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Bitter words in Munich

By Toby Axelrod

MUNICH — It was not your average accusation of anti-Semitism, with the invective flowing only in one direction over social media or television. It was a heated and very personal exchange.

Marian Offman at a dedication ceremony for plaques commemorating Holocaust victims in Munich, July 26, 2018. (David Speier/NurPhoto/Getty)

In Germany, origin of the Holocaust.

On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, an inflection point in the Holocaust.

Among the bitter words: It would have been “inhumane” to assassinate Hitler.

So a prominent member of Munich’s Jewish community filed anti-Semitic harassment charges against two demonstrators attending a protest against COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Marian Offman, former deputy chair of the Jewish community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, clashed verbally with the demonstrators at the anti-government rally in the Bavarian state capital.

Offman challenged the protesters for comparing pandemic restrictions to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and police eventually intervened.

He filed the charges Nov. 9, while the unnamed demonstrators, including a representative of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, also filed charges against Offman.

Offman told that he had cursed them out after challenging them on anti-Semitic posters and statements.
Police at the scene led Offman away “like a criminal,” he said.

The incident occurred on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews and their property that foreshadowed the genocide.

Some 350 adherents of the German Querdenker (“contrarian”) movement had chosen the anniversary to protest against government pandemic restrictions and against the imprisonment of pandemic deniers.

The use of Holocaust imagery to protest coronavirus protocols and other public health measures became frequent in Germany during the pandemic, testing the country’s strict laws against trivializing or minimizing the Holocaust.

In June, 2020, Munich made it illegal to trivialize the Holocaust at such demonstrations, after several cases in which people wore yellow stars printed with the word “unvaccinated,” or held posters comparing themselves with Anne Frank.

Offman, 74, who was a member of the Munich city council until 2020, was attending a counter demonstration of about 300 people on Max-Joseph-Platz, a large square in the city center, when he saw an anti-vax demonstrator “holding a poster with a Jewish star on it, which is forbidden,” he said.

“I said to the police, ‘That is forbidden,’ and they took the poster,” said Offman, who then saw a woman holding a similar sign.

“I asked her if she thought it is OK to have a demonstration like this of all days on the ninth of November,” the Kristallnacht anniversary.

She countered that it was also the anniversary of a failed attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler by George Elser, which took place on Nov. 8, 1939.

“I said I was sorry that they had not killed Hitler, and if I had had the chance, I would have done it, given the fact that part of my family was wiped out by the Nazis.

“Then she asked me: ‘Where is your humanity?’ I was so surprised, but I said nothing. Then she said, ‘People like you can get away with anything, you are above the law.’

“It was blatant anti-Semitism.”

A man — later identified as a politician from the AfD — then asked Offman if he would separate people according to whether they wore masks and had been vaccinated. Offman said that, as a property manager, he attended meetings in which vaccine protocols were enforced by mutual consent.

“The man said, ‘Oh, so you are also selecting people,’” referring to the Nazis’ selections of people for extermination in ghettos and at death camps.

Offman said this infuriated him:

“On one hand they say they are being treated like Jews, and on the other side they trivialize the Holocaust,” he said. “I got very angry, called him an [deleted], and said ‘I’ll take you to court because of this.’”

Offman also objected when police escorted him from the scene, taking him by both arms.

“I said, ‘Please stop it, I will go with you.’ But they treated me like a criminal.”

Police spokesperson Sven Müller said that all three individuals “were brought to a processing station of the criminal police at the edge of the demonstration, where the charges were registered; after 20-30 minutes all were then released.”

Offman was also dissatisfied after a follow-up meeting held Nov. 14 with Munich’s police chief and deputy police chief, the anti-Semitism officer of the Bavarian judiciary and Offman’s attorney.

“They agreed that what the police had done was not good. But when I asked them if they would like to tell this to the press, they said, ‘No we will not,’” Offman said.

In a statement after the incident, police spokesperson Andreas Franken blamed “a group of young police officers” from various units who did not know who Offman was.

“I can understand that a citizen of the Jewish faith feels emotionally burdened in such a situation with the context of the meeting and the special date,” Franken said.

Offman said he did not plan to file charges against the police officers, who were “just following orders” when they hustled him off.

He described the incident as painful, both physically and psychologically, heightening his feeling that he did not want to live in Germany anymore.

But, he says, it is too late for him to start a new life elsewhere. Instead, he will continue to attend counter demonstrations against the far-right, he says.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the organizer of the demonstration, attorney Markus Haintz, ended the event early after speaking with an unnamed “gentleman of Jewish origin” who apparently convinced him that the rally should not have been held on the Kristallnacht anniversary.

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