A Rhineland mayor has quit over a bell with a Nazi inscription left hanging in his town's church since 1934. Roland Becker denies suggesting during a televised interview that he had exalted Hitler's past regime.
Pressure from fellow councilors prompted Roland Becker to quit on Wednesday as leader of the 750-person town of Herxheim am Berg, headlining his resignation statement with the words "Mayor goes, bell remains."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany had demanded the Swastika-embossed bell be removed from the tower of the Protestant Jakob's Church, where it hangs with two other bells installed in 1951.
The church congregation said the offending bronze bell which generates a C note, inscribed with "Everything for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler," belonged to the town's "political community” and distanced itself from the "indescribable suffering” caused by the Nazis.
Herxheim am Berg lies 21 kilometers (13 miles) west of Mannheim in Rhineland Palatinate state, which is governed from Mainz by a center-left government.
Becker's resignation coincided with an announcement by the county administration in Bad Durkheim that Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) had registered a demonstration in Herxheim am Berg for next Saturday to demand the bell's retention.
A county spokeswoman said 10 NPD protesters were expected, adding that she assumed strongly that there would be a counter-demonstration.
Town council awaits expert report
Initially, the town council had considered blocking access to the tower. But last month, it voted to commission an expert to assess legal and historical aspects before deciding on its next steps. One idea floated was to put the bell in a museum.
The row reached a peak last Sunday, when Becker in an interview with the public ARD television channel's program "Kontraste” quoted a 95-year-old woman resident as saying that Hitler should also be remembered for "things he achieved."
This quote did not reflect his own opinion, Becker asserted Wednesday, adding that he had already distanced himself to the "utmost extreme” from claims that he had exalted the Nazi area.
His recounting of the woman's remark had been ripped out of its context, said Becker, who belongs to the Freie Wähler ("Free Voters"), a party active nationwide but strongest in Bavaria that favors strong communal administration and a hard line on crime. Becker argued that he was only trying to show how opinions on the matter were mixed.
'Victim' of stance
"I see myself as victim of my very open approach on this topic,” Becker said, adding that his municipal rejuvenation ideas, including walkways and high-speed internet, had been "torpedoed” by fellow town councilors.
"For me, it is incomprehensible that such a bell was ever stuck in a church," said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
"I have even less understanding that there are evidently still people who hold a positive attitude toward this bell," Schuster said.
The horticultural region's prosecutions office in Frankenthal, near Mannheim, said it had received a private complaint
Head state attorney Hubert Ströber said prosecutors were examining whether the ringing of the "Hitler Bell” and its inscription amounted to incitement and breached post-war German law banning the display of Nazi symbols.
The row became public nationwide after a retired teacher in a newspaper article criticized the bell's continued use and the absence of a notice about its Nazi origins.
ipj/msh (dpa, epd)