Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Germany on Saturday, Holocaust Memorial Day, to demonstrate in support of democracy and against the rise of a far-right party, the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which is on its way to achieve political advances. in this year’s state elections.
In towns and medium-sized cities such as Düsseldorf, Kiel, Mannheim and Osnabrück, protesters held signs reading: “There is no alternative to democracy”, “Kick out the Nazis” and “Voting for the AfD is so 1933”, referring to The period when the Nazis came to power.
In Germany, Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet army, is associated with the promise “Never again.” That promise has taken on new resonance amid the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel, a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Germany and the likelihood of a far-right party with extremist elements gaining more political power.
“I always thought that our next generation would live even more openly, more tolerantly, without fear or worry,” said Dursiye Ayyildiz, who heads an organization that speaks out for immigrants in Kiel and addressed the crowd there. “However, I see that unfortunately right-wing ideas are being transmitted, and that worries me for the next generation,” he said.
Millions of people in Germany have demonstrated in cities including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, and smaller towns, in recent weeks since news emerged that a group of AfD officials had met with neo-Nazis and other extreme figures. right in a hotel in Potsdam to discuss the possibility of a mass deportation from Germany of millions of immigrants and other people considered foreigners.
On Friday night, activists lit candles to spell out the phrase “Never again is now” in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. And Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his weekly video address: “January 27 calls to us: stay visible! Stay audible! and he added: “Against anti-Semitism, against racism, against misanthropy and for our democracy.”
Saturday’s demonstrations attracted about 100,000 participants in Düsseldorf, about 20,000 in Mannheim and about 11,500 in the northern city of Kiel, according to police estimates. Dozens of protests also took place in smaller cities and towns.
Similar demonstrations also took place in neighboring Austria, where concerns about the influence of the far-right also increased. Tens of thousands of people protested at a pro-democracy demonstration outside Parliament in Vienna on Friday night, and smaller protests were held in Salzburg and Innsbruck.
Although support for the AfD has increased in Germany in recent months, news of the meeting and subsequent demonstrations against the far right have put the party at a disadvantage.
Last week, Tino Chrupalla, co-president of the party, went on public television to deny that the party had approved the secret meeting. Marine Le Pen, a former AfD ally in France who remains a presidential candidate there in 2027, threatened to stop cooperating with the party during the meeting. And recent polls have suggested a decline in his popularity, with support for the party falling to less than 20 percent of respondents for the first time in many months.
Concern about the influence of the far-right in the country has also increased as investigative journalists have uncovered links between respected members of society and the far-right. Last week, the public broadcaster ARD discovered that a former Berlin state politician had been giving money to the Identitarian Movement, which advocates the superiority of European ethnic groups. The movement’s main ideologue, Martin Sellner, was one of the central actors in the secret meeting and is a long-time advocate of mass deportations.
The events have led many to compare modern Germany to the Weimar Republic, the fragile democracy of the 1920s and 1930s whose failure gave rise to the Nazis.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius made that comparison Saturday while addressing a crowd of about 25,000 people in Osnabrück, a city where he was mayor for seven years. He told those present that the AfD seeks to change Germany’s entire social system.
“This means nothing other than wanting to return to the dark times of racial madness, discrimination, inequality and injustice,” Pistorius said.