Historical Dishonor: Towns Stuggle with Citizen Hitler

PHOTO: Adolf Hitler in Goslar, Germany in 1934.
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Several towns in Germany still have Adolf Hitler on the rolls as an honorary citizen. Most remove his name once the oversight is discovered. But should they? Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel isn't so sure.

They tend to be names that few have ever heard of, places like Bassum, Helsa, Nittendorf-Etterzhausen or Nortorf. But periodically such small towns in Germany find their way into the headlines due to a peculiar characteristic they share: They are, or were until recently, on the list of communities that never withdrew honorary citizenship from Adolf Hitler once the Third Reich came crashing down in 1945.

Now, a new town has recently become the focus of unwanted attention as a result of its antiquated honorary citizenship rolls. Goslar, the hometown of Social Democratic Party head Sigmar Gabriel, is currently planning to finally revoke the honor it bestowed on the Führer back in the 1930s.

But should it? Gabriel, surprisingly, thinks the answer to that question should be no. In comments made recently, the center-left political leader said: "It is an attempt to whitewash something that can't be whitewashed," he said. He added that he used to be in favor of removing Hitler from the honorary rolls, but that his views have changed. "Today, I think it is almost wrong to do that."

Gabriel's comments reflect a surprising lack of consensus among German towns when it comes to dealing with the discovery that Honorary Citizen Adolf Hitler is still on the books. A total of around 4,000 German cities, towns and communities honored Hitler during the 12 years of Nazi rule. Most, however, removed his name immediately after Nazi Germany collapsed.

'Reflects the Times'

But not all. In March, for example, a historian in the town of Helsa, not far from Frankfurt, learned that the honor for Hitler had never been revoked. The municipal government acted quickly, and by April, his name had been removed.

Other towns, though, have elected to keep the Führer on the books. Lanskroun, for example, a once-German town that is now located in the Czech Republic chose not to revoke honorary citizenship for Hitler in 2007 with the mayor saying at the time: "It simply reflects the times back then." In 2008, the Bavarian town of Nittendorf-Etterzhausen likewise declined to remove the Nazi leader, though the justification smacked more of denial than nuance. The mayor at the time, Max Knott, said simply he couldn't send Hitler a letter informing him of the revocation, implying that without such a step, the Führer would have to remain on the honorary citizen list.

This week, yet another town has begun wrestling with its Hitler-hailing past. Bassum, located just south of Bremen, made Hitler and Reich President Paul von Hindenburg honorary citizens in 1933. According to the certificate, which was quoted in the local newspaper Kreis Zeitung on Tuesday, the news was delivered to the leaders by courier.

"The completed honorary citizenship certificate was brought to the Reich capital and handed personally to Reich President von Hindenburg and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler by National Socialist and SS member Alfred Meyer-Apitz from Bassum, a proficient sportsman, in a five-day and three-hour foot march." The document notes that Meyer-Apitz trudged 85 kilometers per day in his zeal.

How Bassum will choose to address the issue remains to be seen. Goslar, for its part, plans to take up the question in September. It is considered likely that Hitler's name will be stricken from the rolls.

cgh/SPIEGEL

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