Ex-Members of the Far Right Warn of Life They Left Germany's far right can be a place for support and camaraderie. But once members stray from political lines, they are considered traitors.

Ex-Members of the Far Right Warn of Life They Left

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15561625/15584079" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This week on MORNING EDITION, we've been tracking the uncertain path followed by members of the right wing - the political right wing in a place where it's viewed with well-earned suspicion. We're talking about right-wing political parties in Germany with its Nazi past.

Yesterday, we learned of a right-wing party that's trying to change its image. One way Germany tries to fight rising neo-Nazism is by helping individuals in the far right get out, get a job, get a new life.

As Emily Harris reports from Berlin, the most important change is the mindset.

EMILY HARRIS: Tanja Privenau was born in West Germany in the 1970s, but she was raised on the ideology of Hitler's Third Reich. Her stepfather was jailed several times for denying the Holocaust. From a young age, her mother and grandfather taught her that foreigners and Jews were blocking Germany's rightful place as a world power.

Ms. TANJA PRIVENAU (Resident, Germany): (Through translator) Adolf Hitler was a big idol for me. My grandfather always told me stories about the war and portrayed it really positively. He said he never saw any evidence of Jews being gassed and that it was all just propaganda and lies.

HARRIS: Soon Privenau was a young leader in the radical political scene. She says she became fanatical about restoring Hitler's Germany.

Ms. PRIVENAU: (Through translator) The far right scene gives you this feeling of camaraderie and community. At first, it's a nice feeling. There are people who think like you do, and you're all working for the same thing.

HARRIS: By the time she wanted out years later, Privenau was married to another neo-Nazi, a violent man, she says. She had five children. The oldest is mentally handicapped, and negative reactions to him from her far-right comrades gave her a

same thing.

HARRIS: By the time she wanted out years later, Privenau was married to another neo-Nazi, a violent man she says. She had five children. The oldest is mentally handicapped, and negative reactions to him from her far-right comrades gave her a first taste of doubt in her chosen ideology.

It took several years to actually escape the life she now found insulating and isolating. Time she spent teetering between her old mindset and new.

Ms. PRIVENAU: (Through translator) When comrades came over, it was like a double life. I put on an act and forced myself to take part in political conversations I didn't believe in any more. The freedom that I thought I was getting from the far right scene, I wasn't really getting. I have freedom only now after I've left all that behind.

HARRIS: She physically left just a few years ago, but Privenau is not entirely free from the neo-Nazi scene. Afraid of revenge, she has a new name and a new made up family history.

Privenau left the scene with the help of programs that aims to provide logistical and emotional support. There are not a lot of participants. One federal government program had a thousand inquiries since starting six years ago, but only 20 percent were considered serious and only half of them were offered help. Project leader Arthur Hertwig says with something like this, you can't measure success by the numbers.

Mr. ARTHUR HERTWIG (Project Leader, Right and Left Extremism Program, Germany's office for the Protection of the Constitution): (Through translator) It's a signal to society at large and the far right groups that the government isn't willing to just let people go. We were looking for something supportive to do, something apart from just repressive measures.

HARRIS: At a middle school assembly in a small community in eastern Germany, an ex-skinhead, now with dreadlocks, gives students the inside dope in the extreme right. The recent dropout from the far right political scenes speaks too, although nervously. He's still getting used to his status at the former right winger. A social worker moderates, telling the students that people find right view attractive when they have no other options. Dennis, the former skinhead, says that.

DENNIS (Social worker): (Through translator) It's okay to love your country. I love my home country, too. But you must never forget every person is a human being who has dignity just like you. When you turn against others, you lose your dignity. You're not a human being any more.

HARRIS: This represents a radical shift of ideas for Dennis, but the school presentation doesn't explore the notions of equality or diversity any further. It's all about the practical realities of the far right scene. Michael Ankele, the moderator, says that's intentional.

Mr. MICHAEL ANKELE (Moderator): (Through translator) I want to reach out to nationalists too. I want to reach out to everyone, even those who have strong beliefs. I just want to plant this seed somewhere in their heads: Be careful, it can happen that you're losing control, that you're getting totally off course.

HARRIS: Dennis, the former skin head, says he began to question rightist ideology because of a practical matter. He and another skinhead made a bet to grow their hair long. He calls it a whim, not an intentional challenge to skinhead values. But it wasn't well received by his skinhead friends.

DENNIS: (Through translator) They were all grossed out by it, and they didn't want to have anything to do with me any more because I looked different, because I was different. Even though, I still taught the same things, at least at first.

HARRIS: He was viewed as a traitor, as was Tanya Privenau. Even with a new name, new home and a new job, she still fears her ex-husband could kill her.

Ms. PRIVENAU: (Through translator) The other danger I see from my husband and my mother is that they would take my children away, even if they had to kidnap them.

HARRIS: In their view, she says, she's withholding her children from the great Nazi cause.

Emily Harris NPR News.

INSKEEP: You read about one man's fight against the far right in a small German town. Just go to npr.org.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.