Atonement for the crimes of the 20th century was meant to build immunity from fascism, but that protection looks dangerously diminished

It is disturbing to see a far-right mob rampage through the streets of any city but, for obvious historical reasons, the scene is uniquely distressing in Germany. In Chemnitz, in the state of Saxony, extremists this week rallied in such numbers that police seemed unable – or, some suspect, unwilling – to prevent indiscriminate racist violence.

The ostensible trigger was the stabbing of a German man, allegedly by assailants of Syrian and Iraqi origin. But, as Michael Kretschmer, Saxony’s state premier, observed, extremists used the crime as an instrument of mass mobilisation. They mustered thousands of supporters, drawing in recruits from across Germany. Mr Kretschmer looked bewildered by events, reflecting a wider disorientation in his Christian Democratic Union party. The CDU once had a solid grip on Saxony but its position has slipped to the benefit of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The Afd is expected to do well in state elections next year and has been inflaming tensions around Chemnitz, practically inciting a pogrom. One of its MPs has spoken on social media about the public duty to stop “knife migration”. Another wrote of “brave citizens of Chemnitz” protesting against “criminal Muslim migrants”.

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