Germans are often said to be obsessed by their Nazi past. This week Germany has been reminded of another nightmare it would prefer to forget: the Marxist terrorism of the 1970’s and 80’s. The release on parole of an apparently unrepentant Brigitte Mohnhaupt, one of the most notorious members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (also known as the Red Army Faction) has polarized German public opinion once again, just as it did during the fall of 1977, when she played a key role in the kidnapping and murder of the banker Juergen Ponto and the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer.
In one respect, Mohnhaupt was a prophetic figure: she foreshadowed the extreme anti-Americanism that would grip Germany in the new century. In 1981, in the most spectacular of many attacks on American troops by Baader-Meinhof terrorists, the car carrying General Frederick Kroesen, the U.S. commander in Europe, and his wife was attacked by Mohnhaupt with a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire near Heidelberg. The Kroesens survived with minor injuries, thanks to their armor-plated Mercedes.
Today’s German anti-Americanism takes a less violent form, but it has succeeded where the terrorists failed: the American military presence in Germany, once the largest outside the United States, has mostly been relocated elsewhere. Gerhard Schröder’s Red-Green coalition, which ruled Germany from 1998 until 2005, included several ministers who had once been sympathetic to the terrorists.
For me, however, Mohnhaupt’s release raised another ghost from the dead: Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, who was one of the last of the Red Army Faction’s victims. I met Herrhausen in Moscow during a state visit with Chancellor Kohl in December 1988, less than a year before Herrhausen’s car was blown up by Mohnhaupt’s comrades. He was in Moscow to negotiate a gigantic loan to Russia with Gorbachev—a deal so important to the Russians that in their eyes Herrhausen even overshadowed Chancellor Kohl.
Herrhausen looked every inch the king of German capitalism, with seats on the supervisory boards of many of the Federal Republic’s major corporations. He had been raised in one of the Nazi Lebensborn colonies, where future members of the SS were groomed to become the master race. This biographical accident helped to account for the pathological loathing of Herrhausen by the Left, which formed the necessary background to his murder.
I could not help thinking of Walther Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister in the Weimar Republic, who shocked the West by signing the Rapallo Treaty with Bolshevik Russia in 1922. Rathenau, too, had been a great capitalist—he was the head of A.E.G., then the largest electrical company in Europe—and he, too, was first demonized and then assassinated.
The difference, of course, was that Rathenau was a Jew, and his murderers were anti-Semites of the extreme Right. Herrhausen’s assassins, the Red Army Faction, pioneered the left-wing form of anti-Semitism—they collaborated with Palestinian terrorists in “anti-Zionist” operations, including the kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Showing, once and for all, that despite the Red Army Faction’s pretense that the Federal Republic was merely the Third Reich in another guise, the terrorists had far more in common with the Nazis than with their victims.