by JOHN WOJCIK
People’s World | September 21, 2017
An anti-fascist vigil in Berlin. | Michael Mayer / Wikimedia Commons
BERLIN—As they have every year since 1945, some 200 members of the Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime/Federation of Anti-fascists (VVN-BdA by its German initials) gathered here Wednesday in commemoration of the victory over fascism.
This year, it was more than just a respectful gathering to honor the fighters and the survivors, however. It was a time to commit to mobilizing during the time left between now and election day, Sept. 24, to keep modern-day Nazis, anti-Semites, and racists out of the Bundestag, the German parliament.
The VVN brings together survivors of concentration camps in their mid-nineties, their children, and their grandchildren. But at the table near the entrance to the Wabe, the hall in Berlin’s Prenzlaur Berg where the event was held, it was clear that they are only one of a number of diverse groups that joining hands this year to fight the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the country’s new Nazis.
A special newspaper on the elections was handed to everyone as they entered. It bore a large advertisement put out by seven major organizations that have joined in the anti-AfD cause. The groups are ver.di, the social service workers union, the Berlin Social Democratic Party (SPD), the food and commercial workers union (NGG), the teachers union (GEW), the Left Party (Die Linke), and the VVN-BdA itself.
“The AfD will bring Nazis, anti-Semites, and right-wing extremists into the Bundestag,” says one warning on the coalition’s flyer. “The AfD is against social security and workers’ rights,” declares another. A third warning points out that women’s rights and gay rights are endangered by the AfD.
Miriam A. Peet participates in a memorial held in Berlin for Heather Heyer, the young woman killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va. in August. | Photo courtesy of Miriam Peet.
Miriam Peet, 61, is an active member of the VVN. Her father, who was British, along with her uncle, were fighters for the Republic in Spain against the fascists during the civil war there in the 1930s. Her mother, also an anti-fascist, was arrested by the Hitler’s security forces and survived imprisonment in a concentration camp.
Her father, after the war, was in charge of the Reuters bureau in West Berlin from where, in 1950, he defected to East Berlin because he wanted to be part of building a socialist society in the German Democratic Republic. In the GDR he founded the Democratic German Report, an English language newspaper there that was published until the 1970s.
Peet herself was born in the GDR and was in her mid-30s when the country was absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany, creating one German state.
She said she is proud to be a member of VVN because of its active role in fighting Nazis in Germany today. She said she, along with other members of the group, participated in recent protests against a Nazi-inspired march for Rudolf Hess, a deputy of Adolf Hitler, in Spandau.
Many Germans see similarities between the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the AfD and Donald Trump. Here, a person holds a copy of the ‘Stern’ news magazine in Berlin, Aug. 25, showing Trump draped in the American flag while giving a stiff-armed Nazi salute. | Michael Sohn / AP
Peet sees some similarity between support for AfD in Germany and backing for Donald Trump in the U.S. “People sometimes go over to them because they are angry,” she said. “There is very high unemployment in Saxony and in Mecklenburg,” she said. (Both regions, Mecklenburg in the north and Saxony in the south were in the part of Germany that constituted the GDR). “Support for the AfD in those districts is very high because of that unemployment,” she noted.
Peet said that last Saturday she and other VVN members and supporters joined a carnival that was held in Berlin in support of refugees. “We welcome them into Germany,” she said proudly.
She was asked about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s one-time support for bringing hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany and her apparent recent silence on the issue.
“Merkel came from the GDR, and even though she supports the corporate establishment on most issues, on this issue of refugees, however, she had good humanistic instincts. I think she originally acted on those good instincts. The refugees were desperate and in trouble, and she said we had to help them. Of course, now she is dealing with pressure from the anti-immigrant forces that go beyond just AfD.”
Perhaps one of the oldest resistance fighters at the VVN gathering on Saturday was Dr. Morris Mebel, who was hesitant to talking about only one thing—his age. The rest of his remarks made it easy to conclude, however, that he is at least in his mid-nineties.
As a boy, Mebel fled German anti-Semitism and went to the USSR, where he eventually became a member of the Red Army, fighting the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. After the war, he became a medical doctor in the USSR, specializing in urology, and ended up, in 1961, in the GDR, where he became head of the urology department at Berlin’s Freidrichshain Hospital.
In 1981, he became head of the urology department at Berlin’s famed Charité Hospital, where he performed the first successful kidney transplant in the GDR.
He said his support for the anti-fascist movement is “as strong as ever,” but, much more than talking about himself, he wanted detailed information about People’s World and the movement for socialism in the United States. “It’s good that your readership is growing,” he said.
At least one table at the 200-strong gathering of resistance fighters and victims was filled by residents of a Jewish home for seniors in the western part of Berlin. They came to the event for the first time since the VVN has been sponsoring the remembrance gatherings. Some were political, others not, but they all seemed to enjoy renditions of several fight songs by the famed German composer Hanns Eisler, perhaps most known for composing the GDR’s national anthem.
Peet said gatherings like this were heartwarming and energizing for her. “Despite its name, the AfD is no alternative for Germany,” she said. “The alternative is solidarity, solidarity of all the anti-fascists. It’s what is in our DNA here.”