Officials in the former East Germany have been stung by revelations that they were hoodwinked into selling a listed 19th-century manor house to a neo-Nazi group which used a frontwoman posing as a practitioner of alternative medicine to complete the deal.
The disclosures in yesterday's Der Spiegel are a major embarrassment for the once communist state of Thuringia, which spends €2.6 million ($4.5 million) a year combating extremism in a region renowned for neo-Nazi politics and far-right violence. The neo-Nazi group plans to use the mansion as a centre for far-right extremists and Holocaust deniers.
Martina Renner, a spokeswoman for Thuringia's opposition Left Party, said the sale of the property was scandalous. "The state Government will have to explain how such a well-known building could be sold off to right-wing extremists without anyone realising what was going on," she said.
The manor in the small village of Guthmannshausen, 50km northeast of Weimar, is a neo-classical property containing a pillared banqueting hall, a sauna and numerous outbuildings. It was sold in May to a dubious neo-Nazi organisation called Gedachtnisstatte [Places of Remembrance], based in the western state of Lower Saxony. None of the officials involved realised that the buyer was a far-right group.
Yesterday, it emerged that Wolfram Schiedewitz, who is the president of Places of Remembrance, is an extremist with a track record of propagating pro-Nazi views and Holocaust denial which goes back two decades.
"We have finally found a new home," Schiedewitz declared in a message to his supporters. "We want to fill it with memory of our World War II civilians who were the victims of bombardment, expulsions and prison camps."
But experts said the group intended to set up a rallying point for the far right. The group's clandestine purchase fits a well-defined strategy which has enabled neo-Nazis to gradually increase their presence in the former communist East since Germany's reunification in 1990.
State security officials in Thuringia say the purchase of the house was most probably masterminded by a female neo-Nazi named only as "B". She posed as an alternative medicine practitioner and duped officials into believing she wanted to hold seminars in the building and rent it to other users.
However, the security officials, who insisted they were not consulted during the sale, said yesterday that "B" was not only a member of Places of Remembrance but also had close links to a Nazi group called the Society for Free Communication, the country's "largest far-right cultural organisation".