Right-wing Extremism in the GDR: attack on the Zionskirche in East Berlin

October 17th, 1987


Discrimination & Inequity Violence

On October 17, 1987, a group of right-wing extremist skinheads storms the Zionskirche (Church of Zion) in East Berlin, in which an unofficial concert is being held by the punk bands Element of Crime and Die Firma, from West and East Germany respectively. Up to this point, right-wing extremist tendencies in the GDR have been largely ignored and denied.

Around 2,000 concertgoers were present in the Zionskirche on October 17, 1987 when, around 10:00 pm, a group of approximately 30 right-wing skinheads stormed the building and assaulted members of the audience indiscriminately. The Volkspolizei (German People’s Police, the national police force of the GDR) was present at the scene, but is unable to intervene in the brawl.

Prior to this incident, the presence of right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi groups in the officially “anti-fascist” GDR had been completely denied. However, when the perpetrators received very mild sentences there resulted an uproar in both East and West German media. Over the following years, 40 criminal proceedings were opened against 108 skinheads in the GDR, including appellate proceedings against the 30 who had attacked the Zionskirche. Sentences of up to four years were handed out.

With these steps it was for the first time officially acknowledged that the GDR too was not free from racist and extreme right-wing tendencies and groups. The GDR regime propagated the idea of a socialist state in which all citizens were equal and with no place for discrimination of any kind. Racist attitudes towards and attacks on migrants, contract workers, Jews, homosexuals, and black people and people of color on the part of the majority population had thus far been concealed and denied.

The GDR state authorities were frequently informed of such incidents and were often even present at the scene, but did not intervene. Shortly before reunification, cases of physical
assault perpetrated by extreme right-wing elements, for example in Dresden, Halle, and Riesa, became more frequent. In the media, such incidents were often downplayed as mere “rowdiness”, placing the focus on acts of youthful rebellion against the GDR system rather than naming their underlying racist motivations. That East Berlin too contained active right-wing organizations such as the “Berliner Lichtenberger Front”, the “NS-Kradstaffel Friedrichshain” or the “Gubener Heimatfront” also went completely unmentioned in the GDR media.