Obituary: Otto Ernst Remer

Otto Ernst Remer, soldier and political activist: born Neu Brandenburg, Germany 1912; died Marbella, Spain 5 October 1997.

Otto Ernst Remer's career peaked in July 1944 when he helped, perhaps decisively, to change world history, tipping the balance in favour of Nazi fanatics against the "good Germans" who were plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler.

Despite his relatively low rank of major, he was in command of the Guards Battalion Grossdeutschland in Berlin when on 20 July 1944 the military plot against Hitler was in full swing. As is often the case with military coups, many of those involved at the lower levels thought it was an exercise. Remer was instructed to deploy his troops to guard essential public buildings. He complied.

He was further ordered to arrest Dr Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Gauleiter of Berlin. Many young officers would have had difficulties with such an order. Goebbels was the public face of Germany and also the patron of the battalion. When the two men came face to face, Goebbels seized the psychological initiative, and established contact with Hitler at the "Wolves' Lair" in Rastenburg, East Prussia.

Hitler promoted Remer to colonel over the phone and ordered him to move swiftly to crush the conspirators. Most of them were shot, committed suicide or were later hanged after show trials.

Had Remer taken a different line, it is possible the plot would have succeeded. Although Hitler had survived the plotters' assassination attempt, which killed some of his entourage in a bomb explosion, if the plotters had succeeded in taking control of Germany the war could have ended nearly a year before it did. Despite the Allied policy of offering the Germans only unconditional surrender, with a broad national government in control in Berlin, public pressure for peace would have been very strong in Britain and the US. In this situation, Germany could have negotiated a better deal.

Doubts about Remer had been expressed by the anti-Hitler plotter and Berlin police chief Count Wolff von Helldorf, but he was overruled by his military colleagues who thought Remer would simply obey superior orders. Remer had been awarded the knight's cross for his active service. Only weeks before, he had been wounded in an air raid and had made a good impression on the Berlin conspirators. However, Remer, a former Hitler Youth leader, remained true to his oath of loyalty to Hitler, which every soldier had been obliged to give.

Remer finished the war as a major-general before spending some time in an American POW camp and in a British internment camp. He had had a good war as a professional soldier and found it impossible to come to terms with the new Germany. The country was occupied, divided, disarmed, despised and battling to cope with millions of refugees. He was by no means alone in seeing the Third Reich as "12 glorious years". He was feted among the remnants of those still loyal to the Third Reich and was soon active in far right politics.

The party he helped to found in Hamlin in October 1949, the Sozialistische Reichspartei (SRP), was briefly successful. In the regional elections in Lower Saxony in 1951, it attracted 366,790 votes - 11 per cent. In Bremen in October, it won 7.7 per cent of the vote, with Remer as deputy chairman of the party. These results shocked the outside world. But the truth was, Lower Saxony had been a Nazi stronghold even in the 1920s, and the SRP was largely confined to that area. Of its 10,300 members, 6,500 were in Lower Saxony. Meanwhile, an action for slandering the members of the anti-Nazi resistance was brought against Remer by surviving relatives of the July plotters. Sentenced to three months' imprisonment on 15 March 1952, he fled to Egypt. The SRP was banned as unconstitutional in the same year.

Remer remained unrepentant in his support for Nazi Germany. If anything, he seemed to get more extreme as his cause lost popularity. He participated in or led several neo-Nazi movements in the decades that followed. Until 1989, he headed the German Freedom Movement (Die Deutsche Freiheitsbewegung); this was one of 23 similar groups with an estimated combined membership of only 1,500. It was on the fringe of the fringe of far-right politics. From June 1991 to February 1994 Remer published the Remer Depesche, which claimed to have its offices in Britain - it was then replaced by the Deutschland Report.

In 1994, he moved to Spain to avoid a 22-month sentence for inciting hatred, violence and racism - he was one of a small colony of German and Austrian "revisionists" who denied the Holocaust. The extremist magazine Halt evaluated Remer's "escape" to Spain as "a severe setback for the German Federal Government in its war against Germany".

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