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Glorifying Nazism?

Carla Bleiker / ai, sstSeptember 16, 2013

German magazine "Der Landser" tells WWII stories from the perspective of Wehrmacht soldiers. In July, Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Center called for it to be banned. Publishing house Bauer has now terminated the magazine.

Wehrmacht soldiers
Image: picture alliance/ADN Zentralbild

The Bauer Media Group announced the termination of "Der Landser" on Friday (13.09.2013) - the pulp magazine had sparked uproar earlier in July, when the US-based Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Center called for a ban of the magazine due to propagating far-right ideology.

In a statement, publishing house Bauer said it had decided to terminate the magazine because of strategic reasons, not because it was against the law. According to Bauer, an independent expert report had found "Der Landser" was not glorifying or playing down the Nazi era.

Founded in 1954, the journal takes its name from the colloquial term for a German soldier used during World War II. It sells its stories as eye-witness accounts of heroic Wehrmacht soldiers without putting things into the historical context of the Nazi era - let alone mentioning war crimes perpetrated by the German troops.

No historical context

Klaus Geiger of Kassel University, a professor of political sociology who wrote his 1974 PhD dissertation on "Der Landser," says that is the key problem.

German neo-Nazis (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
For young readers, the magazine can be an introduction to the far-right scene, according to WolfImage: Getty Images

"The content is a gripping depiction of isolated events taken out of context," he told DW. The readers are mostly male, and often people who sympathize with Germany's far-right scene or are already part of it. The magazine, he argues, offers them a falsely heroic portrait of the German Wehrmacht soldier.

Peter Conrady, professor emeritus of German literature at Dortmund University says that "Der Landser" depicts the day-to-day life and hardship of the regular soldier in an "emotionally gripping way." Though the preface inside the slim publication does insist that it does not glorify war, Conrady believes this is merely an attempt to cover up the magazine's true colors.

Dangerous fascination

"By completely ignoring the war crimes, 'Der Landser' is complicit in the creation of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht," explains Joachim Wolf of the anti-racism foundation Amadeu Antonio Stiftung. He says it's very dangerous that the magazine comes across as a collection of adventure tales. Such stories are - whether told by your grandfather or a pulp magazine - very often what initiates young people into the far-right scene, Wolf says.

Geiger has been campaigning since the 1970s for the magazine to be put on the index of publications unsuitable for children and teenagers. That would mean that "Der Landser" could no longer be sold to under-18s, on the grounds that it glorifies war. According to Geiger, that charge clearly applies to "Der Landser," but so far only a few editions from the 1960s were put on the index. Ten years ago, says Peter Conrady, the magazine had a circulation of some 300,000, but today, the publisher provides no sales figures. Since it can be assumed that one issue is read by perhaps six or seven people, whatever today's actual circulation is, the readership is probably much higher.

Calling for a ban

Hans-Peter Friedrich (Photo: Holger Hollemann/dpa)
The Interior Ministry under Hans-Peter Friedrich wants to investigate the claimsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which campaigns against anti-Semitism worldwide, had been calling for the magazine to be banned completely. The center said it had received several complaints about "Der Landser," and is basing its call on German laws banning the use of Nazi symbols, the spread of right-wing ideology, and the Holocaust denial.

According to Germany's Interior Ministry, Germany has a historic responsibility in such cases. "A proper prosecution of neo-Nazi and racist propaganda is of particular importance to Germany," a ministry spokesman told DW. But there is no particular mention of Nazi politics or anti-Semitism in the magazine - which is likely a conscious tactic.

Wolf and Conrady think that banning the magazine isn't the right course of action anyway. Instead, both propose that there should be a public debate about "Der Landser" to explain to young people in particular the actual historical context and realities of World War II. Otherwise, the magazine would simply disappear from shelves while its ideology lived on in the minds of its potential readers.

Sticking to rule and law?

"Der Landser" was published by Pabel Moewig, a subsidiary of the Bauer Media Group, which also publishes internationally successful titles like celebrity gossip magazine "InTouch," or Germany's most popular teenager read "Bravo." Company spokeswoman Claudia Bachhausen stressed that all German publications in the house conformed to the country's laws. With reference to "Der Landser," she said "the publishing house stresses that the magazine neither glorifies the Nazi era, nor trivializes Nazi crimes."

This article from July 2013 has been updated.