Neo-Nazis are people who support National Socialism

Germany archive

Ingo Hasselbach

Born in 1967, was one of the leading neo-Nazis in East Berlin in the early 1990s, but then left and became a co-founder of the neo-Nazi organization Exit Deutschland. He is the co-author of the book published in 1993 The reckoning - a neo-Nazi gets out, which in 2001 became the basis of the feature film Leader Ex directed by Winfried Bonengel.

From the series "Career" (I)

After the reunification of Germany, violence against foreigners and asylum seekers increased significantly. The former East Berlin neo-Nazi leader Ingo Hasselbach was 23 years old when the Wall came down and quickly understood how easy it was to win over young people to a new ideology after the dissolution of the GDR, also because they were looking for an identity, respect and security. He describes how he himself became a neo-Nazi in prison and then knew how to lure others into right-wing extremist circles. Only after there were more and more deaths from right-wing violence did he get out and help build EXIT Germany, an initiative that helps right-wing extremists out of their "sect milieu".

Ingo Hasselbach (center in the background) in the summer of 1990 with other young people from the Berlin neo-Nazi scene during an interview in the wall strip for the then ZDF magazine "Kennzeichen D"

The Dutch journalists Manon de Heus and Marijke van der Ploeg recorded the conversation with Ingo Hasselbach:

'' From 1986 to 1988 I was in jail for attempting to flee the republic, among other things. I was imprisoned with war criminals, such as the murderer of Oradour [1], Heinz Barth, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Lichtenberg District Court in 1983, or Henry Schmidt, the head of the Dresden Gestapo, who was responsible for the deportation of all Dresden Jews to Auschwitz was responsible. The men were then 70 or 80 years old and talked openly about their war crimes. They were proud of it and were convinced that the things they had done were necessary because of the war. The Jews saw them as an enemy and one had to settle accounts with the enemy.

These men quickly understood that we young prisoners had developed a gigantic hatred of the system. Against all the regulations, against this ideology. They used it very skilfully and saw us as a kneadable mass that could be influenced. We allowed that. If I had gone to jail with the Hare Krishnas, I would have run with them, but unfortunately in my case it was Nazis.
"Shit GDR we'll be back" - Swastika graffiti documented by the Stasi in the Leipzig area. (& copy BStU, MfS, BV-Lpz-Stadt 1785-04, page 60)

In retrospect, of course, it is very strange that the young people put us in a prison that was almost exclusively made up of war criminals with life sentences. I never got what the background was and later even talked to a Stasi man about it again. He didn't seem to know anything about it.

Youth as a punk in the GDR

I come from a strongly communist family. My mother, my father and my stepfather were all officials in the GDR. My biological father believed in communism the most, he was a real hardcore Stalinist. Because of his ideals, he spent three or four years in prison in the west and then ran off to the east. Then he started an affair with my mother - he was already married to another woman - and became head of the GDR radio. But he didn't really play a role in my life, so I know little about his exact ideals.

My mother was a journalist for the General German Intelligence Service (ADN) [2], but at home she never really talked about politics and socialism. I think that has to do with the fact that she has already dealt with it so much at work, but also with the fact that she may not have believed in it with full conviction. In any case, she was always extremely tolerant of me. Of course she taught me that there are limits, but she never dictated to me that you have to be like this. She always gave me my freedom.

When I was around 13 years old, I became punk. Apart from typical punk clothes - leather jackets, green military trousers and boots - we as punks didn't actually do much. That didn't work either because we were always under observation. Once we sang a song called “The Little Spy” out loud on the street. The song was very popular in West Berlin at the time and we thought it was cool. We didn't give it much thought, but half an hour later the People's Police and Stasi were there. They made a big deal out of the fact that we sang a song from the west on June 17th. [3]

The whole time I thought: What the fuck is going on with this shitty June 17th? “Yes, today is June 17th,” I said at some point, “and tomorrow is June 18th. So what? ”We were arrested, but not released much later. The party was everywhere and we punks got more and more criminalized. There are tapes from Stasi boss Erich Mielke announcing the fight against punks and skinheads. That is of course absurd. No matter where we went, the Stasi was already there.

All portraits are taken from the volume: "My mother's pledge - stories about life in the GDR", recorded by Manon de Heus and Marijke van der Ploeg, published by Aspect-Verlag, Soesterberg (Netherlands), 2019
In principle, the state talked us into a political identity that we didn't even have at the time. They made us politicized. We could hardly move freely any more and we didn't get a normal GDR ID card, but a special one. [4] Every policeman knew that I was an "enemy of the state" and that I was no longer allowed to leave East Berlin. That was of course incredibly frustrating. The state could do what it wanted to us, and I knew that they would kill us.

It got more and more extreme, more and more violent. Since I was 14, I've watched all of my friends take turns disappearing into prisons, mostly over trivialities. [5] After that, very few of them were still punks. They understand that as a skinhead they can piss off the state even more. There were left skins too, but in general the skinhead scene was more right-wing than the punk scene. But we still remained friends.

