The ashes of a notorious German Holocaust denier were buried last week in a plot that once held the remains of a Jewish music scholar and that still features his gravestone, prompting church authorities to admit Tuesday they had made a mistake that needs to be rectified.
Henry Hafenmayer, a prominent 48-year-old neo-Nazi activist, was laid to rest in the gravesite of Max Friedländer, a Jewish Prussian musicologist, in a ceremony attending by far-right extremists.
Friedländer died of a stroke in Berlin in 1934. Though from a Jewish family, he was a member of the Protestant Church.
“The explosiveness of the process of burying a right-wing extremist in the place of a Protestant of Jewish origin and providing a kind of stage for the right-wing mourners was not recognized in advance,” the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia, which administers the graveyard, said in a statement published on its website.
Hafenmayer, 48, who died of illness, became a hero of the extreme right after he was sentenced to prison over antisemitic, Holocaust-denying letters he sent to public institutions, the UK Guardian newspaper reported.
He was buried on Friday at the Stahnsdorf South-Western Cemetery in Brandenburg. Right-wing extremists attended the ceremony, including Horst Mahler, a founding member of the German left-wing Baader-Meinhof terror group. He later changed his ideology and became a far-right extremist.
Photos from the burial ceremony published on the internet showed that Hafenmayer’s urn was placed in a plot in front of Friedländer’s headstone. The headstone had been covered with a black cloth displaying Hafenmayer’s name and quotation from John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
“The burial of a Holocaust denier in the grave of Max Friedlaender is a terrible mistake and a harrowing process in view of our history,” said Bishop Christian Stäblein in the church statement. “We have to see immediately whether and what we can undo.”
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said it was unbearable that right-wing extremists should “haunt” Friedländer’s grave and that they were desecrating it, the BBC reported.
The church said Friedländer’s plot had been reclaimed for new burials, as is common if the lease on a gravesite is not renewed after a grace period. As a result, Friedländer’s cremated remains had been moved to another plot in 1980, the BBC reported.
But the headstone was left in place as it has been declared a listed monument.
Samuel Salzborn, the Berlin official in charge of fighting anti-Semitism, on Tuesday filed a criminal complaint at the justice department.
“It is obvious that rightwing extremists deliberately chose a Jewish grave in order to disturb the eternal peace through the internment of a Holocaust denier,” the Guardian quoted him as saying.
Hafenmayer’s attorney had initially requested a more central plot for the neo-Nazi’s remains but that was rejected over fears it would become a rallying place for extremists, the Guardian report said. A second request asked for a Friedländer’s former plot and was granted, the church said, on the principle that every human being has the right to a final resting place.