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German village votes to keep 'Hitler bell'

February 27, 2018

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg in southwest Germany have voted to keep a controversial Nazi-era bell hanging at a local church. Some residents feared it could become a draw for far-right groups.

Bronze Hitler bell in Herxheim am Berg
Image: picture alliance/dpa/U. Anspach

In a vote on Monday night, the local council in a small southwestern German village decided by 10 votes to 3 that a Nazi-era bell — complete with the inscription "Everything for the Fatherland - Adolf Hitler" — should continue to hang in the local church and be put back in use.

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Heidelberg, said the bell, which also bears a swastika, should serve as a force for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice.

Read more: Is it illegal to call someone a Nazi?

The council rejected calls by some residents for the bell to be dismantled or put in a museum. They also turned down an offer by the local Protestant church to bear the cost of installing a new one.

Herxheim am Berg Mayor Georg Welker told reporters that it was better the bell remained in the church "than if it would hang in some museum where someone could stand in front of the bell at any time and take a selfie."

Read moreStudy examines Germans' relationship with Nazi past

A view from above of Herxheim Jakobskirche
The Jakobskirche has stood in Herxheim am Berg for 1,000 years Image: Getty Images/T. Lohne

Resident spoke out

The contentious bronze bell has been in the church since 1934, where it was used until recently. Its existence only became known when a former church organist, Sigrid Peters, complained about the inscription.

Following the council vote, Peters told DW she was deeply concerned about the signal the council was sending about Germany to the rest of the world.

She said she was deeply saddened "that this could happen, that they allow a bell dedicated to a murderer to hang in the church."

For Peters, the council's decision to keep and use the Nazi-era bell and the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) aren't a coincidence.

Put back to use

After Peters found out about the Nazi-era bell and informed local media last summer, the local authority ordered an outside assessment to help councilors decide its fate. Experts came to the conclusion that the bell should be classified as a memorial and either moved to a museum or kept in the church tower.

The council decided the bell will be put back into operation, and a commemorative plaque displayed in the church to point out its history.

Read more: Estate of Hitler's filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, donated to Berlin foundation

Months before Monday's decision, the church voted not to ring the bell any more, and would rely instead on its other two bells, which have no Nazi motif.

How to deal with Nazi past

The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols. Many residents were concerned the bronze relic would ruin the church's reputation, or that its existence would encourage neo-Nazi groups to congregate in the village.

Others complained that its removal would mean the town's history would be covered up.

The dispute intensified when the town's then mayor, Roland Becker, argued that not everything was bad during the Nazi era — comments that forced his resignation.

Additional reporting by Ralf Bosen.

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