During the 1920s and 1930s, as Nazi influence began to permeate German society, treatment of the Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities deemed to be “nonGerman” progressed through a series of ever-worsening stages of persecution.
In the beginning they were subjected to public ridicule. Caricatures and “news” propaganda were used to make them appear less than human and, thus, “undeserving” of normal German justice. Children were banned from school because of their ethnic or religious background. Adults were forbidden to work in certain occupations. They were driven out of their homes and moved into ghettos. Violence against them was openly encouraged and officially sanctioned. The lucky ones fled Germany before the Nazi campaign reached its ultimate depths of insanity and intolerance.
In the years that followed a promise was made. “Never again” would such persecution be allowed to occur.
Today, unmistakable warning signs exist that precisely the same events are beginning again in Germany.
Now, as then, the standard response from German government officials is “There’s nothing happening.”
In 1935, to disparage stories published outside Germany about repressive, discriminatory actions in Germany, the Nazi Party asserted, “Now the Jews are abroad spreading atrocity lies against us.”
Back then, the facts turned out to be very different from what was being said by those in power in Germany—as is the case today.
n October 1995, life looked promising for Bernd Lang. As deputy to the head of the German Olympic training camp, he was responsible for training both male and female competitors on Germany’s Olympic Fencing Team. He had risen to his position as coach of an Olympic team by being one of the best in his profession.
His family life was also flourishing. In August, his wife had given birth to Annabelle, their third child. His wife also worked at the Olympic camp.
Then, on October 19, came a phone call which was to blow their lives apart.
As Lang returned from lunch, the head of the Olympic camp, Emil Beck, asked to see him in his office. Beck told him that he had received a phone call from a German magazine reporter who claimed that Lang was a Scientologist.
In the manner of inquisitors through the ages, Beck “accused” Lang of being a Scientologist. He demanded that Lang return the call from the reporter on the spot to admit that he had read a Scientology book.
The talk with the magazine reporter was like a police state interrogation. After the call was over, Beck told Lang, “Now there remains just one thing to do for me, that you pack your things and go. He asked you three times and you stated three times that the book was good. I am sorry, I cannot act in any other way. I have to think of the centre.”
Renounce Your Beliefs to Save Your Job
Later that day, the organisational manager of the Olympic camp, Mr. Martsch, and another executive, Mr. Kappus, visited Lang privately. They urged him to call the reporter again and disassociate himself from the Scientology religion to save his job.
When Lang refused to do so, Kappus asked him to return his key to the centre.
The following day, Lang met with Beck and asked for a written explanation of what was wrong with his work that had caused him to be suspended. Beck said there was nothing wrong with his work at all. It was only because he admitted that he had read and enjoyed a book that he could no longer have him at the camp. “I must think of the centre, as otherwise parents will no longer send their children here,” he concluded.
Lang’s wife was also dismissed that night. The couple were ordered to take their two young children and baby and move out of the Olympic camp.
The letter that came from the Board of Directors of the Fencing Club shortly thereafter stated that Lang had been dismissed because he “had failed to disassociate himself from the contents and goals of Scientology” and that a declaration of belief regarding Scientology was “incompatible” with his high-level responsibilities at the Olympic camp.
The news spread rapidly to the media. When interviewed, the president of the German Fencing Association, Mrs. Dienstl, informed members of the press that she supported Beck’s actions in dismissing Lang, thus effectively ruining any chance he had of gaining employment elsewhere in the field in Germany.
Lang had no alternative but to leave Germany. He and his family are now settled in East Grinstead, Sussex. His story is only one of many. Throughout Germany, countless people have been dismissed from their jobs solely because of their personal beliefs. Children have been banned from schools because of the religion of their parents. And worse.
Had Bernd Lang’s story been set in 1935, we now know that it would have been a chilling vision of what was yet to come. But it wasn’t. Bernd Lang’s saga started less than two years ago. It need not presage a similar future—and it will not, if enough people make that decision.