The Independent archive: Security threat at Hess funeral from neo-Nazis

24 August 1987 Patricia Clough reports from Wunsiedel, West Germany, on preparations for the funeral of Rudolf Hess
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The Independent Online
GERMAN AUTHORITIES are preparing for the arrival of thousands of neo-Nazis from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy and other countries believed to be planning to travel here for the funeral of Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, which is expected to be held on Wednesday.

Gerhard Boeden, head of the West German security service, has warned that there could be bomb attacks.

At least 300 police - with dogs, riot gear, a helicopter and an apparently endless supply of paddy-wagons - were standing at the ready here as modern Germany began a fight to prevent Wunsiedel from becoming a place of pilgrimage for those who want to revive its Nazi past.

The country won the first round hands-down at the weekend, when some 40 tattooed, crop-headed youths with Nazi-type flags who demonstrated in the cemetery on Saturday quickly ended up behind bars, having unwittingly handed the police just what they wanted - legal grounds to close the cemetery and ban all demonstrations until after the funeral.

Arrangements for the funeral are to be announced by Hess's son, Wolf- Rudiger Hess, and by Karl Walter, the Mayor of Wunsiedel, today. The cemetery will remain closed and only a limited number of people, strictly family and friends, will be allowed to attend the ceremony.

Hess's request that "Deutschland uber Alles" be sung at his funeral has been rejected by Peter Zeisler, the local pastor, on the grounds that it is not church music.

The Bild am Sontag newspaper, the publishers of which have an exclusive contract with Hess's son, yesterday printed what it said was Hess's will, in which he asks that, if mortally ill, his life should not be prolonged by life-support equipment. "Nature must be given a free hand, according to God's will," he said.

The first signs of trouble came on Saturday morning, when a group of 10 neo-Nazis, some with swastikas on armbands, took a wreath to a graveyard in the village of Nagel, a few miles from Wunsiedel, and unfurled a banner reading "Hess is free". Police appeared and carried them off. A spokesman said they had obviously made for the wrong cemetery.

Shortly afterwards, several dozen black-booted youths with military-style trousers, leather or camouflage jackets, shaven or close-cropped heads, Nazi emblems tattooed on their arms, and a tense, angry look on their faces, marched to Wunsiedel graveyard with a banner reading "We are coming - slowly but powerfully".

Inside the cemetery there was a shouted command and about half the group charged towards the Hess family grave. The police intervened, and there ensued a curious performance.

The leader of the neo-Nazis, a small, pasty-faced man with ugly scars, dressed from head to foot in black leather, postured and fumed, hurling insults at the police while his black-clad bodyguard stood with folded arms, looking fierce. Then the leader remembered he had forgotten his black leather gloves, and put them on.

"Revenge for Hess, "Sieg und Heil", "Amis raus" (Americans out)", his companions chanted for the benefit of the journalists and cameramen milling between the neat, flower-decked graves.

Finally the moment the police had been waiting for came. Shouting something about "kamikaze", the leader gathered up his banner and tried to force his way past the police and their dogs. There was a scuffle, and a voice boomed through a megaphone, ordering the demonstrators out. It was repeated and ignored.

From nowhere appeared dozens of police in riot helmets. They marched the demonstrators off one by one, unresisting but defiantly singing the banned Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel Song.

Altogether 53 spent the night behind bars and another dozen were brought in yesterday, police said. Twenty more were arrested in nearby Bamberg.

Two right-wing extremists were arrested in Frankfurt after being caught putting a homemade bomb in a station left-luggage locker. Other right- wingers held "vigils" outside the Bonn embassies of the four powers that had held Hess and other Nazi war criminals in Berlin's Spandau jail.

From the Foreign News pages of `The Independent', Monday 24 August 1987