For decades, neo-Nazis have traveled to the southeastern German town of Wunsiedel, where Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, was buried until 2011. The right-wing extremists march through the town in commemoration of Hess year after year, glorifying the horrors of the Third Reich.
No, the residents of Wunsiedel — most of them skeptical and critical of the neo-fascists — had not suddenly turned into Nazi sympathizers.
Instead, the group Rights versus Rights (Rechts gegen Rechts) had come up with a new way to protest the annual neo-Nazi march: For every meter the neo-Nazis walked, local businesses and residents would donate $12.50 to a nongovernmental organization devoted to making it easier for neo-Nazis to leave behind their hateful politics. The scene was captured on video by the group:
The 200 neo-Nazis had only two choices when they got to know about the plan: Either they proceeded, indirectly donating money to the EXIT Germany initiative, or they acknowledged their defeat and suspended the march.
The neo-Nazis decided to pursue their plans — and participated in raising funds for an organization committed to their downfall. According to a news release by the organizers, street banners ironically encouraged the neo-Nazis to continue their march with words such as "Final sprint instead of victory" — a reference to the fact that many neo-Nazis refuse to acknowledge that Hitler's goal was to gain a "final victory" over the Jews.
Germany has a long history of violent clashes between left-wing and right-wing protesters attempting to stop each other's marches. Each year in February, inhabitants of the eastern German city of Dresden commemorate the bombardment and destruction of their city during World War II. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, neo-Nazis have increasingly abused the commemorations to organize massive gatherings and marches that have ended in open streetfights with authorities and left-wing activists.
Given the often-violent nature of those "commemorations," the idea to turn a neo-Nazi spectacle into an occasion of tolerance and charity was a breath of fresh air. "We wanted to create an alternative to counter-demonstrations," Fabian Wichmann, an education researcher at EXIT Germany, told the Local, a German news site, on Monday.
Many German Twitter users praised the idea. "This is how one should fight neo-Nazis — and not by behaving even more violently than them," one person wrote.