We had known each other for a long time and were simply fed up with this state that wanted to rule all of life. That made us fraternized. It all only hardened later, at that time we were still very politically innocent. Punks, skinheads: these were youth cultures, not political attitudes. Who wants to take political positions as a teenager? We just wanted to have fun. In 1986, as I said, I went to jail myself.

When I got out in October 1989, I had to report to the police immediately. They didn't give me any ID - not even the strange ID with which I couldn't leave East Berlin - but the release certificate from prison. “This is your ID now. We want to lock you up again anyway, so you don't need anything else. ”In the GDR you were finished after a prison sentence, the state has always persecuted you from that moment on.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he met neo-Nazis in Hamburg

Fortunately, the wall fell just a few weeks later. First I went to Hamburg, where friends of mine lived. It was through these friends that I got to know Michael Kühnen, the neo-Nazi leader there from the eighties. He was ultra smart, the guy. He quickly understood that there was a great future for the neo-Nazi scene in the GDR. After the fall of the wall, the East Germans lost their orientation and their hold. They did not know what was happening to their country now and many young people felt aimless. Kühnen immediately understood that this resulted in enormous potential for building a right-wing ideology. [6]

He also understood that he needed young people who were angry with the old system and had a certain aggression in them. Just like me and my friends. We're back to East Berlin with about ten people. The plan was to recruit as many people as possible for neo-Nazism and build a gigantic right-wing movement. What the left can do, we can, we thought, and first of all we occupied a house.

Hassle-free squatting

In 1989 it was incredibly hectic and confusing in East Berlin. Many houses were empty because the owners had gone west overnight. The apartment we occupied first was on Weitlingstrasse in Lichtenberg. We just went in there, but the housing company reacted relatively quickly. The house was somehow historically important to them, so they asked us to pick a different one. They actually brought us keys from 15 different houses: "Here, pick a few." Each key had a card with the street and number on it. Unbelievable, is not it? We decided on Weitlingstrasse 122, because a lot of people fit in there.

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A water cannon of the People's Police stands in front of a house occupied by neo-Nazis in Weitlingstrasse in Berlin-Lichtenberg, taken on June 23, 1990. On the fringes of an initially peaceful anti-fascist demonstration, riots between right-wing and left-wing extremist youth had previously taken place. (& copy picture-alliance, ZB)
As I said, we started with ten men, but after two weeks we were a hundred. Almost all of my friends and many others I did not know personally came out of jail at the time. Word got around very quickly: There is a house there, you can meet there. Most of the people who came in with us were 16 or 17 years old. We were super cool for these youngsters. We have shown everyone that we don't need a state, we just listen to our own rules and regulations.

The media unknowingly helped us a lot in the early days. They filmed us a lot and simply showed what we were doing without questioning it critically or really dealing with our ideology. Many young people who lacked basic political knowledge were able to pull out exactly the things that they found somehow exciting. That was of course very dangerous. I don't know why the media treated us so carelessly. Many of the newspapers that have reported on us have good journalists.

The sense of community was very important in the house. We cleaned up together, cooked together and celebrated together. It was actually like a huge flat share. The sense of community was the basis for the political talks we had.

Funds from journalists too

We didn't need to make propaganda material ourselves, it all came from the neo-Nazi scene in the West. Much of it came from Holland. We had close contacts with Eite Homan, a Dutch neo-Nazi leader at the time. He came to Berlin regularly and we almost always talked about further expansion: How do we get more people in? We have come up with ideas for propaganda events and opportunities to acquire funds. For example, we always made the press pay for interviews. Man, we got so much money from them.
Young right-wing extremists in Leipzig in autumn 1989. (& copy Holger Kulick)

In January 1990 we founded a party, the National Alternative, of which I was chairman for a long time. It generated so much interest that we held press conferences every Friday and discussed our ideas. The fact that such a strong right wing movement could emerge in the East within three months was of course a huge phenomenon.

We distanced ourselves from Hitler's ideology from the start. We knew that everything that comes from Hitler cannot be sold to people: When it comes to Hitler, most people think of mass murder. We were, so to speak, the left wing, the social revolutionary National Socialists. We were for the "working class" and set ourselves apart from big business, from the "bigwigs". It had to do with communism, of course, and where we came from. What was also a strong focus was the slogan “Germany of the Germans”.

With the opening of the wall, a very uncertain time began for many East Germans. Many GDR companies collapsed, causing many people to lose their jobs. [7] In addition, there was an unbelievable influx from the west, be it German citizens or asylum seekers, who of course should now also be housed in the east. Many came from the former Yugoslavia, where civil war had broken out.

Quite a few people were simply afraid of the future or were easily unsettled because they did not know how their country, which suddenly no longer existed, would develop.
Where was the GDR headed on the way to reunification? Demonstrators in East Berlin 1989/90 (& copy Holger Kulick)

We said: Whatever happens, Germany should "be for the Germans". We haven't really had bad experiences with foreigners. There were Cuban and Vietnamese guest workers in the GDR, but they lived in ghettos in Marzahn, shielded from the rest of the population. They hardly had any contact with the locals.

