On Nazis (from a German)
In the years after the East German Wall fell, my home was invaded by Neo-Nazis.
They aren’t so very different from me. They are my age, my skin color. We go to the same school, live in the same village, take the same bus. Only, my eyes drift sideways when they approach, and their eyes don’t.
One day, a boy at my school shaves his head. Other boys — the tough ones — copy him. He pulls pepper spray from his pocket and sprays it into someone’s face, point-blank, without warning. The whole school reeks. Our eyes burn.
He’s called to the staff room. It’s crowded with upset people. I sit in the back of the room and don’t know what to say when the principal asks him why he did it, and he just grins. I don’t know what to say when the teachers tell him that the other boy is in hospital, and he just grins. I don’t know what to say when the principal tells him that if he ever does this again, they’ll put it in his files. He just grins and says, ‘You know, I am not alone.’
The principal’s eyes drift sideways, and still, I don’t know what to say.
There are no non-white people in my village, but enough whites who look “other” to take the violence. The Nazis’ excuse of wanting to keep the white race clean is just that: an excuse. All they want is to beat their frustration into someone. Anyone. They are a sorry bunch. They believe that they are the only ones who lost their chances for a job, an apprenticeship, a good future (if you want to call it that) after the communist regime is replaced by something else, and everyone — everyone here loses their jobs.
They are a sorry bunch.
My stepdad tells me about a night not long ago: The Nazis wait in the middle of a road, their clubs thirsty, as an elderly man approaches in his Trabant — a stinky and loud relic of an East German car. He slows down, stops a short distance from them. And he doesn’t run when their smiles flash in his headlights.
The News report on his injuries, and even more Neo Nazi atrocities. A man is thrown out of a train. Women are harassed. Someone is kicked bloody. I am outraged and I love my outrage. I know what to say and I love the words that come from my mouth. I know what could have been done, should have been done. I love to imagine myself heroic.
The next day, three Nazis are waiting at a train station in Berlin. From the corner of my vision I take in their tattoos, their shaved heads, their sneers. The dog that tugs on its chain. From the corner of my vision I watch them watching me. Their attention shifts to a woman with brown skin.
My eyes drift sideways.
On the way home, my train stops, and people board. The door closes. A man looks down at me, tells me that my tits are too small, and punches me in the face. I see the drifting of eyes — all eyes — away from me and this stranger. I recognise a neighbour among them, someone I know since I was a kid, and I have his attention for a tenth of a second. Then he, too, finds something more interesting on the other side of the window. And this is what hurts more than the fist to my face: The permission of every single soul. The drifting of eyes away from me. Beat her up, her tits are too small.
I think of the Neo Nazi boy from school, and I know that I should have said, ‘We are not alone, either. And we are more than you,’ instead of being silent. And then I should have added for honesty’s sake, ‘But only a few of us are brave, and that’s where you win.’
Slowly, I grow out of my teenage “adults are always right, shut up and endure, boys are boys and girls have to be nice” bubble. I learn to disregard the bystanders, to never wait for someone else to take the first step. I learn to control the furious boiling of my blood, my wish to kick the balls of anyone who looks remotely like a Nazi. I learn not to stare at them directly, because I probably look like a psychopath on a murder spree, and that takes away the only advantage I have: the moment of surprise.
I learn that the guys with steel-enforced knuckles and Pit-Bull-enforced egos attack only if their numbers are twice or three times that of their victims. They prefer to have no witnesses other than their own buddies, and victims who are alone, who appear weak.
Whenever I ride my bike from the nearby city to my parents’ home, and it’s dark already, I keep an open switchblade in my one hand and a can of pepper spray in the other. No problem to race my bike like that as long as I avoid potholes. Breaking can be a problem, though.
I learn that crowds have a sickening dynamic. Eyes drift sideways. Some onlookers chuckle and point, but the majority does nothing.
I never look to the crowd for help.
As I write this, I wonder if we East Germans simply slid from one fear (the Stasi will get you) into another (the Nazis will get you), and if we felt comfortable doing it, or if we simply did not care.
I can’t look away from the fact that white people colonised almost every corner of this planet, that we enslaved, raped, and killed entire peoples, and we still believe we are the better humans because of the colour of our skin.
We still don’t see humanity as a whole. We still divide our species into “us” and “them.”
And that’s why we were so shocked when East German Nazis attacked East Germans. It was not a brown person who bled.
And now the world seems to be overrun by Nazis yet again, and only few stand against them. We call ourselves peaceful while we sit on our couches and watch the world burn. We point fingers at Muslims and demand they do something about Daesh (ISIS), bring peace to Syria, take in all Syrian refugees plus anyone who reads the Quran, and speaks in a language that sounds remotely Arabic to our uneducated ears.
Do we not want to see our own responsibility? Is standing up against racism really so hard? Would we roll off our couches and stop the TV program for a few minutes to step in the line of fire and protect people with a skin colour, nationality, or religion different to our own?
Our eyes drift sideways.
We are a sorry bunch.
*The sequence of events has been shortened substantially to speed up the narrative. Between each of these personal experiences that appear to happen within less than a week, lay several weeks or even months.