The state-funded parade last weekend through the town of Thale had over 4,000 participants representing different periods of the state’s history. Over 200,000 people came to watch the parade. The uniformed marchers belonged to a club associated with a Dessau military history museum and wore authentic-looking Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht uniforms.
“From my perspective, it was an entirely knowing provocation,” state Justice Minister Angela Kolb told the news agency DPA on Friday.
Police from the state capital of Magdeburg are investigating the group to determine whether they violated Germany’s strict laws against the display of Nazi symbols.
The club’s members had apparently removed or covered up the forbidden swastikas and SS runes from the uniforms.
“We wanted to illustrate the end of the Second World War,” said Rainer Augustin, the head of the booster club.
Saxony-Anhalt's Interior Minister Holger Hövelmann said wearing the uniforms was tasteless in light of the devastation and horror of World War II. Wulff Gallert, the head of the state’s Left party's parliamentary delegation called the incident “a scandal.”
The Nazi-uniformed parade participants were followed by a group of marchers dressed as American soldiers, to represent the US Army's liberation of the region at the end of the war.
The story was originally reported by the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, which lambasted the affair in a commentary asking whether the state’s residents were really tolerant and open to the rest of the world.
“Saxony-Anhalt is so tolerant that military fans can even wear Wehrmacht and SS uniforms and march in the state parade,” the paper said. “Oh right, the SS runes where taped over. Well, then everything is just fine!”
The commentary noted that Saxony-Anhalt has the most right-wing violence per capita of all the German states and that treating the display of Nazi symbols as an everyday occurrence sent a bad message about the state.
The club's president issued an apology.
“We regret that our contribution was misunderstand. We didn’t want to hurt or injure anyone,” Augustin wrote in a letter to Dessau’s mayor.