Following Brutal Attack on Heidelberg Jewish Student, German Investigation Reveals Deepgrained Antisemitism Inside Elite University Fraternities
A German politician has urged the country’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution — which guards against neo-Nazi and extremist threats — to investigate a group of elite German university fraternities following a brutal antisemitic attack in August upon a Jewish student who was attending a fraternity party at Heidelberg University.
Boris Weirauch — a representative of the center-left SPD Party in the state parliament of Baden-Wuerttemberg — charged that the Normannia fraternity, where the attack took place, had long been a haven for antisemites and Nazi sympathizers.
“The Normannia fraternity has been giving antisemites and right-wing extremists a home for years,” Weirauch told the regional news outlet RNZ on Tuesday. “This was obviously tolerated, if not supported, by the leaders there.”
Weirauch dismissed the fraternity’s subsequent apology for the incident as “obligatory distancing by the old men of Normannia that is not very credible.”
He was speaking as investigators from the state’s Interior Ministry revealed that one of the 10 students involved in the attack was connected to the far-right “identitarian” movement.
They also confirmed that the Aug. 29 attack on the 25-year-old Jewish student — who was whipped with belts, pelted with coins and subjected to antisemitic abuse — was motivated by the “antisemitic sentiments of at least some of the accused.”
The antisemitic incident has turned the spotlight on the extremist connections of Germany’s largely-conservative fraternities — known as “Burschenschaften.” Along with the Normannia fraternity, the 10 accused also include students from Ghibellinia zu Prague in Saarbrücken, Germania in Cologne and the Association of German Students (VdSt) in Asciburgia Mainz.
The fraternities were “active at almost every university in Germany,” Gunther Jikeli — a professor at Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) in Bloomington — told The Algemeiner in an email on Wednesday.
“The majority of the Burschenschaften are conservative, though there are a few exceptions, and many have traditionally close ties to the extreme right, such as the [neo-Nazi] NPD,” explained Jikeli, who was born and educated in Germany.
“This incident does not come as a surprise to me, unfortunately,” he continued. “Antisemitism is an integral part of the Volkish (German nationalist) ideology of many of these Burschenschaften.”
Only last week, a member of Normannia fraternity turned up in a fresh controversy — this time for outstretching his right arm in a Nazi salute while posing for a drinking photograph with three comrades that was widely shared on social media. In turn, spectacles such as these have bolstered concern about the links between the fraternities and top leaders in business and politics.
“Although only a small minority of students are members of these Burschenschaften, they are well organized with ties to senior leaders in politics, business, and the judiciary,” Jikeli said. “One of my uncles was a judge and a member of a conservative fraternity. The ties became obvious at his funeral when other members showed up.”
Indeed, the interior minister in the picturesque southwest German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Heidelberg University is located, has been pressured over his own fraternity links even as his own department investigated the attack on the Jewish student.
The minister, Thomas Strobl, had to decide between his “life covenant” with his fraternity and his “commitment to a free, democratic order,” SPD politician Daniel Al-Kayal declared in a statement this week.
The fraternities “basically serve as an elitist network,” Jikeli said. “Their closed meetings bring together students and older generations of influential conservatives, often including people from the extreme right.”
He pointed out that in 2015, for example, the annual conference of fraternities featured Götz Kubitschek, a former German army officer who is now a far-right publisher.
“Many old Nazis (‘Altnazis’) were active in Burschenschaften after the Second World War,” Jikeli said.
During the Nazi period, independent fraternities were not permitted, causing some of them to transform into Nazi “Kameradschaften.”
Continued Jikeli: “After the war, the Burschenschaften were revived, some conservative and some in the volkish tradition enforced by the Nazis.”
Jikeli stressed that the antisemitic attack at Heidelberg would not have become public knowledge had the victim not had the courage to speak out.
“The antisemitic ideas have been there for decades, if not centuries, in some of these Burschenschaften,” he noted. “This incident is a reminder that antisemitism in Germany is present in all parts of society, including among the conservative elites, despite official condemnations of antisemitism.”