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Berlin orders search of barracks over Nazi scandal

May 7, 2017

The head of Germany's armed forces has ordered an inspection of all military barracks after Nazi-era memorabilia was discovered in two garrisons. The army is probing far-right sympathizers in its ranks.

Verteidigungsministerin von der Leyen Bundeswehr
Image: Imago/sepp spiegl

Germany searches for Nazi-era items

Bundeswehr Inspector General Volker Wieker (pictured above, center) has instructed senior officials to search all military properties and remove any Nazi symbols, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.

According to the mass market "Bild" newspaper, Wieker sent around a memo last week asking army inspectors to hand in an interim report by Tuesday and complete the building checks one week later.

"This examination covers all official properties, premises and offices under the army's responsibility," the directive said.

The move comes amid a deepening scandal over right-wing extremism among some members of the German military.

Read more: Is the Bundeswehr overrun with right-wing extremists?

Inside Europe - The German Defence Minister on the defensive

Wehrmacht memorabilia

The controversy ignited last month after the arrest of a 28-year-old soldier stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg who had expressed far-right views and was said to be plotting a terrorist attack disguised as a Syrian refugee. At his base at Illkirch in northeastern France, officials had found Wehrmacht memorabilia openly displayed in the common room without any apparent effort to remove it.

The Wehrmacht was the name of the Nazi regime's army. Investigators looking into far-right sympathizers in the army later discovered similar Wehrmacht items at another base in the Black Forest town of Donaueschingen in southwestern Germany.

News magazine "Spiegel" reported on Saturday that a display case containing Nazi-era Wehrmacht helmets was found, as well as a room decked out with Wehrmacht memorabilia including pictures of soldiers, pistols, more helmets and military decorations.

'No criminal offense'

A Defense Ministry spokesman said the objects found at Donaueschingen did not include Nazi items punishable under German law such as swastikas. However, on a visit to Illkirch on Wednesday, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht.

With a federal election less than six months away, the Defense Ministry and the army are scrambling to contain the scandal. Von der Leyen, who is close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has demanded her generals show zero tolerancetowards any extremist leanings within the ranks.

The minister has sharply rebuked the armed forces for leadership failures, criticizing "a misunderstood esprit de corps" that led superior officers to "look the other way."

"This process of clarification demands courage and tenacity," she told "Bild" on Sunday.

"We must all support it, from the general down to the new recruits because it concerns the reputation of the Bundeswehr."

nm/jlw (AFP, EFE, dpa, Reuters)