Berlin — Standing in the courtyard where plotters against Adolf Hitler were shot, Germany's parliament chief urged his countrymen on Thursday to oppose the neo-Nazis in the spirit of those who resisted the Third Reich.
With somber music and no applause, Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse invoked the memory of the conspirators at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the most famous assassination attempt against Hitler.
"Extreme vigilance and decisive action are demanded when in our country people are hounded to death because they have a different skin color or come from a different part of the world," Thierse said. "The greatest part of civil society must combat this threat to our democracy."
Coinciding with Thierse's appeal, academics from more than 40 institutes in Germany released an open letter calling for stronger measures against anti-foreigner sentiment in the face of rising extreme-right violence.
The letter was prompted by an attack last month in the eastern city of Dessau, where a Mozambique man died after being beaten by three neo-Nazis.
Also Thursday, four teen-agers were arrested in an arson attack on a shelter for asylum seekers Sunday in the western city of Ludwigshafen, injuring three children who had fled Kosovo with their family. Police said the suspects, ages 14 to 18, are skinheads and confessed to the crime.
Although German officials have said the number of known neo-Nazis is declining in the country, those remaining are more prone to violence.
July 20 has been a holiday in Germany since 1952, marking the day in 1944 when Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg left a briefcase bomb at a field headquarters in East Prussia where Hitler was meeting with top aides.
After seeing the bomb go off and believing Hitler dead, Stauffenberg rushed back to Berlin where he was to have seized the military headquarters, the Bendlerblock. Hitler only suffered minor injuries, and Stauffenberg along with other conspirators were shot in the Bendlerblock's courtyard.
As many as 200 others involved, including civilians slated for posts in the government in the planned coup, were executed -- some strangled by piano wire and strung up from meat hooks.
The Bendlerblock now is dedicated as the national memorial to the German Resistance. It has also been the Defense Ministry's office in Berlin since 1993.
Thierse said remembrance on the holiday should not just focus on the failed July 20 attempt, but all forms of resistance to the Nazi regime no matter how small -- such as giving a piece of bread to a forced laborer or choosing to ignore propaganda in school.
"When someone honors only July 20 and ignores other forms of resistance, they obscure the importance that is due to everyday resistance -- also against current dangers to our democracy," he said.