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The German military says it has a Nazi problem

Members of the German Bundeswehr (army) stood at attention during an April ceremony.Sascha Steinbach/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — The European migrant crisis and antipathy toward outsiders have sparked disdain and even violence toward refugees in Germany and the rest of the continent. But if there’s one country that knows just how extreme xenophobia can get, it’s the nation that birthed the Nazis.

Now German officials have turned their focus on the country’s military, trying to weed out groups that have a dangerous combination of extreme, Nazi-idealizing views and access to military weapons, according to the BBC.

Officials in the Bundeswehr, or German armed forces, plan to search every barracks for any memorabilia that honors Adolf Hitler’s regime or the army that served it.


Germany has long had a ban on symbols that glorify the Nazis, but officials found two instances of Nazi material displayed at an army barracks, the BBC reported.

The discovery came as officials investigated a soldier who planned a terrorist attack to bolster his far-right cause, according to prosecutors. The right-wing extremist had registered as a Syrian refugee at a German shelter, wore a disguise and even received a place to live and government payments, according to the BBC.

Investigators retracing the suspect’s steps traveled to the soldier’s barracks near Strasbourg in northeastern France and found memorabilia of the German army in Hitler’s era openly displayed in a common room.

Another barracks in southwest Germany unconnected to the case had Nazi-era helmets arranged in a display cabinet. On a wall, investigators found pictures of current soldiers wearing Nazi military decorations and helmets and gripping Nazi pistols.

The incidents are especially jarring in a country that’s highly sensitive about the historical black mark of the Nazi regime.

After World War II, Germany sought to de-Nazify itself, and established the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency that tries to smoke out and prosecute people who break the country’s anti-Nazi laws.


Last year, someone projected a giant image of Hitler onto the side of a building as part of an art installation, according to the Associated Press. A passing motorist called police.

But Germany and the rest of Europe have seen a surge in far-right thinking as an immigration crisis raises fears of cultural upheaval, according to Andrew Srulevitch, the director of European affairs for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL seeks to combat anti-Semitism across the globe.

Some far-right extremists have chosen to lionize their country’s historical figures who espoused similar thinking, Srulevitch said.

‘‘You’d think there’d be a taboo,’’ he said. ‘‘Over time we see that fading in some ways.’’

Immigration concerns have led to the ascendance of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party, which has called for the deportation of criminal migrants.

In Germany, mosques and Jewish centers have received bomb threats. Recently a 66-year-old conspiracy theorist was arrested after posting on social media that he wanted to ‘‘annihilate Jews and Muslims’’ and calling for the death of journalists, bankers and police officers.