The chilling parallels between Germany's new far-right AfD party and the Nazis

Support increases for Alternative for Germany party, but is it similar to the Nazis?

Supporters of the party celebrated election results

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

They said it was banished for ever, buried in the deepest, darkest crevices of human history, never to blight us again.

But many now fear that German Nazism is back, with the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

AfD, famous - or infamous for its islamophobia, stole the headlines over the weekend by coming third in the German elections, echoing the Nazis sudden rise from extremist obscurity to mainstream political success in the 1930s.

A former member of Angela Merkel's government has made the link explicitly, warning that the AfD party raises concerns about Nazi ideology as "part of this movement are people who use language that we have heard in Germany about 80 years ago."

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who has served as Germany's defence minister as well as economics minister, has said people need to do more than stay quiet and hope the AfD retreats, calling the party "racist" and "anti-Semitic."

But is this fair? Is the sudden surge of concern, and criticism, justified?

Well there are clear parallels between the suggestion made by former AfD co-leader Frauke Petry in 2015, that police in Germany should be allowed to shoot illegal immigrants, and the sort of vicious policies put forward by the Nazis towards the Jewish people in the 1930s. Then there's AfD's 2016 manifesto, which claimed that "Islam does not belong to Germany" - not too dissimilar from Adolf Hitler's claim that Germany must fight to "safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood."

This sort of sentiment is quite common in AfD circles. One of the group's leaders, Alexander Gauland, has said Germany has a write to reclaim "our country, but also our past." As you might have guessed, German people have heard this sort of comment before. Back in the 30s, Hitler promised to "make Germany great again". It's a comment that's clearly resonated with the new generation of German fascists (as well as some senior figures in the US political establishment, it would seem).

The AfD has adopted much of its islamophobic rhetoric from the extreme right-wing movement Pegida, even holding demonstrations in parallel with the group. Pegida is notorious for its night-time marches against Islam - a grim reminder of the sort of torchlit rallies held by the Nazis in Nuremberg and other German cities.

Alongside its anti-Muslim stance, AfD is fiercely critical of the press. Indeed it's even started to use a Pegida slogan, "lugenpresse" which means lying press. It's the sort of sentiment that would have resonated with Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, who held the German press in an iron grip and brutally suppressed any form of criticism in the media.

The Nazis' crimes, particularly those committed against the Jewish people, remain a source of bitter embarrassment 70 years on from their downfall. Germany's Holocaust monuments are immaculately tended, the memorials perfectly observed every year. Yet those in the AfD feel all this shame and sympathy goes too far; in February one of its main rabble-rousers, Bjorn Hocke, said the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a “monument of shame," adding that the country should turn away from feeling guilty for the Holocaust and the Second World War.

Hocke, incidentally, enjoys making speeches in beer halls, just like the early Nazis did. And he's not the only one: last year Petry booked the beer hall where Hitler is thought to have made his very first speech to give an address of her own. Perhaps she thought that these venues were proven to be receptive to the kind of message she was espousing.

Petry has now left the party to make her own way as an independent, complaining that the party is too extreme for her. There is probably a trace of bitterness in this: earlier this year she demanded the party adopt a less extreme course, but this demand was overwhelmingly.

When you're too extreme for a woman who advocates shooting innocent people, it doesn't augur well.