The Rising Star of the German Right

Ich war dabei

by Franz Schönhuber
Langen Müller (Munich), 344 pp., DM 14.80 (paper)

Freunde in der Not

by Franz Schönhuber
Langen Müller (Munich), 416 pp., DM36

Macht: Roman eines Freistaats

by Franz Schönhuber
Langen Müller (Munich), 320 pp., DM32

Trotz allem Deutschland

by Franz Schönhuber
Langen Müller (Munich), 264 pp., DM28

Franz Schönhuber
Franz Schönhuber; drawing by David Levine

When Alan Bullock, the author of what remains the best biography of Adolf Hitler in English, began planning his magisterial life of Ernest Bevin as trade union leader, wartime minister of labor and national service, and postwar foreign secretary, he met his subject’s widow for the first time. Mrs. Bevin gave him a searching, but not unfriendly, look and, as if desirous of putting him on the right track from the beginning, said, “My Ernie warn’t no ‘itler!”

It is a little early to make the same kind of statement with the same kind of conviction about Franz Schönhuber, the leader of the right-wing Republican party, which changed the complexion of German politics by its unexpected breakthrough in the February communal elections in Berlin, where its success in winning 7.5 percent of the vote drove the CDU government from power and allowed a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to take over the government of the city. Schönhuber’s far from ascetic appearance doesn’t resemble Hitler’s in the least—indeed, he looks like what he is, a television talk-show host who has strayed into politics—and it is vested with none of the demonic power that hypnotized and moved Hitler’s audiences. He has indeed been careful to discourage the association of his name with that of the Führer and in 1987 won a court judgment against a television journalist who had broadcast that Adolf Hitler had been his model and his idol.

Yet it seems unlikely that his skill in detecting and playing to the hidden resentments and desires of the German people has not benefited from the Führer’s example, or for that matter his technique of expressing contempt for sentiments to which he then gives striking and memorable formulation. He claims, for example, to scorn anti-Semitism, but adds that “as a German, one has the impression that the Central Council of Jews is becoming the fifth occupation power in Germany” and that “we are not going to permit our history permanently to be reduced to Auschwitz.” These skills may not be enough to assure the survival of Schönhuber’s Republicans as a political force, despite his triumphant cry in the Bavarian town of Cham after the Berlin elections that “No power on earth will remove us from the German arena!” But it is possible, even if Berlin should be his last triumph, that Schönhuber’s true importance in German politics will have been to act as a drummer (which is what Hitler once said was all he hoped to be) encouraging the more dangerous forces to the right of his own party to assemble for an attack upon German democracy.

Schönhuber’s story can be reconstructed from his four books—including a novel—and from the recent articles on him in the German press. He was born in 1923 in Trostberg an der Alz in the Chiemgau, the heart of Bavaria, and was educated in local schools and,…

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