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CRIME

Merkel leads Germany-wide condemnation of attack on AfD politician

Chancellor Angela Merkel led condemnations Tuesday of a "politically motivated" gang attack against a far-right German MP, an assault that underlined the increasingly tense political landscape in the country.

Merkel leads Germany-wide condemnation of attack on AfD politician
Frank Magnitz of the AfD. Photo: DPA

Frank Magnitz, leader in Bremen of the anti-immigration populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), was assaulted in the city centre on Monday afternoon.

“Given the victim's work, we believe that this is a politically motivated act,” police said.

SEE ALSO: Probe underway after Bremen AfD leader seriously injured in targeted gang attack

The AfD party published a photo of Magnitz unconscious on a hospital bed, his face bleeding and swollen with a gash on his forehead.

It said three masked men had carried out the attack.

“They hit him with a piece of wood until he was unconscious and then kicked him on the ground,” a statement from the party said, adding that a construction worker had intervened to stop the assault.

“Today is a dark day for democracy in Germany.”

Magnitz, who is still in hospital, told national news agency DPA that he neither saw the attackers nor heard them say anything.

“I will in any case be more careful when walking through the area,” he said, adding that doctors were likely to keep him in hospital until the weekend.

AfD leader Jörg Meuthen tweeted that Magnitz was “beaten almost to death” in a “cowardly and sickening” attack.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert wrote on Twitter that the “brutal attack” was “to be condemned sharply”.

“Hopefully the police will succeed in catching the perpetrators quickly,” he wrote.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said there was “absolutely no justification” for the use of violence despite political differences.

“Anyone who carries out such a crime must be punished.”

Multiple attacks 

The AfD's entry into parliament in September 2017 with 13 percent of the vote unleashed a political earthquake in Germany.

With their anti-immigration rhetoric and their challenge of post-WWII Germany's culture of atonement, the party's leaders and MPs have been knocking over taboo after taboo in the country's political arena.

While they have won fans in some quarters and are projected to make gains in European elections in May as well as three regional polls in the former communist east later this year, they have also sparked furore and become a target of attack.

Last week, an explosive device detonated in a rubbish bin damaged an AfD office in Saxony. Three suspects were detained.

And last weekend in Lower Saxony, the home of a local AfD politician was targeted with graffiti and a party office was attacked with a paint bomb. 

Since mid-December, German police have recorded eight attacks against AfD offices.

Party co-chiefs Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel called the latest assault the “result of the incitement to hatred by politicians and media against us”.

Amid the heated atmosphere, Johannes Kahrs, an MP from the Social Democrats, junior partners in the ruling coalition, said “violence is never acceptable” and that “extremism in any form is rubbish”. He wished Magnitz a quick recovery.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote to Magnitz to express his “consternation” over the attack.”Our democracy needs controversies, exchanges with arguments, even when this gets heated. But we must never allow political violence – regardless from which side,” he wrote, according to DPA.

Cem Ozdemir of the opposition Greens party said he hoped those responsible could be “found and convicted soon” and that, even against a far-right party, “nothing justifies violence”.

“Those who fight hate with hate only allow hate to win in the end,” said the politician of Turkish origin.   

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CRIME

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

By David COURBET

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