Franz Schonhuber

SS officer turned right-wing politician
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The Independent Online

Franz Schönhuber, politician and journalist: born Trostberg, Germany 10 January 1923; married; died Tegernsee, Germany 27 November 2005.

Franz Schönhuber hit the headlines in 1981 after he was fired from his job as deputy chief editor of Bavarian television. In his autobiography, Ich war dabei ("I Was There"), he had described his wartime service in the Waffen SS and appeared to be making light of the activities of the SS and of Hitler's Third Reich. Subsequently, at the end of November 1983, together with two leading defectors from the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria, he set up a new political party, Die Republikaner (REP) or Republicans.

Schönhuber felt that the West German establishment had given up on German unity and, like some others, believed that the Bavarian prime minister, Franz Josef Strauss, was going too far in negotiating loans on behalf of the Communist East German regime. He also believed that Strauss's CSU had too tight a grip on the political life of Bavaria. At first, the new REP reflected these concerns and appeared more of a national conservative party. However, under Schönhuber as chairman from 1985, in an attempt to gain supporters, it moved towards right-wing extremism.

After initial failure, the party made spectacular gains in the European elections of June 1989. Schönhuber succeeded in getting elected, together with five of his colleagues, with 7.1 per cent of the vote. In Bavaria, the REP gained 14.6 per cent. In the West Berlin election of January 1989, REP had attracted 7.5 per cent of the vote and thus gained entry into the West Berlin parliament.

At the time, West Germany, and West Berlin in particular, were grappling with the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers, ethnic Germans from East Europe, and migrants. Although Schönhuber claimed, "I have no Nazi past. Racism and Fascism led us into the most horrible catastrophe in our national history," his party had used emotional anti-Turkish material in its electoral broadcasts. Law and order was also an important issue, as was lack of progress on German unity. But in the following year unity was restored, the Soviet bloc disintegrated, and much of the wind was taken out of the far right's sails. Even so, in 1992, in the regional election in Baden-Württemberg, the REP gained its best result.

With decline, internal party feuds intensified and Schönhuber was removed as chairman in 1994 after taking up contact with the far-right DVU leader Dr Gerhard Frey. Schönhuber left the REP in 1995 and his last attempt at election was as the candidate of the far-right NPD in the delayed Dresden election earlier this year.

A butcher's son, born in 1923 in Trostberg, Upper Bavaria, Schönhuber studied at a grammar school in Munich. As a 19-year-old, he joined the Nazi party and volunteered for the Waffen SS, the élite Nazi fighting unit. He saw action at the front and also served as an interpreter to the (largely) French Charlemagne SS Division. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his services. As a British prisoner of war, he was classified as only a Nazi Mitläufer (fellow-traveller). After the war, Schönhuber worked as a journalist, beoming editor-in-chief of the Munich newspaper tz before getting involved with Bavarian television.

David Childs

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