If you are a fugitive in fear of your life, always walk along the road against the traffic, rather than in the same direction. It ‘s harder for someone to drive alongside and shoot you. The author of this disturbing book has lived in (very justifiable) fear of his life ever since leaving the neo – Nazi movement in 1993. They recently sent a letter – bomb to his mother.
As former Gauleiter of Berlin and Brandenburg – a post once held by Goebbels – this six – foot – six – inch blond – haired, blue – eyed twenty – seven – year – old is a perfect Aryan specimen. His intelligence and single – minded commitment to the cause meant that he was soon in line for the leadership of East Germany’s small but aggressive fascist movement. Instead, he left and denounced it after the fatal firebombing of a Turkish immigrant family in Kolln when two young girls and their grandmother were burnt to death. It is curious that this particular repulsive incident should have shocked Herr Hasselbach into forsaking neo – Nazism, as it was the logical end to which his agitprop, speeches and Hitlerian ranting were inevitably leading. Yet now he is reformed and has written a riveting account of the psychotic world of German revanchist extremism.
The cursus honorum of juvenile delinquency which leads to neo – Nazism will sound familiar enough even in a country which won the Second World War. Truancy, shoplifting, vandalism, full – blown burglary – these travel well. But in a country which lost the war and wishes to forget all about it, there is the added knowledge that in order to be truly rebellious against family, school, community, peer group and ultimately the state, there was always the great taboo of the swastika. This was even more true in East Germany, with its proud anti – fascist propaganda, than in the West. ‘We knew it was the most forbidden of all symbols,’ says Hasselbach. That alone made it irresistible.
For Hasselbach, a dysfunctional youth whose father crossed the Berlin Wall the wrong way after serving a prison sentence in the West, the swastika became his lodestar. A school bully who lost his virginity at eleven, the author spent a short period sniffing petrol and mugging Westerners before he wound up with the neo – Nazis. If, as Arthur Koestler believed, most political stances can be explained by reference to an individual’s psychology rather than his a priori ideals, Hasselbach is a test case. This book brilliantly highlights the multifarious connections between personal inadequacy, unhappy childhood and political extremism.
‘You know, Hasselbach, Nazism is fine,’ said one ‘hool’ (football hooligan) as they pillaged a shopping centre after a soccer match, ‘but politics is not really my world. Plundering – that’s it!’ Hasselbach pioneered the process by which the soccer hooligans were used for extreme right – wing political ends. He persuaded the hooligans’ leaders to turn up to their annual Rudolf Hess Day fight with the police. Thousands of hools on the rampage – they take their tactics from the English fans, acknowledged to be the world’s most violent – high on drugs and adrenaline, fearlessly assaulting the police, these were to be the storm troopers of Hasselbach’s Fourth Reich. But, as the ‘Fuhrer of the East’ soon realised, hooliganism was counterproductive. ‘It didn’t accomplish anything at all, except to give some people a chance to vent raw aggression and cop a vacuum cleaner,’ he now admits. It also alienated precisely those lower -middleclass, hard – working, Poujadist shopkeepers who often prove to be fascism’s best constituency.
One wonders how long these yobbos would have lasted in the real Third Reich, before Reinhard Heydrich’s SS taught them something about true violence. If even Ernst Rohm’s SA were purged for indiscipline, one imagines that this bunch of louts would have met their Night of the Long Knives sooner. Hasselbach himself would have fared better than the vast majority of his followers. His good looks and uncompromising stance made great television, and he and his ‘Kamarads’ were astonished at the readiness of the Western media to give him free publicity and hours of airtime to propagate his views.
The German state itself is in no real political danger from the ‘Kamarads’, who run away whenever the violence with police actually reaches the life – threatening stage. But immigrants, shopkeepers, tourists, Turks, foreigners and Jews are certainly in serious physical danger. One of the creepiest revelations in this book is the network of ancient Nazi widows who provide logistical and moral support for the Kamarads’ attacks on synagogues and cemeteries. Little white – haired ladies give tea parties during which they urge the young men on to further anti – Semitic atrocities. Now we know what happened to those little blonde girls who hand flowers to Hitler in Leni Riefenstahl movies.
One is left wondering why there are no state – organised methods of channelling these youths’ undoubted energy. Not general national service, of course; the prospect of the German citizenry in uniform again is not one for which Europe is yet ready, and anyhow the problem is confined to a small minority. One answer would be to ship the offending ten thousand or so anarcho – communists and a similar number of neo – Nazis out onto an island in Heligoland armed with Doc Martens and knuckle – dusters, and declare anyone left standing at the end the winner.
As Herr Hasselbach puts it, there is ‘a sewer of Third Reich filth flowing beneath the clean streets of modern Germany’. Having dragged himself out of it, at enormous personal risk, he has done us – and the German Ml5 equivalent – a fine service by describing what he left behind.