German army officers still loyal to Nazis

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As the trickle of scandals swells into a flood, Germany's Defence Minister calls for an independent inquiry into the armed forces. An investigation is likely to draw disturbing conclusions about the state of the Bundeswehr, reports Imre Karacs from Bonn.

"We have made mistakes," admitted Volker Ruhe, the embattled Defence Minister, at yet another impromptu public appearance yesterday. The biggest of these, it now appears, was to underestimate the extent of neo-Nazi contamination in the Bundeswehr.

On Monday, Mr Ruhe stubbornly held his line, refusing to sanction an inquiry on the grounds that scandal number four was just another "isolated incident". Yesterday's post brought revelations of neo-Nazi mayhem at two more barracks, plus video evidence at a third.

The coup de grace is coming today. The cover story of Stern magazine this morning will feature the lads of the Franz-Josef-Strauss barracks in the Bavarian town of Altenstadt, training centre for an elite parachute regiment.

According to Stern, the barracks regularly celebrated Hitler's birthday, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, as well as their famous predecessors' landing on Crete. The magazine carries pictures of soldiers posing in front of a portrait of Hitler and the Nazi swastika- flag.

At these festive events, the paras are reported to have entertained themselves listening to the Horst Wessel song, speeches by Hitler and Goebbels, and watching a Nazi propaganda film about Jews. A former officer at Altenstadt claims the training centre was imbued with the "military traditions of the Third Reich", including mementoes of the last war.

The pictures and the story date back to 1993. A year later some paras clashed with a group of foreigners in a local club. A few weeks after that incident, the then commander summed up the local espirit de corps as follows: "The German paratrooper asks no questions; he acts."

"It was clear to me, that some of our superiors wanted to instill in us young soldiers the traditions of the Wehrmacht," one former trainee told Stern. He spoke of one officer keeping SS regalia and a volume of Hitler's Mein Kampf in his room.

How much of this was condoned by senior officers will only be known when the "isolated incidents" are investigated. But according to a professor teaching at the "Bundeswehr university", even the officer corps is not immune to political extremism. Prof Wolfgang Gesserharter told the weekly Die Zeit that 20 per cent of applicants to the university showed "nationalist- conservative" tendencies.

A proper breakdown to discover the percentage of Nazi sympathisers did not exist, because Minister Ruhe had vetoed such a study.

But since the beginning of this week, it is known that up to 30 staff at the army's most prestigious academy were unhealthily preoccupied with the lost lands of East Prussia, and were stupid enough to allow themselves to be lectured by a neo-Nazi terrorist.

The affair of Manfred Roeder, the convicted neo-Nazi invited to the academy and paid by the government to "re-Germanise" East Prussia, comes to a head today.

Parliament is due to debate the role played by the defence and foreign ministries, which are predictably pointing the finger at one another.

Mr Ruhe's position appears untenable. The army, blaming him for years of "upheaval", wants him out.

A retired four-star general broke ranks yesterday and launched a withering attack, accusing the minister of "surrounding himself with yes-men" and of being unable to tolerate independent thinkers.

The opposition parties are also assembling together a lynch-party.

It was Mr Ruh , they point out, who, together with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, had tried to instill a sense of patriotism in the armed forces. In that, the minister seems to have overshot his target.