Was it all bad? Germans look anew at Nazi taboos

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BERLIN, Oct 18 (Reuters) A row over a television host's praise for Hitler's family values has exposed deep divisions in Germany over whether it is acceptable to say anything positive about the Nazis, 62 years after the end of World War Two.

While Hitler's main legacy -- the murder of 6 million Jews and the destruction caused by the war -- is undisputed, the controversial views of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Eva Herman have grabbed the headlines in Germany for more than a week.

Last month, public network NDR sacked Herman, a presenter on a flagship news programme for 18 years, for saying she regretted that family values nurtured by the Nazis had been swept away.

The Nazis encouraged women to stay at home, look after their husbands, and produce and rear children.

Last week the 48-year-old was thrown off a talk show after refusing to apologise and pointing out Germans were still driving on roads built during the Third Reich.

Many commentators have accused Herman, who rejects any links to far-right parties, of being provocative, dangerous and stupid but a Forsa poll showed a quarter of Germans think the Nazis had some good points.

''The insecurity about how to deal with Nazism is huge. As is ignorance. Eva Herman has unwittingly kicked off a long-neglected debate,'' Stern magazine wrote in a cover story.

That debate is highly sensitive as Germany fights rising right-wing motivated crime and after a spate of racist attacks, especially in the former communist East.

Stern said millions of people thought like Herman, but few would broadcast their views. It also pointed out Germans' hypocrisy by listing Nazi-era laws which citizens still abide by, such as rules on maintaining chimneys and travel allowances.

German laws ban Nazi emblems like the swastika but grant public funds to the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), whose followers implicitly back racist and some Nazi ideas.

BREAKING TABOOS ''Germany still has many taboos. This debate is part of a gradual breaking-down of those taboos,'' said Hajo Funke, a specialist on the far-right at Berlin's Free University.

Germany has gone through various phases dealing with its past.

In the last few years, Germans have debated whether they can talk about their war-time suffering and filmmakers have explored the character of Hitler in previously unthinkable ways.

Campaigners are worried neo-Nazis could use Herman's remarks to try to legitimise their views. The Central Council of Jews in Germany expressed dismay at the Forsa poll results.

''The poll is ugly and disastrous,'' Council Vice President Dieter Graumann told Netzzeitung. ''It is a warning sign.'' The far-right German Peoples' Union (DVU) is trying to organise a demonstration to defend Herman's freedom of speech.

''She has sent a signal to the right-wing scene that there is nothing wrong with the fundamental concepts of the Nazis,'' Steffen Andersch, head of Gegenpart network against right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism, told Reuters.

Extremism can start with basic conservative views, he said, and Germany still needs to develop a coordinated national programme to fight neo-Nazis.

''We'll see if the media storm is just politicians paying lip service or if they act to fight right-wing extremism,'' he said.

Reuters PD RN1816

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