Archive for Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Swastika in forest felled

December 5, 2000

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— Fall colors have always brought an embarrassment to one tranquil German village: When the needles turned golden brown, the trees suddenly formed a swastika visible from the air.

No one quite remembers how the pastoral plains north of Berlin wound up with this lasting Nazi symbol more than 60 years ago. Whatever the history, local officials want to make sure the past no longer flowers in the rural village of Zernikow and chain saw crews moved in Monday to take the trees down.

Forest wardens thought they had banished Adolf Hitler's ghost five years ago when they cut down some of the larches, which change color in the fall and contrast with surrounding evergreen pines to form the swastika. But the remaining trees grew to fill in the spaces, and the symbol was again visible this fall.

Officials in the eastern state of Brandenburg say the relic near Zernikow, 60 miles north of Berlin, is an eyesore in an area they would rather have known for the natural beauty of its lakes and heaths.

They also got tired of the publicity, hardly helpful for a region that often makes headlines because of racist violence, and apparently feared the forest could attract neo-Nazi pilgrims.

"This is something of a wound, so we really want to do something," state agriculture ministry spokesman Jens-Uwe Schade said.

Why the conifers were planted to honor the Fuehrer is a mystery that's hard to unravel decades later. A local forest warden is believed to have planted them in 1938, ministry spokesman Schade said.

German media have offered at least two theories about the reason: Maybe he wanted to help the local manor owner show he was a good Nazi. Or, a simple conformist, he may have acted on Nazi orders.

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