Wiesenthal Center Calls for Closing of German Magazine It Says Glorifies Nazism


FRANKFURT — The Waffen-SS is widely seen as one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust, but not in the pages of Der Landser, a weekly German pulp magazine.




In one recent issue, members of the feared World War II military unit were portrayed as just a bunch of good-natured soldiers doing their jobs and, between battles, sharing rounds of local plonk with Greek villagers grateful to have been invaded.

“We conquered them, and they’re still a friendly folk,” remarked one member of the squad, a unit that served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard.

That jarring view of history, in a magazine published by one of Germany’s largest news media companies and available for download on Amazon and Apple’s iTunes, has come under fire from a prominent American Jewish group. Acting on what it said were several recent complaints, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles invoked German laws against Nazi propaganda and Holocaust denials in asking Berlin last week to shut down Der Landser.

German Interior Ministry officials said they took the Wiesenthal Center complaint “very seriously” and would investigate. But in the meantime, companies that print and distribute Der Landser said they would continue doing so, noting that previous legal challenges had failed to find fault with the editorial stance of the magazine, whose relatively small circulation belies its lightning-rod role in Germany.

The new focus on Der Landser is the latest incarnation of a debate — one that has lasted decades — over the balance between free speech and efforts in Germany to eradicate the neo-Nazi movement and tamp down anti-Semitism.

The magazine, which advertises that it is based on true events but also clearly includes fictional elements, studiously avoids mentioning the word “Nazi” and does not overtly propagate anti-Semitism. But critics say Der Landser, with its failure to acknowledge atrocities and little sense of regret for the deaths of millions of people, is stuck in a World War II time warp that ignores efforts by broader German society to come to terms with Nazi crimes.

“The way they interpret it, everyone in the Wehrmacht was just like in the American Army or the Canadian Army or the British Army,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center, using the term for the German armed forces at that time. “They forget the most important point. People in this army were thugs and murderers who almost brought down Western civilization.”

He called Amazon’s refusal to stop selling the magazine “preposterous.”

But even some experts skeptical of the magazine’s pseudo-historical tales of military heroics and camaraderie among German forces question whether it violates the prohibition against glorifying Nazism or denying the Holocaust.

“Legally, there is not much to grab on to,” said Peter Conrady, a retired professor of literature at the University of Dortmund who has studied Der Landser. Mr. Conrady said the magazine subtly promotes nationalism by portraying German soldiers, even from the SS, as sympathetic everymen who were morally superior to their enemies.

Mr. Conrady said a ban of the magazine would simply drive such material underground. It would be more useful to promote public knowledge of the issues raised by the magazine’s portrayal of history, he said. “It’s important for the public to be aware of this phenomenon,” he said.

The magazine’s editor in chief, Guntram Schulze-Wegener, who is in his late 40s, waved off assertions that Der Landser plays to contemporary extreme rightist sentiments.

In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Schulze-Wegener, who also edits several other magazines about military history, said the content was nonpolitical. He declined to comment further, saying he first had to consult with his superiors.

Der Landser’s publisher, Bauer Media Group, cited previous rulings by German officials that the magazine did not violate any laws. Its own review of the magazine has concluded that it “neither glorifies National Socialism nor downplays Nazi crimes,” Bauer said in a statement. The company would not disclose the circulation of the magazine, widely distributed on newsstands and online, but about a decade ago it was estimated at 60,000, not counting special issues.

Amazon said it would continue to sell the magazine after determining that it had previously passed muster with German officials who scrutinize the news media available to children.

Apple, which offers Der Landser on iTunes, did not respond to e-mails and telephone messages asking whether it was aware of the magazine’s content.