Court bans film on 'yuppie Nazi': Steve Crawshaw in Bonn views a documentary seen as boosting fascism

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The Independent Online
TALL, slim and fashionably dressed, he looks as if he could have stepped out of an advertisement for men's clothes as he walks confidently through the streets. And that is part of the problem. Because he looks so wholesome, and has no political health warning attached, his story has been banned from the screen.

This is Ewald Althans, a neo- Nazi - the 'yuppie-Nazi', as he is now known in Germany - who gets obvious pleasure from visiting Auschwitz. Standing in a gas chamber, he tells shocked bystanders that the Holocaust was a myth.

The opinions of Althans are unlikely to make viewers warm to him. The 80-minute film, Profession: Neo-Nazi, carries no commentary and the questions we hear are more or less neutral. But the viewer is left in no doubt of the film-makers' message: this man is dangerous.

That, however, is not good enough for the authorities or some of the German critics. The film was briefly shown in Berlin and Leipzig. But a Frankfurt court this month ordered the confiscation of a copy of the film, which was then withdrawn nationwide.

Althans, 27, is, in effect, seen by the critics as too persuasive. Der Spiegel magazine accused the film of 'making propaganda for neo- Nazis', and emphasised that it was subsidised by the taxpayer (four regional governments put money into the film).

The film stands condemned for its failure explicitly to denounce the characters it shows. The give- them-enough-rope school of documentary film-making - which allows the audience to understand the message for itself - is tried and tested. It was used, for example, by the French director Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, his acclaimed epic documentary about the Holocaust. Here, however, it is regarded as unacceptable.

In Profession: Neo-Nazi, we see Althans with sympathisers in Toronto; with German sympathisers in Poland; and with devoted little old ladies in his office in Munich. One old woman declares: 'We would have won the war, if we hadn't had millions of traitors.'

Althans is not the cliche moron- skinhead. Instead, the film suggests that he is motivated, above all, by love of himself - a calculating Narcissus, as much as a Nazi. 'I am an orthodox National Socialist,' he says. In the film's final scene, after a rousing performance at a far-right meeting in eastern Germany, we see him, literally, washing his hands. Then, the end-credits roll.

The director, Winfried Bonengel, says he wanted to show the 'full palette of insanity' of Althans and his views. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine that the film as a whole could be used as recruiting material for the far right, though individual scenes no doubt could be.

But some in Germany have reacted like the prosecution lawyer who famously asked the Old Bailey jury in the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial: 'Is this a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?' The Frankfurt court ruled that the 'uncritical viewer' might fail to understand that the film was meant as a warning. In other words: 'Would you wish your servants to see this film?'

Not all have been impressed by the tone of the debate. One Hamburg senator argued: 'I wish that our indignation, and the political and legal punishment, were not directed against the film, but against the fascist activities which it uncovers.' The liberal Berlin Tagesspiegel slyly suggested: 'The opponents of the film, who point to the dangers for others, perhaps mean themselves, and their view of the world.'

The Frankfurter Allgemeine is, in some respects, sharply critical of the film's approach, and asks: 'Why are there so many films about those who carry out the deeds, and almost nothing about the victims?' The paper concludes, however, that such complaints do not justify a ban: 'Objections to a media product are not an excuse for censorship. Controversial films, too, should be presented and discussed. False indignation quickly becomes a cheap alibi. It is not films that should be forbidden - but the brazen brown (fascist) intrigues.'

The distributors were due to show the film publicly again this weekend in Berlin, to be followed by a discussion about censorship. In order to comply with the court order, there was to be a brief new introduction, stating the obvious. In effect: 'We, the film-makers, do not agree with what Althans says.' So literal is the critics' approach to the film that such an amendment will probably suffice. Althans, meanwhile, remains untouched.