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Sole AfD member at free Schindler's List screening laments 'misconceptions' about party

A Cinexx in Hachenburg, Germany offered free admission to members of the far-right AfD party for a screening of Schindler’s List on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Polina Garaev/i24NEWS
Cinema caused stir after offering AfD members free entry to screening and debate on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Some 500 cinemas across Germany marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday with a screening of the Oscar-winning and critically acclaimed 1993 film Schindler’s List.

But only one of them required police protection: The small cinema in the West German town of Hachenburg, which stirred controversy by offering free admission to members of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The director of Hachenburg’s Cinexx, Karin Leicher, announced in early January its plans to hand out free tickets to moviegoers that would present a party membership card, citing the AfD’s repeated “trivialization of the events of that time.”

The responses to the initiative ranged from praise by left-wing activists and politicians to outrage by the AfD and even threats.

Several security personnel set up a check point at the entrance, in addition to police officers that were present. A police spokesperson noted that several units were on call, even though investigation into the threats yielded no indication of actual danger.

“We were naive,” Leicher told i24NEWS shortly before the screening. “This was a spontaneous idea and we were overwhelmed by the reactions. But we quickly realized just how important is this initiative, in order to show how extensive the atmosphere of fear and threats in Germany has become. With this film, we want to contribute to the fight against it, so maybe someone would reconsider marching in the streets with controversial symbols and spread fear.”

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“Films are a window to the world and with films one can achieve a lot, especially with young people,” she added. “It cannot be that in Germany anti-Semitism and xenophobia take root and there are people that deny it and respond with aggression and threats.”

But days before the screening, Leicher decided not to single out the AfD. All were invited to view the film for free, or pay the seven euro fee as a donation.

It was also announced that the debate planned for after the screening will include Vice Chair of AfD faction in State Parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate, Joachim Paul.

“Our initial reaction was harsh because we saw this as a cheap provocation,” Paul told i24NEWS.

“People always place us next to the Nazis, which I find to be prejudicial and inappropriate. But the cinema yielded and agreed to have a discussion after the film, also for people that want to learn about the AfD – so I came," he said.

“I want to make clear: We are not a party that has problems with the film Schindler’s List, he added. “We even have Jewish members. But there are a lot misconceptions about the AfD that aren’t true.”

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

The claim that the party seeks to undermine remembrance culture in Germany is one such misconception, he says.

“Obviously we need to think about the Nazi period and the victims, and that needs to be part of our remembrance culture – but it is one part and not the only part. This is what we emphasize.”

Paul was the only outspoken AfD member or supporter to attend the screening. Most of the 360 audience members even chose to pay for their tickets, as a show of support for the cinema’s initiative.

“I've already seen the film twice, I’m here out of solidarity because of the attacks from the right,” Jörg, a local attendee told i24NEWS. “It is important that also the generation after us will learn from the past, so that such mistakes will not be repeated.”

“All Germans need the reminder not to move backwards but forwards. But whether the AfD understands this, it’s another question. I think it doesn’t,” noted another moviegoer, Michael, who lives in a nearby village.

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

President of Rhineland-Palatinate State Parliament, Hendrik Hering, agrees. “It is our duty to make sure to highlight what happened, how it happened and to employ all means possible, so that it can never happen again," he said.

“We cannot accept that the remembrance culture is eroded and Nazi crimes are relativized. This is our duty, no matter in what year we were born, but maybe some in the AfD need to be reminded of that,” the Hachenburg native said at the screening.

Most of the viewers at the screening thought the same. After credits rolled on the 195-minutes-long film, the promised debate quickly became a public confrontation between Paul and local left-wing activists.

The activists confronted him over his fellow party members walking out during a speech by a holocaust survivor in Bavaria and lamented a comment by AfD leader Alexander Gauland, who referred to the Nazi period as “bird shit” in an otherwise glorious German history.

As the argument continued a good hour after the end of the screening, one thing was made clear by the protesters: The fact that one member came to see a movie is not enough to appease AfD’s critics or to erase concerns over repeated belittling of the Holocaust.

Polina Garaev is i24NEWS's correspondent in Germany.

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