German PEGIDA leader resigns after Hitler pose prompts investigation


The leader of the fast-growing German anti-Muslim movement PEGIDA resigned on Wednesday after a photo of him posing as Hitler, and reports that he called refugees “scumbags,” prompted prosecutors to investigate him for inciting hatred.

Lutz Bachmann, a 41-year-old convicted burglar, had appeared on the front page of top-selling daily newspaper Bild on Wednesday sporting a Hitler moustache and haircut.

Bild and another paper said he had called asylum-seekers “animals” and “scumbags”.

The news came just as supporters of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), which is based in Dresden, staged a march in another east German city, Leipzig.

However, the so-called LEGIDA rally attracted only around 15,000 people – far fewer than the originally estimated 40,000 – and they were outnumbered by more than 20,000 people who joined several counter-demonstrations, officials said.

PEGIDA has forced itself onto the political agenda with its anti-immigrant slogans that have attracted tens of thousands to regular rallies in Dresden.

Bachmann, who denies he is a racist, had heard on Wednesday that he faces a criminal investigation for incitement to racial hatred. State prosecutors in Dresden said preliminary proceedings had been launched following the Bild report.

“IMPULSIVE”

Kathrin Oertel, another PEGIDA co-founder, said Bachmann's resignation had nothing to do with the Hitler photo, but was linked to his comments on refugees posted on the internet.

“Yes, I can confirm that Lutz Bachmann has offered his resignation and it was accepted,” Oertel told Reuters.

She added: “PEGIDA will go on.”

Bild quoted Bachmann as saying the Hitler photo had been taken as a joke, prompted by a recent satirical book about the Nazi dictator called “Er ist wieder da” (“Look Who's Back”).

The Dresdner Morgenpost newspaper also quoted what it said were Facebook messages from Bachmann saying asylum seekers acted like “scumbags” at the welfare office and that extra security was needed “to protect employees from the animals”.

Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrat leader, said the real face of PEGIDA had been exposed: “Anyone who puts on a Hitler disguise is either an idiot or a Nazi.”

In an interview with Reuters last week, Bachmann played down a ribald comment made in 2013, seized on by the media, that “eco-terrorist” Greens, first and foremost former party leader Claudia Roth, should be “summarily executed”.

“I am an impulsive person…I regret I didn't resist my impulsiveness.”

Dresden to get first rabbi from city in 75 years


The Jewish community of Dresden is installing its first hometown rabbi since 1938.

Alexander Nachama, 29, was to be formally inaugurated last weekend as rabbi of the new synagogue in Dresden, which is in eastern Germany. Dresden’s Semper-Synagogue was destroyed during the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. The new synagogue was dedicated at the original site in 2001.

Previously, Dresden was served by Rabbi Salomon Almekias-Siegl, who rotated among three communities before retiring in 2011.

Nachama, who also is a cantor, was ordained earlier this month in Erfurt after completing his rabbinical studies at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish studies, history and culture at the University of Potsdam.

Nachama, who began serving the Dresden Jewish community in 2012, told the DPA press agency that he hopes to inspire members to become more involved.

Dresden’s prewar Jewish community numbered more than 5,000; there were only 41 Jews there in the immediate postwar years. With the influx of Russian-speaking Jews since 1990, the Jewish community in Dresden has grown to 720 from 61 in 1990.

A suit and a story from a Holocaust survivor


It had been a tough week. The more news I read about the Boston bombing, the less I understood. Who were these young men, full of grievance, using a fresh start in America to maim and kill innocents?

In the midst of the mess, I decided to finally buy myself a new suit. I have just one, which I bought 10 years ago from an elderly Jewish man downtown.

I had a vivid memory of him, but I didn’t know his name. So I called Roger Stuart Clothes on Los Angeles Street and asked if the elderly man with the accent still worked there.

“Max?” the man on the phone said. “No, I’m sorry.”

