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Rightists demonstrate in Munich, leftists stage counter protest

March 1, 1997

MUNICH, Germany (AP) _ Clad in paratrooper boots and bomber jackets, 5,000 neo-Nazis marched through Munich on Saturday, facing off against thousands who protested the fascist display in the city where Hitler began his rise to power.

The parade by skinheads and a number of World War II veterans _ to protest a new art exhibit implicating Hitler’s regular armed forces in wartime atrocities _ was one of the largest public gatherings of his German followers in years.

Neo-Nazis taunted protesters with obscene gestures and were pelted with stones, eggs, rotten fruit and an occasional glass bottle.

Pumping clenched fists into the air, the rightists shouted, ``March, march, the national resistance is on the march!″

``Nazis get lost!″ yelled some of the 10,000 protesters who lined downtown streets.

``You are an embarrassment to our country!″ Thomas Rogall, 36, screamed at a marching World War II veteran.

About 1,000 police in riot gear moved in to keep the two sides apart. Two policemen were injured by stones hurled at the rightists.

At least 47 people were arrested, most of them neo-Nazis carrying banned Nazi symbols. As the rightists arrived in chartered buses, police checked their clothing and boots for weapons.

The militants descended upon Bavaria’s capital from across Germany to protest an exhibit that documents the involvement by Hitler’s regular armed forces in the Holocaust and other World War II atrocities.

The exhibit _ titled ``Extermination War: Crimes of the Wehrmacht from 1941 to 1944″ _ has caused a furor in Germany, but especially in Munich, the birthplace of Hitler’s Nazi movement in the 1920s.

Even though it is well-known that Hitler’s regular armed forces, the Wehrmacht, participated in atrocities alongside special units like the SS, many elderly Germans choose to believe that ordinary soldiers only fought the enemy.

The Christian Social Union, Bavaria’s governing party and a coalition partner in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s federal government, contends the exhibit defames all Wehrmacht soldiers. Neo-Nazis say the same thing.

Before the march began, 300 Munich residents milling in front of city hall, where the exhibit is being shown, argued fiercely over whether Hitler’s ordinary soldiers can be viewed as war criminals.

``I was with the 51st Infantry Division in Russia and my unit was not involved in one single atrocity,″ said 85-year-old Helmut Lebert. A young man yelled at Lebert: ``Everything in the exhibit is true. The Wehrmacht is guilty!″

Several World War II veterans claimed that photos in the exhibit of Wehrmacht soldiers murdering Jews and other civilians are forgeries.

``You are still a Nazi! You’ll never change,″ a young man yelled at one of those veterans, and the two nearly came to blows.

Historians have vouched for the authenticity of all the photographs, which come from German museum archives.

The neo-Nazis had planned to march to a site where Hitler was arrested after his failed ``Beer Hall Putsch″ of 1923, but city officials told them to parade instead to the Marienplatz in front of city hall.

They never got there, however, because the route was blocked by protesters. After the two sides screamed at each other, the neo-Nazis marched backed back to the buses and left Munich.

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