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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Neo-Nazi group tricks German state into selling manor house

Officials in the former East Germany have been stung by revelations that they were hoodwinked into selling a listed 19th-century manor house to a neo-Nazi group which used a front woman posing as a practitioner of alternative medicine to complete the deal.

The disclosures in yesterday's Der Spiegel are a major embarrassment for the once Communist state of Thuringia, which spends €2.6m (£2.3m) a year combating extremism in a region renowned for neo-Nazi politics and far-right violence. The neo-Nazi group plans to use the mansion as a centre for far-right extremists and Holocaust deniers.

Martina Renner, a spokeswoman for Thuringia's opposition Left Party, said the sale of the property was scandalous. "The state government will have to explain how such a well-known building could be sold off to right-wing extremists without anyone realising what was going on," she added.

The manor in the small village of Guthmannshausen, 30 miles north east of Weimar, is a neo-classical property containing a pillared banqueting hall, a sauna and numerous outbuildings. Previously owned by the state government, it was sold in May to a dubious neo-Nazi organisation called Gedächtnisstätte [Places of Remembrance], based in the western state of Lower Saxony. None of the officials involved realised that the buyer was a far-right group.

Yesterday, it emerged that Wolfram Schiedewitz, who is the president of Places of Remembrance, is a well-known extremist with a track record of propagating pro-Nazi views and Holocaust denial which goes back two decades.

"We have finally found a new home," Mr Schiedewitz declared in a message to his supporters. "We want to fill it with memory of our Second World War civilians who were the victims of bombardment, expulsions and prison camps."

But experts said they were certain the group intended to set up a rallying point for the far right. The group's clandestine purchase fits a well-defined strategy which has enabled neo-Nazis to gradually increase their presence in the former Communist East since Germany's reunification in 1990.

"The acquisition has enabled the far right to strengthen its infrastructure," said Fabian Virchow, a political analyst. State security officials in Thuringia say the purchase of the house was most probably masterminded by a shadowy female neo-Nazi named only as "B". She posed as an alternative medicine practitioner and duped officials into believing she wanted to hold seminars in the building and rent it to other users.

However, the security officials, who insisted they were not consulted during the sale, said yesterday that "B" was not only a member of Places of Remembrance but also had close links to a Nazi group called the Society for Free Communication, the country's "largest far-right cultural organisation".

Thuringia's finance ministry has said it will investigate with a view to cancelling the sale but legal experts said this could take the state years. "The new owners of the manor will bring together neo-Nazis and old Nazis," said the Left Party's Mrs Renner. "The Holocaust deniers will play a particularly important role."

The Independent