Thursday November 23, 2017

Artists build replica of Berlin Holocaust memorial outside home of far-right German politician

A pared-down version of Berlin's Holocaust memorial built by a German political art group, is seen next to the home of Bjoern Hoecke, a senior member of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, in the village of Bornhagen, Germany.

A pared-down version of Berlin's Holocaust memorial built by a German political art group, is seen next to the home of Bjoern Hoecke, a senior member of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, in the village of Bornhagen, Germany. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

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Story transcript

Almost a year after a nationalist German politician called the Holocaust monument in Berlin a "monument of shame," he woke up to find a replica of it next door to his home.

The Center for Political Beauty, an art collective known for its provocative stunts, placed 24 concrete blocks on a property adjacent to the home of Alternative for Germany lawmaker Bjoern Hoecke over the weekend.

"Through this monument what we want to say is that we have a broad civilized people in Germany that absolutely stand against these ideologies," Cesy Leonard, a member of the artist collective, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Their memorial is modeled after Berlin's iconic Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which consists of 2,711 concrete slabs.

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Hoecke once called the Holocaust museum in Berlin a 'monument of shame.' ( Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Hoecke, who heads the far-right AfD's caucus in the Thuringia state assembly, caused an uproar in January when he described the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a "monument of shame."

The 45-year-old told an audience in Dresden that Germany's "stupid policy" of tackling its Nazi past was paralyzing the country and called for a "180-degree turn."

"He's just such a dangerous person and we definitely want to not have him in this party," Leonard said.

Hoecke's comments were widely condemned, including by prominent members of his own party who called for him to be expelled. One of his critics, AfD's former figurehead Frauke Petry, has since left the party after accusing it of flirting with far-right extremism.

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Hoecke stands outside the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, Jan. 27, 2017. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

Leonard said members of the group rented the house next to Hoeck's and have been living there for several months, posing as visiting students. 

They erected the monument under tent cover in the dead of night so it would be a shock to Hoeck once unveiled.

The far-right politician hasn't publicly commented, but fellow AfD lawmaker Andre Poggenburg in a statement Wednesday accused the Center for Political Beauty of criminal behavior for observing Hoecke's house in the village of Bornhagen over the past 10 months.

The monument is being livestreamed online and Hoecke's house is clearly visible in the footage.

Leonard said Hoecke's lawyer sent the the group a letter demanding they stop violating his privacy, but she said the group considers it their duty to document the activities of people they consider dangerous extremists.

The group said it planned to publish information obtained from its surveillance unless Hoecke kneels down before the memorial in Berlin or Bornhagen to ask for forgiveness for Germany's past crimes.

Local authorities said the memorial itself appeared not to breach any laws or regulations.

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Cesy Leonard says it's important to take bold actions in the face of far-right ideology. (Patryck Witt/Centre for Political Beauty)

The AfD, which won 13 per cent of the vote in Germany's last election, has repeatedly been accused of using racist language reminiscent of Germany's Nazi history.

Former leader Petry came under fire last year for suggesting border agents shoot refugees trying to enter the country. 

Hoecke once said that people of African descent have a "fundamentally different type of reproduction" than Europeans that causes them to have a higher birth rate — a statement that has no basis in science.

The party also employs language used by the former Nazi party, such as "Volkisch" for ethnic German people and "Lugenpresse," which means "lying press," for the media, according to a report by the Institute for German Studies at the University of Birmingham.

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Morius Enden and Jenni Moli of the the art collective Centre for Political Beauty pose inside the replica of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial that was secretly erected overnight. (Swen Pfortner/AFP/Getty Images)

The party's growing popularity in Germany calls for an extreme response, Leonard said.

"We want to choose, as activists or as artists, drastic and bold actions," she said. "A lot of normal people first of all voted for Hitler and that's the dangerous part that we see."

Lea Rosh, a journalist and activist who was instrumental in lobbying for the Berlin Holocaust memorial, welcomed the stunt.

"This is a wonderful idea," German news agency dpa quoted her as saying.

— With files from Associated Press