Thursday, November 17, 2011

Germany's neo-Nazis killings & the "Brown Army Faction"


During the period 2000-2 I travelled to Germany several times for research during the writing of my book, "HOMELAND", an exploration and personal account of my time with extreme Right groups, worldwide.

With news of a neo-Nazi organisation, the National Socialist Underground, now turning Germany upside down - accused of 10 filmed murders of immigrants, of bank robberies, hit lists and more - I thought I would share the final segment of "HOMELAND" which sees me step inside a former Nazi castle just-purchased by a violent and fanatical neo-Nazi leader in east Germany.

To read more, you'll need to download or buy a hard copy of the book.

* NPD = Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands a controversial, neo-Nazi linked political party in Germany (with links to Britain's BNP)

*kameradschaften = "comradeships", loose alliances of extreme Right social clubs and movements

* Horst Mahler = a former member of the leftwing terrorist organisation, the Red Army Faction, who crossed sides after leaving prison and joined the NPD (I met him and you can read that encounter, too, in "HOMELAND")

****

HOMELAND - 'NEW REICH' final chapter

This is it. Really it. Back to where it all began.

We’re three hours southwest of Berlin, in the heartland of the East. Trebnitz village is a remote hamlet sunk in a wilderness of fields. The drive here has been tense, pregnant with expectation.

“Look, I think that’s it,” whispers my journalist colleague, even though there’s no-one else in the car with us. I follow his finger. Over the farm courtyard, past what seems to be a church, looms a large, stately presence. Looms is the right word. The grey stone and brick lurks, massive and half-seen, behind a spread of trees.

It’s silent. A calm breeze stirs the back of my neck, as I step out of the car and move over to the wall surrounding the property. Broken windows stare back from the crumbling mansion. My translator calls it a “castle”. We both glance around, then take out our cameras, snapping a few pictures before anyone arrives.

After a few moments, an old guy with a pot belly pulls up on a bike. We pretend we’re shooting the surrounding vista. He asks what we’re doing, scratching his sideburns, glaring suspiciously.

My colleague does some fast talking, explaining our mission. The caretaker grunts, then clicks open the huge, rusting gate. We’re in.

Would we like a tour? he asks, as we walk into a tradesman’s entrance. Not believing our luck, we agree, stepping past building materials, rows of discarded radiators, moving through thick motes of dust drifting in the air. The rooms sweep up, eerily quiet. I’m left wondering what once went on here, my imagination supplying dire scenarios.

We wait for Steffen Hupka to arrive.

Hupka is a regional leader of the Kameradschaften and an important figure on the national scene, who’s clashed frequently with the authorities. He’s recently been expelled from the NPD, following a failed putsch. A close associate of Christian Worch, his expulsion seems to represent the end of the Kameradschaften’s dreams of dominance within the NPD. My colleague mentioned that Horst Mahler had been one of Hupka’s main opponents.

The caretaker ushers us into a room bare except for a table, a few chairs, and a newly-connected fax. I sneak out and look around upstairs, as my colleague makes small talk with the old man.

Arriving a few minutes later, Steffen Hupka dabs a sweating brow and apologises for his delay. “I had a meeting with some other journalists, from Stern. They wanted to know all about this place,” he smiles.

“Oh, why’s that?” I ask. My colleague has already told me the press are desperate to get pictures of the building and find out its purpose.

“There’s two thousand square metres of living space,” he gestures, seating himself at the table. “It will make a training centre for us, one which is unique in Germany. We’ve been looking for something like this for three or four years.” He leans back and smiles through prominent teeth.

I smile in return, thinking this is not someone you would pick out in a crowd: smart shirt, rolled sleeves, expensive watch, slacks, loafers. A bland, elongated face with blue eyes and a large nose, dusted with blackheads and topped with dark, greying hair drawn towards a receding hairline.

Shifting, and seeming still a little nervous, he links his fingers together and coughs self-consciously. “I was in the NPD until a month ago,” he says, “and then I and my colleagues left the party because we think it’s not enough a, er, national party, yes?” He makes a reference to recent reports of government informers within the party’s ruling body. “So I think the NPD is an organisation for the enemy.”

Hupka curls his lip and rolls his eyes up when I ask about his current relations with Horst Mahler. “I don’t make work with him, I think he’s not a nationalist, not honest.” We’ve obviously hit a sore spot, as he spends the next five minutes detailing his battles with the man.

I raise my eyebrows. “So who will you work with?”

“In Sachsen-Anhalt [this region] we have many free comradeships from about five to 20 [people]. We do demonstrations, renovate this house,” he points, making me laugh, thinking how this place could ever be described as just a house, “but there’s no party, no association or institutions.”

“Why?”

He listens as my colleague translates, nods, then smiles again. I can sense him relaxing, even as he turns to stare without blinking into my eyes.

“Because the danger is very big that the state will ban an organisation and then the state will confiscate the property.” In a rather telling comment, he adds: “And the owner will be a private person in the future, so nothing can be confiscated.”

