Modern-Day Nazis in Disarray Over Crossword Puzzle

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In the 66 years since Adolf Hitler's death, Germany has undergone an astonishing, and astonishingly successful, regimen of national reconciliation. Nearly every German citizen has absorbed the awful lessons of the Nazi Party's rise and rule, helping transform the country's political system from one of ethnic nationalism to peaceful pluralism in about two generations. However, a small but noisy faction of German politics remains tied the old ways: the National Democratic Party, a far-right group whose members come as close to violating the national ban on neo-Nazi parties as they can.

The NDP's membership mostly plays two roles nowadays: terrorizing the local communities where they sometimes settle en masse and providing Central Europe with the occasional real-life dark comedy. Today, they are serving the latter function in German society. The NDP is splitting internally over a crossword puzzle published in the party's official newspaper. Two of the clues reference Nazi party leaders: "It's a German first name that has fallen somewhat out of fashion" ("Adolf"), "German politician ('freedom flyer') of the 20th century" ("Hess," a reference to senior Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess).

Though the NDP's fondness for the old days of Hitler's rule is no secret, the party leadership tries to distance itself from the Nazi predecessors, both because it turns off voters and because operating an openly neo-Nazi party would be illegal. According to a report in Der Spiegel, the puzzle has infuriated NDP leaders hoping to someday gain non-wingnut electoral support. Their public criticism has in turn provoked a backlash among much of the NDP rank-and-file, which sees the Nazi legacy as a source of national pride.

The split, especially because it is over something as trivial as a crossword puzzle, illustrates an inherent contradiction within the NDP, which seeks to capitalize on Nazi nostalgia while simultaneously winning the support of German voters who have overwhelmingly rejected the ethnic nationalist past. It also serves as an important reminder that neo-Nazis -- and the similarly extremist but tiny minorities that exist throughout much of the world, from Egypt's political Salafis to Pakistan's anti-American militants -- are not the monolithic terror masterminds we sometimes see them to be. Here's Der Spiegel:

The crossword puzzle is among "the dumbest PR actions in the history of the NPD" and "stupid squared," Hesse state party leader Jörg Krebs told online publication DeutschlandEcho over the weekend.

... National party spokesman Klaus Beier refused to comment on the dispute, but Berlin NPD leader Uwe Meenen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that criticism from those like Krebs was trivial. "He's not responsible in Berlin," he told the paper.

Meenen also refused to elaborate on the Nazi references in the crossword puzzle for fear of "ruining the fun of the riddle for people."

Read the whole thing.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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