A German Man Tries to Curb the Far Right's Impact

Olaf Boenk in front of his vandalized home i i

hide captionBoehlen resident Olaf Boenk openly tries to counter far right efforts to influence young people in the area. His car and house have been vandalized in return.

Khue Pham, for NPR
Olaf Boenk in front of his vandalized home

Boehlen resident Olaf Boenk openly tries to counter far right efforts to influence young people in the area. His car and house have been vandalized in return.

Khue Pham, for NPR
The Life They Left

Read more about the experiences of leaving Germany's far right.

Olaf Boenk motions across the road, pointing out a blue BMW with four ordinary young men inside but he cautions not to stare.

The BMW driver revs the engine, backs the car behind a tree — and the car is out of sight. He later says that those in the car were neo-Nazis.

Boenk is a local businessman in Boehlen, a small community with a bakery and a bus stop scattered among farms in eastern Germany. He's worried about the far right's influence in his community.

He estimates there are a dozen or so "hard-core" right wing extremists in Boehlen. But there are more in the next village, he says, and other small groups are scattered all over the region.

Reaching Out to Youth

Boenk organized an assembly at the local middle school as one step to fight extremism. Students heard a former skinhead and a recent dropout from Germany's extreme right talk for two hours about why they got out of the violent and radical scene.

The assembly is part of Boenk's ongoing attempts to stop the creep of far right ideas into the community. He's had his car and house vandalized in response.

Boenk says he suspects sympathetic students told the neo-Nazis in the car about the assembly.

A Limited Amount of Leisure Activities

Boenk says one of the biggest problems in Boehlen is there's nothing for young people to do. The local youth club closed down after the director allowed neo-Nazi concerts to be held there. The director was a follower of the extreme right, he says, something authorities didn't realize at the time she was hired.

There aren't many jobs here either — a fruit processing plant is the biggest local business. Boehlen is halfway between Dresden and Leipzig, two large and lively eastern German cities. But there's no train connection linking them to Boehlen.

Far right groups offer "leisure," Boenk says, including a lot of alternative music. "They even show up at schools and hand out newspapers aimed at kids," he said.

Boenk says that the groups aren't outsiders and he criticizes local officials for trying to keep things calm rather than root out right wing extremism.

They let neo-Nazis "get on with it," he says.

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