July 7, 2006

Anne Frank Diary Burning Sparks Outrage in Germany

By Dave Graham

BERLIN (Reuters) - The ceremonial burning of the diary of Holocaust victim Anne Frank by far-right extremists in eastern Germany was condemned by the German government on Friday amid calls to intensify efforts to stamp out neo-Nazi activity.

"This act was beneath contempt and could scarcely have been more primitive," the German Interior Ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

The ministry was reacting to an incident in which three men in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt used a copy of the diary of the Jewish teenager to re-enact the Nazis' infamous incineration of 'un-German' literature in 1933.

State prosecutors are investigating the men, who also burned an American flag in front of a crowd estimated to have numbered more than a hundred, on suspicion of inciting racial hatred.

According to news reports, one of the men cast the diary into the flames and said: "I commit Anne Frank to the fire," borrowing words used by the Nazis in 1933.

"All of us in Saxony-Anhalt are put to shame by this," Wolfgang Boehmer, premier of Saxony-Anhalt, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily on Friday.

Boehmer said the state would act decisively to prevent a repeat of the incident, which occurred at a summer solstice celebration in late June in the village of Pretzien. Details of the episode have emerged over the past week.

Known as "Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl" in English, the work chronicles the Frankfurt-born Jewish girl's period in hiding in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, and became one of the world's most widely read books after it was published in 1947.

Juergen Falter, an expert on the far-right at the University of Mainz, said it was no accident the men targeted Anne Frank, who died aged 15 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, and Germany's chief post-war occupying power, the United States.

"The two (acts) go together: right-wing extremism is at the same time anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism," he said.

A number of attacks on foreigners have raised concerns that neo-Nazi violence could be increasing after far-right parties in two eastern states entered state parliaments in late 2004.

A spokesman for Saxony-Anhalt's interior ministry said the celebration was staged by the "Heimat Bund Ostelbien" -- a group which grew out of an earlier far-right organization in the area.

"The example of Pretzien is particularly alarming as never before had (a far right group) been incorporated into village life and treated like a perfectly normal association," he said.

"The problem is more there are too few democrats in the East with the courage to stand up to it and prevent it."

Thomas Heppener, director of the Anne Frank center in Berlin, said he was at a meeting in Pretzien when the men, all in their twenties, made no attempt to explain their actions.

"They told the village and the mayor they were sorry and that they hadn't wanted the village to be in the headlines. But that was it," he said. "There was no sign of remorse."