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Authorities weigh criminal charges on German churches with Nazi bells

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Authorities weigh criminal charges on German churches with Nazi bells
A Nazi-era bell hangs in the bell-tower at a church in Herxheim am Berg. Photo: DPA
14:39 CET+01:00
Prosecutors in the central German state of Thuringia are deliberating on whether to bring charges against several churches in the region that continue to use bells inscribed with Nazi insignia.

The bells, which were installed in the lead up to and during the outbreak of the Second World War, feature a number of reminders of the Nazi regime including swastikas and Third Reich slogans.

The unidentified concerned resident who brought the criminal complaint alleged that attempts had been made to contact the churches directly for some time to have the bells removed, but had been ignored. 

Erfurt’s Mittledeutscher Rundfunk reported that a criminal complaint was brought on Tuesday against Ilse Junkermann, the state bishop of the Evangelical Church in the region. 

The complaint alleges the existence of six bells across five churches in the state of Thuringia bear Nazi insignia. Although the bells are not accessible to the public, they remain in continuous use. 

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While there are no publicly available photos of the bells, media reports suggest that they contain a number of engraved inscriptions illustrating ties to the Nazi party.

Thüringen 24 reported on Wednesday that the bells are embossed with the inscription “Cast in the second year of national elevation (nationalen Erhebung) under the Führer and Chancellor Adolf Hitler” which is placed next to a swastika. 

Regardless of whether or not the criminal charges go ahead, authorities have announced a plan to hold a series of talks in April regarding the existence of the bells and whether or not they should have the insignia removed or be replaced completely.

Representatives of the Jewish community in the region have been invited to attend the talks. 

Nazi symbols including the swastika are banned across Germany. Under Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) 86a, “symbols of unconstitutional organizations” - which include Nazi symbols - are banned unless they are used in an educational, scientific or research context. 

While the continued use of the bells may be in contradiction of the constitution, their removal may also pose problems for adherence to laws safeguarding the preservation of historical monuments. 

23 'Nazi bells' remain in use in Germany

Der Spiegel estimated that 23 bells with Nazi insignia remain in use in churches across Germany. In addition to Nazi insignia, the bells have been embossed with slogans indicative of the time.

A bell in Mehlingen, near Kaiserslautern, from 1933 is inscribed with “Born in the Third Reich” while another in Baden-Württemberg says it was “Cast in the year of greater German unification” referring to Germany’s annexation of Austria. 

Last year, several German news outlets reported on the so-called “Hitler-bell” in the village of Herxheim am Berg in Rhineland-Palatinate. The bell, which shows Nazi insignia and contains the phrase “Everything for the Fatherland - Adolf Hitler”, is over 80 years old and remains in regular use. 

SEE ALSO: Church's 'Hitler bell' strikes duff note in tiny German town

In a vote of ten to three, the councillors decided to keep the bell, arguing that it would serve as a force for reconciliation and as a reminder of the injustices of the Second World War. 

Herxheim mayor Georg Welker told the media that it was better that the bell remained in the church - where it was not accessible to the public - rather than “hanging in a museum where someone could stand in front of the bell and take a selfie”. 

 

 

 
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