by Mr Hohmann.

"He was just telling the truth - if you read history, you know what happened," said an employee at a car repair shop on the edge of town. "It's not just Germans who have done bad things. Other nations have too."

A woman from a neighbouring office also stood up for Mr Hohmann.

People here were not surprised about what he was saying, but by the national media reaction. We were too. There was real media hype
Stefan Schaaf
Fuldaer Zeitung
"He said it doesn't matter whether you're Jewish or German. He said people who forgot their religion did terrible things."

However, Mr Hohmann also went to some lengths to prove his thesis about Jewish guilt for Bolshevik repression - quoting extensive historical statistics and even a 1920s book by car magnate Henry Ford.

But while the national press has since mocked him as an amateur historian, the only journalist present at the speech itself was a freelance pensioner working for local newspaper the Fuldaer Zeitung.

Reinhard Guenzel
The scandal has claimed Reinhard Guenzel's career
He failed to report the most controversial passages - apparently, he hadn't noticed them.

"It was not the first time Mr Hohmann said something like this," says Stefan Schaaf, who also writes for the daily.

"People here were not surprised about what he was saying, but by the national media reaction. We were too. There was real media hype."

The content of the speech was only brought to national attention quite by chance a month later, when someone in the United States noticed it on the internet.

Since becoming national news, Mr Hohmann has apologised for his views and been disciplined by the CDU.

But the scandal keeps growing.

The head of Germany's elite special forces, Reinhard Guenzel, was sacked on Tuesday for writing a letter of support to Mr Hohmann.

It's prompted calls for an inquiry into extremism in the armed forces, and a war of words between politicians in Berlin.

He stands firmly for German interests... his speech makes incorrect historical comparisons... the party now expects him to focus on different issues
Gerhard Moeller
Mayor of Fulda
MPs from the governing Red-Green coalition have called on the CDU to follow the Defence Ministry's example and expel Mr Hohmann from the party.

Analysts say this would be a lengthy process - fatally distracting the CDU as it battles to amend a raft of key government bills making their way through parliament.

A move to push Mr Hohmann out might meet strong resistance.

"I've known him for many years and he's no anti-Semite," says Gerhard Moeller, the CDU mayor of Fulda which is the biggest town in Mr Hohmann's constituency.

"He stands firmly for German interests. But his speech makes incorrect historical comparisons. The party now expects him to focus on different issues."

German MP sorry for Jewish slur
01 Nov 03 |  Europe
Jewish slur MP faces probe
03 Nov 03 |  Europe

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