We wanted to take part in the first free local elections in the GDR with our party on May 6, 1990, but one day before the election, an anti-terrorist unit stormed the Weitlingstrasse. I and four other heads were arrested. It was an incredible happening for us. I just got back from shopping when they suddenly stood in front of me with machine guns. We were arrested, but the international neo-Nazi scene did great propaganda for us: There were free elections and we were arrested ?! They also gave us money for lawyers. After six weeks we were let out again.

"An unbelievable appreciation of my person"

It may sound strange, but for me everything that happened was an incredible upgrade of myself. After all these years in the East and in jail, I was suddenly the focus of the media. That was amazing! I was only 24 years old, so I was still really young. Somehow I lived out my anger and aggression over those years in prison. Incidentally, I was never brutal. I only beat myself up when I was attacked and never beat up foreigners. I was an ideologist, that was more important to me.

It was a difficult time for my mother. When I was in jail in the late eighties, her company forbade her to visit me. My mother then said: “He actually didn't do anything. He just wanted to live somewhere else. ”That was the end of her career, of course. Even after my imprisonment my mother continued to support me, but when I became a neo-Nazi she stopped. It was incredibly painful for her that as the Führer of Berlin I was in the media all over the place. "You will always be my child," she said to me, "but come back next year when you are through with this."

In the nineties the climate in Berlin became more and more aggressive and dangerous. That had a lot to do with "Antifas" [8] who lived in an occupied house nearby on Kreuzinger Strasse. At some point we broke into them, stole all their banners and hung them in our windows. It was such an incredible humiliation for them that we just walked in there and stole their things.

Somehow the word got around that the whole action was my idea, because from that moment on I couldn't walk home in the evening without ten people around me. I always had to expect that I would get in the face. From July 1990 it got really brutal. They broke our cars and blew them up and did not allow us a quiet minute. The aggressiveness increased more and more, also with us.

Because we were arrested shortly before the election, we couldn't do proper party work. We then said to ourselves: we can't change anything legally, so it has to be done with terrorism or underground. We wanted to build a right-wing struggle and put the government out of action: shoot politicians, all power for the people.

Get out of a sect

On the night of November 23, 1992, a house in Mölln was burned down, killing two Turkish women and one woman. Dead, I couldn't tolerate that at all. The perpetrators came from the neo-Nazi scene and I had a strong feeling that I no longer wanted to stand for it.

Hasselbach 2002 at the premiere of the film "Führer Ex" based on a script by him and the director Winfried Bonengel. The film thematized Hasselbach's experiences in the neo-Nazi scene at the time of the political upheaval in the GDR and after reunification, based on the book "Die Abrechnung" by Ingo Hasselbach about his life. (& copy picture-alliance, schroewig)
During that time I met a filmmaker who made a documentary about me for a year. He was a leftist and a really cool guy.We became friends and exchanged a lot. I didn't want to be responsible for things like the ones that happened in Solingen, but of course I was in a way.

After working underground for a year, this filmmaker helped me get out. That wasn't easy, because the neo-Nazi movement is like a sect: you hardly have any friends outside of it. My family was attacked everywhere after that. My sister and brother were beaten up and my mother got a bomb. Thank goodness the package with the explosives was sent just before Christmas. It was on the road for so long that the battery was empty when my mother unpacked it.

Today's neo-Nazi scene cannot be compared to the scene as I have known it. At that time we built up a force prepared for violence that was very active until 1993 and 1994. Then suddenly there were no more leaders because at some point everyone was in jail or got out.

The neo-Nazis then slowly ended up in legal organizations. A party like the AfD represents the scene today and they sit quite normally in parliament. It's good if a democracy can handle it: it takes the heat out. Still, I'm worried about the future. I'm afraid that racism has become more and more socially acceptable. Suddenly, for example, it is completely legitimate again to say: “I don't like gays.” Younger generations can pick up on this and it can turn into violence. I've seen it myself.

"You can completely screw up your life at 16"

When I got out there was no support. There was no number I could call to say, "Enough, I want out". That is why I founded the EXIT organization in 2000. Originally we were there for right-wing young people who wanted to get out of the scene, but now we also help young people who want to stop Islam or any other ideology.

There is a 24-hour helpline that they can always reach if they need advice or accommodation. Dropouts also work at EXIT. Bernd Wagner, a former GDR police officer, is in charge. He's cool, the youngsters trust him and his team. My lesson from all of this: If you are unlucky or make a stupid decision, you can completely ruin your life at 16. It's easy to make decisions that you won't make by the time you're 30. When my mother got the bomb package, I started working with the police and gave very extensive testimony. I used it to trade information for security.

Almost 20 years later, I still have police protection, a different name and a protected address. You won't find me legally anywhere. When I recently went to the vehicle inspection, the cops were flabbergasted: “They don't even exist!”. Yes, bad decisions can have a lifelong impact. "

Citation: Manon de Heus / Marijke van der Ploeg, "Portrait Ingo Hasselbach", in: Germany Archive, April 24, 2020, Link: www.bpb.de/308226


More on the subject:

Bernd Wagner - neo-Nazis and the Stasi

Further interviews in this series "Career", recorded by Manon de Heus and Marijke van der Ploeg.