“I guess I waited too long,” I said. Charming little old men don’t live forever, I thought.

“Just come tomorrow,” the man went on. “Max only works Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”

Before the man hung up, I just had to ask him: How old was my salesman? Where was the accent from? What’s his story? 

“Max? He’s 94. A Holocaust survivor. From the camps.”

I told him I’d be in that week — for a suit and a story.

“Should we talk, or do you want to first look at suits?” Max Leigh was just like I remembered him: maybe 5-foot-4, sturdy, with a good head of graying hair, a crisp blue dress shirt, gray slacks and a flowered tie. His face was kindly, bespectacled — like a doctor who makes house calls. A Yiddish accent.

Max looked at me: “42 long. What color? Every man should have a navy blue, a black and a gray.”

He handed me a black suit; I tried it on. Perfect. I had him pick me out a shirt, a tie — and I was good for another 10 years. I paid, then Max took me to the back, to a couple of chairs near a dressing room.

I pulled out my notebook and digital recorder.

“Oh, my story,” Max sighed. “I told it to Steven Spielberg. Can you get it from him?”

He was talking, I assumed, about testimony he must have given to the USC Shoah Foundation, which the film director established. I couldn’t understand Max without listening to those testimonial tapes — which I later did — but the tapes, and their sad, brutal memories, only tell part of his story.

Max was born Max Leschgold in Dresden, Germany. When Max was a child, his parents moved with him and his two younger sisters back to their native Warsaw to be with relatives. 

Max was 19 when the Nazis came to Warsaw. He was taken to a series of camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, he learned that his parents had starved to death in the Warsaw Ghetto. One sister died fighting in the ghetto. Another was shot dead in the arms of her boyfriend after their hiding place was discovered.

Max’s Shoah testimony is a recitation of horrors — starvation, mock executions, beatings. On the tapes, he tells the story with distant matter-of-factness. The only time he chokes up is when the interviewer asks whether he ever had children.

“My wife had a child killed by the Nazis,” he finally said. “We have the picture in the other room.” 

With the help of Jewish organizations, Max came to Los Angeles after the war as a penniless refugee who spoke four languages, but not English.

They put him in a hotel in Boyle Heights. He didn’t want to be on welfare, so he took the first job he could, at a fishing line factory. His hopes of a professional education destroyed by the war, he became a machinist, working in the aerospace and computer industries. When he was downsized at the age of 52, he and a friend opened a suit store downtown. 

“I didn’t even know what size suit I wore,” he said. “But I went into business, and I started a company, and I was successful, and here I am.”

Max travelled around the world, including five visits to Israel. He said he has paid back in donations “a thousand times over” whatever money the Jewish organizations donated to help him get on his feet.

After he sold his company, he began working at Roger Stuart, in 1981 — that’s 32 years.

“I don’t need the money,” Max said. “If I wouldn’t like it, I wouldn’t work. I like people.”

Max was married to his first wife, Rosaline, for 54 years — they met just after the war, and she died not long after he made his video testimony in 1997. His second wife, Inna, is 66. Inna’s son and grandchildren are like his own, he said.

“I have family now, I didn’t have any before. I lost my whole family.”

I asked Max how he managed to deal with such terrible memories. Did faith help, I asked, a belief in God?

Max shook his head.

“I saw too much to believe in all that bulls—,” he said. “I had these discussions with rabbis, and they couldn’t give me an answer. You explain to me why 1 1/2 million children got killed without sins. I lost whatever faith I had, and I didn’t have much to start with.”

Yet, Max moved forward. He didn’t lash out. He didn’t stay bitter at having his family and his dreams destroyed. He was 19 when his life fell apart — the same age as one of those Boston bombers — and he rebuilt his life; he stitched it back together like a suit.

“Am I bitter?” Max said. “Yes, however, you can’t live that way all your life. If you’re going to live with it all your life, then you don’t have a life at all.”

There are a million stories in the naked city — and in the fully clothed city, too. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.