Germany Destroys Forest Swastika

ByJennifer Askin

L O N D O N, Dec. 4, 2000 -- It could only be seen when the fall leaves fully turned, but the swastika concealed in the forests in Germany was an over 60-year old reminder of Nazi fanaticism.

Today, chainsaws felled a giant forest swastika, covering about 200-hundred square feet, created by the contrasting colors of turned leaves.

It appeared each autumn, when a cluster of larch trees turned yellow against a backdrop of evergreen pines near Zernikow, a rural village 60 miles north of Berlin.

Twenty-five larches, each about 60 feet in height, fell to the ground. It was hoped this would be enough to eliminate any semblance of the symbol. “It is being made unrecognizable,” Ulrich Koch, a forest ranger at the site, told the BBC.

Not the Only Natural Monument

The symbol is deep in what was once Communist East Germany and was forgotten for years. A forest warden is believed to have planted the trees in 1938. German media has speculated he did so either because of his enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler or because he was commanded to do so.

This swatch was not the only forest swastika planted in Germany during the Nazi era. “It seems to have been something of a fashion among Nazi loyalist forest wardens,” said Jens-Uwe Schade, spokesman for the state agriculture ministry.

The remnants of the others are long gone. Oddly enough, this swastika survived for years after the demise of the Nazis.

According to the BBC, Communists knew about it but said nothing. It came to light after German reunification and was rediscovered in 1992. The swastika can only be seen from above and it is thought that the state planes that flew over the forest in communist times did not see it. Villagers may have known about it, but did not wish to become involved.

However, when local newspapers published an aerial photograph recently, public protest led German forestry officials to decide to cut it down. There were fears that the site could become a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site.

Neo-Nazism Prompts Outcry

Violence by Neo-Nazis and groups of the Extreme Right have prompted increased concerns in Germany of late. Recent figures show that attacks on minorities have been on the rise in Germany in the past few months.

Public buildings have also been struck. Several synagogues have been set ablaze or firebombed. Even cemeteries and former concentration sites have not been spared as swastikas have been sketched on tombstones and on memorial plaques.

Such attacks, though, have roused the public’s attention. Large, well-attended marches have been held in protest and public pressure on the government to control such crimes and destroy any disturbing evidence has increased.

Government officials are complying. Forestry officials stated that the forest swastika was an eyesore. “This is something of a wound, so we really want to do something,” said Schade. “We finally want to bring this to a conclusion.”

The Battle Continues

However, the life of the forest swastika may not have come to an end. The government gave a permit that permitted only 25 out of the 150 trees that create the swastika pattern.

Ownership disputes prevented the federal government property administration office (BWG) from cutting down all the trees. Those felled today were all on government-owned ground.

There has already been one failed attempt to destroy the symbol. State authorities attempted to eliminate it by selectively cutting down trees in 1995, but when enough trees reappeared to recreate the symbol, it was obvious their efforts had fallen short.

“We can only hope,” said Shade, “that we cut down enough trees this time to eliminate the relic.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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