Israeli-born Jewish author Tuvia Tenebom is under investigation in Germany for raising his arm in the Hitler salute.
Tenenbom told JTA that he had made the gesture toward a group of 900 neo-Nazis demonstrating in Magdeburg on Jan. 12 in order to make them feel they could talk to him. He was accompanied by a TV news camera team that is producing a report on how Tenenbom conducts interviews. The gesture is illegal in Germany.
But when the neo-Nazis figured out that he was a journalist rather than a comrade, they told police he had given the illegal greeting. The police then took him aside for questioning.
"The Nazis told them [the police] to do this, which is the funny part," said Tenenbom, whose book about anti-Semitism in Germany, "I Sleep in Hitler's Room," is a best-seller in Germany.
Tenenbom is under investigation for using unconstitutional symbols. Nazi propaganda, including gestures, songs and symbols, are illegal with very few exceptions, mostly for academic use. Most neo-Nazis in Germany avoid exact replicas of Nazi propaganda and, instead of denying the Holocaust, question its severity and say that German suffering was worse.
According to Tenenbom's attorney, Michael Heimann, the police were required to look into the incident, just as they would be for any alleged criminal activity. Heimann told JTA that state prosecutors have not reported any results on the investigation.
Tenenbom, founding artistic director of the Jewish Theater of New York, said the editor of the "Bayerische Rundfunk" television program has refused to turn over any videos to the police, citing freedom of the press.
Tenenbom told JTA he had tried to speak with the neo-Nazis at the demonstration and protesters against them.
"The young kids who demonstrate don't talk to the press; they are told not to. So I tried to endear myself" by doing the Hitler greeting," he said. "The neo-Nazis said 'we cannot do this in public, we will do it later.' When I asked why not, they said, 'this is a democracy.' "
The neo-Nazis noticed his microphone and started pushing him.
"One of them said to the police, 'Hey, he made the Hitler Gruss,'" Tenenbom said.
Tenebom said he told police, " 'What are you talking about, I am a Jew!' " He said they checked his New York driver's license, confirmed he was "not a wanted criminal" and released him.
"I never denied it, I said I did it and why I did it," he told JTA. "It is the only way to get people to talk to me. I go to Hamas and Hezbollah and I agree with them that all Jews should be killed. It's not to provoke anyone. It is called performance."