He draws in a breath. “Next month, you know, we’ll found an association for German culture in this house.” My colleague’s body language, a subtle shift and slight cough, tell me this is something significant. “Why?” he asks Hupka, in English, then in German.

Hupka tells us he’s spent five years in the NPD and is sorry to leave. He’s remarkably candid, as though chatting with old friends. He describes the circumstances surrounding a failed attempt by his supporters to oust the old leaders.

“Does that mean you’ve given up on building a party?” I ask, innocently.

“In the last 12 years, the state has banned 13 organisations from national opposition, so many people think they can’t found a party or big organisation and so decide to make little groups.” My gaze is continually drawn to his thin arms, cocooned in a dark matt of hairs. “We will make a new central organisation, but I think we must prepare this organisation very well, and we must have one.” This seems a significant point. It appears he’s suggesting the development of a new party and movement, beyond what’s gone before. Something to take over from the NPD.

With a sneer and a little laugh, he dismisses the DVU and REP. Then he claims that all the best NPD people will come over to their new organisation. “But we don’t want to fight against the NPD.”

“Well, what is it that will unite you and your new comrades?”

“The most important thing, I think, for us is to be a German nation in a white Europe, together with the other people of the other nations. The EU destroys these nations, cultures that have stood up in the last 10,000 years.” His voice is gradually picking up speed. “It is God’s will that these nations stand.”

I draw breath to interrupt, but he carries on. “International capitalism will destroy this, and Wall Street, because they want a world with people who have no identity and no culture.”

I already know the kind of people behind all this. The Bilderbergers, the Freemasons, the Jews, he replies, asking if I know Bill Clinton’s administration had 53 Jews. “We want a New World Order, and these people want a new One World government, and I think this nearly exists already. You can see the powers of the USA in all areas, such as political, military, and economic.” His brows draw together, and he hunches his thin shoulders forward, a transformed figure full of passion. “We need a strong organisation with cadres, and in the future I think in Germany, and in other lands too, we will have a situation which we had in the GDR [East Germany] in 1989.”

“What situation?”

“When the Wall came down. And this will happen in the next 10 years in Germany. It’s then that we must have our strong organisation, and I hope there is the same development in other European nations.”

His face has shifted into an expression of earnestness. A new Reich movement. He talks of developing ties and appreciation with other groups around Europe – “What happened in France is important” – although he doesn’t mention anything specific. One reason is that the Kameradschaften are seen as neo-nazi in their beliefs, and these other groups are not. National Socialism is illegal under German law. I decide to press the point: "Are you a National Socialist?”

He laughs. “Ahem, ahem, yes, yes, yes. But you write this in the English magazine?"

It’s only later that I realise the significance of this comment.

We move on to his background, how he read a book as a child that told the story of the Native Americans - “their tradition, nation, courage, and culture” – which proved inspirational for his interest in the extreme right and desire to save Germany. David Irving was another one he enjoyed: “He has a standing for his opinion.”

Now 39, Hupka started his career in the JN in 1980, then moved through a variety of groups such as the HNG prisoner solidarity movement, and working with individuals such as Friedhelm Busse, the same neo-nazi I’d seen on May Day. In 1985 he established the NF, which was banned in 1993. He denies it was a militant, violent organisation, but Searchlight’s German sister magazine, Antifaschistisches Infoblatt, has photos from the party’s internal archive showing people training with guns and military clothing. One of the reasons for its ban was the idea to build up hit squads (Einsatzkommandos) for street battles. From 1996 until last month, Hupka was in the NPD.

“So why have you stuck with these groups?”

“Good question!” he replies, chortling. “I think it’s in the genes.”

“What, you mean you’re born with it?”

“Yes, nationalist views are in the genes.” My colleague raises one eyebrow at me. I can see he wants to say something, but he holds his tongue. “We live in a war against our German people and against the white race in Europe, and against all culture in the world. It’s a war without weapons. We must work so hard because we have a war. We need people to fight for ideas.”

“A physical struggle?”

“No. Well, perhaps in the future. I don’t know.”

Strong stuff, I think to myself, glancing at the grounds outside. Here we are in a mansion confiscated by the Soviets – were its former owners Nazis, I wonder? – soon to be a training centre for a new political movement of the extreme right, in a country with high social tensions in the east, and which gave birth to Nazism. It’s a heady, disturbing mix.

He ruefully admits that this battle means he has little time to spend with his two young children and partner, “but I make the fight for my children to have a good future, for our culture, for Germany.”

“Does this mean others have to get out?”

“Yes, all!” he exclaims, later claiming some attacks on foreigners have been by agents of the state. Young whites assault foreigners because they don’t come to the Kameradschaften’s meetings, apparently, not the other way around. “But this is the fault of the state, of society,” he maintains. “In this fight, the enemy has the same aims as 60 or 70 years ago.”

“Which is?”

His face twists into a sneer: “International capitalism.”

