The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols.
Picture taken on May 19, 2017 shows a Nazi-era church bell that bears a swastika and the words “All for the Fatherland Adolf Hitler” (“Alles fuer’s Vaterland – Adolf Hitler”) hanging in the steeple of the St Jakob church in Herxheim am Berg, western Germany.
In a vote on Monday night, the local council in a small southwestern German village decided by 10 votes to 3 that a Nazi-era bell — complete with the inscription “Everything for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler” — should continue to hang in the local church.
Councilors in Herxheim am Berg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Heidelberg, said the bell, which also bears a swastika, should serve as a force for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice.
The council rejected calls by some residents for the bell to be dismantled, and turned down an offer by the local Protestant church to bear the cost of installing a new one.
The contentious bronze bell has been in the church since 1934, where it was used until recently. Its existence only became known when a former church organist, Sigrid Peters, complained about the inscription.
“It can’t happen that a baby is baptized and a bell with the words ‘Everything for the Fatherland’ is chiming,” she told news agency DPA last summer.
She was also disturbed by the fact that numerous couples around the state of Rhineland-Palatinate visit the picturesque church to get married every year. “They don’t know at all” about the bell, Peters said.
The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols. Many residents were concerned the bronze relic would ruin the church’s reputation, or that its existence would encourage neo-Nazi groups to congregate in the village.
Others complained that its removal would mean the town’s history would be covered up.
The dispute intensified when the town’s then mayor, Roland Becker, argued that not everything was bad during the Nazi era – comments that forced his resignation.
The local authority ordered an outside assessment to help councilors decide its fate. Experts came to the conclusion that the bell should be classified as a memorial and either moved to a museum or kept in the church tower.
Put back to use
The council decided the bell will be put back into operation, and a commemorative plaque displayed in the church to point out its history.
Months before Monday’s decision, the church voted not to ring the bell any more, and would rely instead on its other two bells, which have no Nazi motif.
Ahead of the vote, town Mayor Georg Welker spoke publicly in support of keeping the bell. He told public broadcaster ARD last month that the bell’s toll was an important way of remembering the victims of the Nazi regime.