Fatma Elaldi, a Turkish-born woman who had been a legal resident of
Germany for two decades, needed a new heart to survive beyond two more
years. But her request for a heart transplant was denied by a pioneering
clinic. Why? Because she didn't speak German.
The Heart and Diabetes Center near Hanover told Elaldi, 56, that her
poor grasp of the German language would impair her post-operative care.
Even though she had medical insurance, a hospital in Cologne also refused
to give her a transplant. "It smacks simply of racism," said Elaldi's
daughter Bektas, who is fluent in German. "I could tell them everything
she tells me."
Elaldi's bitter experience is particularly ironic given that many
foreign doctors practice medicine in Germany, including some of the
country's most gifted heart specialists. Although foreign doctors have
saved thousands of German lives, dark-skinned surgeons are reluctant to
work in eastern Germany, where racist attacks against "non-Germans" are
brutal and increasingly commonplace.
In one such attack, Omar Ben Noui, a 28-year-old Algerian asylum
seeker, bled to death after he hurled himself through the glass door of a
house while trying to escape from a neo-Nazi mob that chased and
terrorized him. This sadistic manhunt, which targeted Ben Noui and two of
his companions from Africa, occurred in the eastern town of Guben near
the Polish border in February 1999. Eleven young skinheads were tried for
causing his death. In some ways even more disturbing than the hate crime
itself were the lenient sentences handed down by the court last month.
Convicted of manslaughter, only three defendants were given jail terms of
two to three years. Two others were let off with court warnings, and the
remaining six got probation. "Many must be laughing in far right
circles," said Hesham Hammad, vice president of Aktion Courage, an
anti-racist group, after the verdict was announced. "We have sent them
the wrong signal that they can continue" their attacks. His warning rang
true in Guben this past Tuesday, when three neo-Nazis were arrested and
charged with stabbing a German boy, allegedly because he looked Asian.
One of the three had previously been convicted in the death of Ben Noui.
The outcome of the Ben Noui murder trial was a major setback to the
German government's efforts to crack down on right-wing extremism and to
promote greater tolerance of foreigners. A few days before the verdicts
were announced, some 200,000 people had marched in Berlin to protest
neo-Nazi violence. Held on Nov. 9, the 62nd anniversary of the Nazi
Kristallnacht pogrom, the huge demonstration was a response to an
escalating series of racist and anti-Semitic attacks across Germany.
Surging neo-Nazi violence broke all post-Berlin Wall records this year,
according to Germany's Federal Criminal Bureau. During the first 10
months of 2000, there were 11,752 reported right-wing extremist crimes,
more than in any year since German reunification in 1990. The 20% annual
increase in far right attacks included a sharp rise in anti-Semitic
crimes. While a disproportionate number of these incidents have occurred
in the economically depressed eastern part of the country, the neo-Nazi
resurgence is a nationwide problem.
Hate crimes have claimed the lives of more than 90 people since German
reunification. Today, the far right has become ever more brazen and
sophisticated. Death lists posted on Web sites include the names,
addresses and photos of anti-fascists, state employees, trade unionists
and other perceived enemies, along with promises of cash for successful
arson attacks. The latest official statistics indicate that there are
more than 50,000 active right-wing extremists in Germany. Last month,
Germany's domestic security chiefs disclosed that they had seized record
amounts of weapons and explosives--including pipe bombs, machine guns,
several kilos of TNT, anti-tank bazookas, mortars, grenades and
pistols--from neo-Nazis in a half dozen raids this year. The discovery of
several large arsenals raised fears that right-wing extremists were
planning full-scale terrorist attacks. "What we are seeing is a very
worrying trend in the organization of far right groups with a view to
committing terrorism," says Graeme Atkinson, European editor of the
anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. "They are talking about creating a
'leaderless resistance' of terrorist cells--what they call a brown
underground--and of ensuring the creation of liberated zones, with
foreigners driven out from rural areas and smaller towns."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder admits that his center-left
government had previously underestimated the scope of the neo-Nazi
menace. But German authorities insist that appropriate measures are being
taken. These include the recent efforts by the German Cabinet to ban the
6,000-member National Democratic Party (NPD), which the government
accuses of inciting neo-Nazi violence. On Nov. 10, the German
parliament's upper house voted to support Schroeder's initiative to
outlaw the NPD. But on the same day, Germany's highest state medal, the
Bundesverdienstkreuz, (Federal Cross of Merit) was awarded to Heinz
Eckhoff, 77, a Waffen SS veteran who had joined the neo-Nazi NPD when it
was formed in the mid-1960s. Eckhoff subsequently gravitated toward the
conservative Christian Democratic Union, which dominated West German
politics for many years while functioning as a catch-basin for various
right-wing interest groups, including some that cling to the memory of
the Third Reich.
The mixed signals from Berlin are indicative of the current state of
affairs in Germany, where extremist tendencies are not limited to
adolescents on the fringes. Neo-Nazi activity cuts across all social and
economic groups and often enjoys the support of those who do not
themselves participate in violence. "You find anti-Semitism not only in
the beer hall but also in the champagne milieu," says Michael Friedman,
vice president of the Central Council of German Jews.
Often, the German government finishes what the skinheads have started.
Victims of hate crimes have been expelled from Germany. An Algerian
refugee recently lost his right to stay in the country on the grounds
that he was not mentally fit to manage his life. But his lawyer maintains
that his mental state resulted from the trauma he underwent nearly two
years ago, as he watched a neo-Nazi gang hound his friend Omar Ben Noui
to his death.
Polls show that 17% of the German population harbor extreme right-wing
views. Mainstream politicians exacerbate the problem with strident
anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric that sends a signal to increasingly
confident neo-Nazis who feel they are the expression of the popular will.
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Martin A. Lee is author of "The Beast Reawakens" (Routledge, 1999), a book about resurgent fascism.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times