German Jews honor extremist-fighting police chief
July 2, 2009
BERLIN (JTA) -- A police chief who has tirelessly fought against right-wing extremism in his former East German state was honored by the Jewish community.
Bernd Merbitz, police president in the state of Saxonia, on Thursday will be the first recipient of a new civil courage award from Germany's Jewish community.
Merbitz will receive the Paul Spiegel Prize for Civil Courage, worth $4,300, in ceremonies hosted by the Jewish community of Dresden.
Merbitz, 53, is being honored for his "tireless engagement against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism" and for his efforts toward strengthening civic society, according to a statement from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the national Jewish umbrella group.
The police chief has worked with youth and adults, speaking with them in small groups and in lecture halls, to help inculcate democratic values and "reduce the territory claimed by right-wing extremists," the Central Council said, adding that he has done this despite dangers his work presented to himself and his family.
The danger is not abstract; in late 2008, Alois Mannichl, police chief in the Bavarian town of Passau, who has taken on local far-rightists, was seriously wounded in a brutal knife attack. Local neo-Nazis were arrested and charged in the attack.
The new prize is named for the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, who died three years ago in April 2006. Spiegel had launched a program, "Show Your Face," designed to reward acts of civil courage, after a wave of right-wing extremist crimes in the summer of 2000.