WHEN THE THREE German terrorists were buried in Stuttgart the other day, several hundred people turned out for the event. The Red Army Faction's campaign of violence has evidently attracted some sympathizers. But they were far outnumbered by the policemen who were there looking for the killers of Hanns-Martin Schleyer.

It has been a strange sequence. The purpose of the Schleyer kidnapping in early September was to force the release of these terrorists from the Stuttgart prison. When the German government refused to cave in, other terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa jet. It was the German troops' success in ending the hijacking that induced the three prisoners in Stuttgart to commit suicide in their cells.Clearly there is more here than common criminality, for these people were prepared to die for a cause. But it is a good deal less than politics, for they cannot coherently explain what the cause is. The longer you think about this episode, the more obscure the motives and relationships become.

The Red Army Faction is, by every estimate, an extremely small organization - perhaps a couple of dozen active members. But the Lufthansa hijackers were a different sort altogether. Their identities still have not been firmly established, but they appear to have been Palestinians, and last week a Palestinian splinter group in Beirut claimed to have organized the operation. That's also peculiar. Why would four Palestinians risk their lives to free several German nihilists who, so far as anyone knows, were never much interested in the Middle East? Since three of the hijackers are dead, and the fourth is under guard in a Somalian hospital, it may be a long time before there's an answer.

Now the Red Army Faction has another victim, a wealthy Dutch businessman named Maurits Caransa. The kidnappers demand the freedom of one of their members, currently in a Utrecht jail after the murder of a Dutch policeman. They also demand the abdication of Queen Juliana - a demand that, delivered in a German accent, suggests a special lack of political talent. Their fascination with the Palestinians has given German radicals a marked bias against Israel. Since Mr. Caransa is Jewish, there is a possibility that the Red Army Faction may be developing a broadly anti-Semitic ending. One case does not constitute a pattern, but it is another ugly overtone in a pathological record.

The effect of these spectacular crimes on the rest of Germany has been electric. Many prominent Germans are now living under conditions of siege, moving about only in the company of bodyguards. There is much agonized debate over the use of force. The most important thing about this wave of terrorism will be Germany's response to it. Germans have been anxiously asking each other whether it's possible to maintain order without sacrificing civil liberties. Americans, who live in a far more violent society than do Europeans, can tell them that the answer is yes.