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Alleged right-wing security guards hired at Sachsenhausen

February 22, 2019

Recent events at Sachsenhausen have caused controversy: first visits from defiant AfD lawmakers, and now a scandal regarding security guards. It could be due to the current social climate, says a director for the site.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial site
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kembowski

Can a company owned by a suspected right-wing extremist really be guarding the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial site? That was the claim made by the German daily Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung earlier this week. Since then, the case has been making waves. Axel Drecoll, the director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation is alarmed. In an interview with DW, he described the incident as "wholly unacceptable," not least because the company concerned was employed without the foundation's knowledge.

Since February last year, City Control Gebäude- und Sicherheitsservice (Building and Security Service) has been responsible for security at Sachsenhausen. However, the company, which is based on the outskirts of Berlin, employed a firm from Cottbus as a subcontractor — without obtaining the written permission of the memorial site, as it was contractually obliged to do.

Drecoll says the incident will now be "very carefully examined." City Control may lose the whole security contract. The collaboration with the external company — which DW has been told is taking legal action to defend itself against the allegations — was terminated immediately, at the memorial site's insistence.

Concentration camp survivors, relatives appalled

City Control is conscious of the shocking nature of the incident. DW has seen the company's detailed statement, which refers to "misconduct by one individual" — not someone in its own ranks, it says, but someone working for the subcontractor. The statement goes on to admit that this has cast an "extremely bad light" on the subcontractor, on City Control, and "most especially on our clients" — in this instance, the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, which is worried about its reputation.

Reports about dubious security companies and about visits to Sachsenhausen by right-wing extremists have horrified concentration camp survivors and their relatives. For example, a group from the constituency of Alice Weidel, a member of the German Bundestag who is the parliamentary party leader for the AfD (Alternative for Germany), paid a visit in July 2018. The members of the group are said to have made light of Nazi crimes and cast doubt on the existence of gas chambers in the extermination camps.

'Language is shifting'

"The other thing, of course, is the social climate," says Drecoll. The director of the memorial site is also a historian. He says that for quite a while now he has been conscious of the fact that public communication has changed. New possibilities exist, he says, for "expressing racist views, holding forth in favor of exaggerated nationalism, expressing anti-Semitic views." He has also noted that "the language is shifting" in the parliamentary realm. He is gravely concerned about this development, which he considers dangerous.

Read more: 'Auschwitz did not begin in Auschwitz'

However, at the same time, Drecoll, who has been in this post since June 2018, fears that the media and the public may have a skewed perception of things. Of course, they are taking what has been happening in Sachsenhausen "very, very seriously" — nonetheless, he is at pains to point out that these incidents are rare. He points out that the foundation's memorial sites had a total of 850,000 visitors, 700,000 of whom came to the former concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. The vast majority, he says, came to learn about and come to terms with its history.

Neo-Nazis at Obersalzberg

Drecoll also had similar experiences at the Obersalzberg documentation center, which he headed before moving to the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation. People would come and visit the site of Adolf Hitler's retreat in the idyllic Bavarian mountains near Berchtesgaden, and some "not only had an uncritical attitude to the Nazi regime, but were even, to some extent, still pursuing its aims."

It seems that neo-Nazis find carefully staged idealistic imagery — the "Führer" with his German shepherd, for example — particularly attractive. Drecoll observed an increase in the number of unwanted guests like these during his time at Obersalzberg. However, there too, he says, they only constituted a "tiny proportion" of the visitors.

'I speak for the dead'

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.