His own family were involved in the last war, which he describes as “a fight by good people against bad.” His father signed up in 1945 at age 16, and his uncle was a lieutenant in a bomber – a leader of the Hitler Youth, shot down and killed over England. Hupka remembers reading his diaries. His eyes take on a wistful look. “He was a model for me.”

His words trail off. I wait for him to continue.

“There were some bad things in the Third Reich, but generally it was right, and I think Hitler and his government want to make good things for the people and Europeans. And this was the cause for the war against our nation.”

I can hardly believe I’m hearing this. But that’s not all.

“What they say in the paper about us and the Holocaust was not true. We think there were concentration camps, but the people must work, and they died by the work. That is right, I think. But there was no mass annihilation.”

"Do you think the issue of the Holocaust is used by Israel and the international Jewish community in some way for punishing German people?”

“There were many reasons for these lies,” he continues, lecturing me. “To put Germany down, they got millions from us in the past, and they will have money in the future and the next thousand years.” Bitterness drenches his words. “They destroy our self-consciousness because of what they say we’ve done. But I don’t think it’s so.”

I realise how quiet it’s become. Dusk is drawing down. The lazy drift of sunlight is dipping below the horizon. Suddenly, the ghostly presence of the past seems to linger around us. I have a flashback to the children’s mental hospital I saw in eastern Croatia, a huge old building just like this one, but full of bloodstains and bullet holes where the kids had been dragged out in the snow and shot by Serbs.

The shrill call of Hupka’s mobile phone disturbs the reverie. He moves to the window, voice booming in the high room and, without realising I’m taping, starts speaking with one of the Kameradschaften’s street generals, “Steiner”.

“I’ve got to go, sorry,” he smiles professionally, cold and formal, as he re-pockets the phone.

“Okay.” I’ve got more than enough. Enough this last six years to last me a lifetime.

Outside, Hupka poses for one last photo, a stark figure against the old Nazi stone. Then we’re off.

***

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Children of the Abyss: 'Fighting Frank'

One of my occasional (true) stories from my future book, set in the East End of London ...

I met Frank running his jellied eel store on the outer fringes of the East End of London. It was a cold night. Winter had dropped hard on the outer London/Essex borders. He was a cheerful soul, silver-haired and walnut-faced; small; full of easy recourse to cursing and cussing.

Frank had also led a fascinating life. One of 10 kids, he grew up poor, was bright but never had the chance to study. He became a boxing star as a teenager then drifted into the murky world of 'door work', policing clubs for the various villains operating in the late 1950s and 1960s, through to the early 1970s. He became part of a gang hi-jacking lorries, living in the East End during the Kray Twins period, serving jail time for one notorious heist, becoming pals with parts of the Kray family (Charlie Kray welcomed him out of prison), saw people shot, got stabbed himself, ran country clubs, and earned a reputation as a 'hard man', a-la Lenny McLean ('The Guv'nor').

Frank was also an unlicensed fighter. He took part in numerous violent contests for pay. One infamous bout took place on a barge on the Thames, as he battled an 'unbeatable' Australian fighter flown in specially for the event. There were Arabs all around as the men fought, betting on the event: he won.

"I've seen some terrible things, terrible Nick," he said in his guttural Cockney accent. "I've watched two grown men tear at each other, big blokes, villains, like they want to kill each other – biting, gouging – horrible. Then my friend just pulled out a gun and shot the guy, in front of me."

No angel himself, Frank has been on the run but his life turned around when he happened to be training in a famous London boxing gym. The American actor Mickey Rourke was there (filming A Prayer for the Dying) and asked to spar with him. Suitably impressed, Rourke's agent called Frank the next day and asked him to come to work for Mickey. That was the start of a close relationship between the two men which lasted for several years.

Frank became Mickey's minder, almost a mother and father-figure in certain ways, for the next five years. He saw the tantrums, the difficulties, the women whom Rourke had relationships (like Daryl Hannah), and watched as the actor threw away his talents. Frank was Mickey's closest friend in that time, but he finally quit after Rourke admitted giving £3 million to the IRA.

Frank shakes his head. "I took him down the Falls Road [Belfast] once, when he was making A Prayer for the Dying, and he shat himself. He had to leave after five minutes. He still got that bloody [IRA] tattoo though..."

Also a minder for other stars such as Frank Sinatra (having befriended Sinatra's bodyguard/minder, another famous US mafioso) and Yul Brynner, the money from his various activities afforded him enough to buy few properties in east London and Essex. But when I met him he was living very unostentatiously with his eel store, in a comfortable semi-detached house, with a rather nice-seeming wife whom others, uncharitably, suggested had once been known for her 'availability' with men over the years.

That was the last I saw of Frank, seven years ago – though I've since heard he met and ran off with a rich woman, and has set himself up with the life of Riley in Spain. And why not? It would make a fitting coda to a rather extraordinary life.

You can read more on Frank's story, and other extraordinary lives, in my future book on the East End of London.