Love letter from Buchenwald

It was hot with the sun beating down at 27° celsius. Despite there being 200 Weimar citizens, tourists and festival-goers on the 9 km walk, it was silent. We trudged along industrial roads probably unrecognisable to survivors who were forced on the same route to the Buchenwald concentration camp by the Nazis during the Holocaust. A police escort added to the surrealism: we were mimetically tramping through half domesticated orchards and heathland on Ettersberg Hill and gazing down into the vale of Thuringia below. Such beauty, yet such horror happened here.

That was on September 13 this year, a commemoration moved from April to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald. It was no coincidence that this allowed Weimar’s renowned Kunstfest to get involved too and that the event turned into an audio walk. A scandal in February, when the liberal factions of Germany’s political spectrum collaborated with the right-wing AfD (headed up by Björn Höcke) to try and oust its Thuringia left wing Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow, sent shock waves through the country and the former East German regime. The Walk to Buchenwald (Gang Nach Buchenwald) was a chance not only to reflect on a traumatic time in Germany’s history, but with Ramelow in attendance, it was also an opportunity to send a strong political statement of togetherness to the AfD, who are themselves, due to racist, anti-democratic and antisemitic tendencies, banned from Buchenwald events.

But the AfD and affiliated groups don’t just try to twist history, memory or reenact the collaboration that helped usher Hitler to power, they also appropriate cultural platforms. Kunstfest suffered interference from right-wing groups in 2019 when they marked 100 years since the forming of the birth of Germany’s first democracy, the national council of which sat in Weimar. To counter, far-right protestors mounted an event on the steps of the city’s Deutsches National Theatre. When Kunstfest responded with their own protest, the fascists tried and failed to take them to court.

Far right-wing groups attempting to use cultural platforms to promote their own messages sends a stark warning to countries such as the UK. In Britain QAnon followers and the UK’s Patriotic Alternative are actively mingling together on conspiracy theory protests on the one hand, whilst on the other political figures such as the Home Secretary Priti Patel, playing right into the hands of the far-right, attack lawyers for their defence of asylum seekers. How long before such far right-wing groups are emboldened enough by a cowed government to start trying to ally themselves with cultural events like the UK Festival 2022 (w/t) otherwise dubbed the Brexit Festival, which in itself encourages a national betrayal narrative?

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