‘I Was an Asshole’: A Look at Neo-Nazi Germany from the Inside
He was saved by two Turks, of all people. Manuel Bauer was in prison in Leipzig and had hinted to fellow right-wing extremists that he was thinking about turning his back on the neo-Nazi scene. A short time later in the prison yard, the far-right inmates attacked Bauer and began beating him mercilessly. That was when two Turkish prisoners came to his aid — and turned Bauer’s life around.
Bauer, now 32, comes from the village of Torgau, just east of Leipzig, and was an avowed neo-Nazi for five years. A bear of a man with a shaved head, he was involved in an arson attack on a Turkish food stand and was also feared for his fists. He would often wear a green bomber jacket or a black Harrington jacket along with wine-red combat boots. He says he was “the walking cliché of a skinhead.”
Bauer’s career as a skinhead began when he was 11 years old. He became friends with a group of classmates who glorified Adolf Hitler and would rail against foreigners in the schoolyard. It was shortly after Germany’s reunification, and right-wing extremism, which had remained largely underground during communism, could suddenly come out of the shadows. Across former East Germany, the extremists began finding each other — and assembling neo-Nazi cliques. At first, they were disorganized and informal, making them largely invisible to law enforcement.
Before long, Manuel Bauer became part of one of these groups, first as just one of many before working his way to the top. His parents, deeply religious Christians, were outraged.
‘I Thought I Was a Hero’
Bauer became the leader of a group calling itself “Wehrsportgruppe Racheakt” (roughly translatable as “Revenge Paramilitary Training Group”), and founded a second group with other neo-Nazis called “Association of Aryan Fighters.” Each group counted around 30 members, many of them from Torgau, but also from the small town of Loburg further north. “I thought I was a hero,” Bauer says today with a deep sigh. “But really I was just a big asshole.”