History Repeating Neo-Nazis on Trial for Burning Anne Frank's Diary

Neo-Nazis are on trial in Germany for burning a copy of Anne Frank's diary at a far-right mid-summer festival. Their lawyer claims one defendant did it to "free" himself of Germany's past.

The burden of Germany's recent history weighs heavily on the shoulders of many Germans. However the claim of one alleged neo-Nazi that he wanted to "free" himself of the burden of the past by burning Anne Frank's diary has enraged observers.

Seven men are on trial in Magdeburg, Germany for incitement to hatred after they burned a copy of Anne Frank's book on June 24, 2006 during a summer solstice festival in the east German town of Pretzien. The men, whose ages range from 24 to 29, are accused of planning the book burning together. An American flag was also burned during the festival.

The testimony of five witnesses is being heard Wednesday, the second day of the trial, with the key witness being Pretzien's mayor, Friedrich Harwig. During his testimony Wednesday he confirmed that a person had thrown the book into the fire during the festival with the words "It's all lies anyway."

The case caused widespread outrage at the time, raising as it did memories of the Nazi-era burning of books by Jewish authors. Harwig came in for particular criticism for being present at the solstice festival but not taking any action to stop the book burning. He had been earlier criticized for his efforts to integrate young right-wing extremists into the community.

On the first day of the trial on Monday, 25-year old Lars K. admitted to having thrown the book in the fire in front of more than 60 people -- but he claimed it was a spontaneous gesture and had not been planned with the other defendants.

He denied that it had to do anything with right-wing extremism. On the contrary, the defendant's lawyer, speaking on behalf of his client, claimed that the Nazi era had made such a deep impression on Lars K. that he wanted to "free" himself from the "evil" chapter of German history by burning the book. Lars K., like some of his co-defendants, had belonged to the right-wing organization "Heimat Bund Ostelbien" ("East Elbian Homeland Federation") before it was dissolved on July 1, 2006.

Thomas Heppner, director of the Anne Frank Center in Berlin, described Lars K.'s statement as "spine-chilling." He said he "almost felt sick" as he watched the trial. For many Jews, the burning of Frank's diary is like "experiencing the Shoah all over again," he said.

Anne Frank's diary is one of the most widely read books in the world. It describes her experiences hiding from the Nazis in an attic in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Frank, who was a German-born Jew, later died of typhus in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15.

A verdict in the trial is expected in mid-March.


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