Nazi Past Haunts Town in Search of a Name

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Germans grappling with the country's wartime history should spare a thought for the people of Voelklingen.

Voelklingen is a tiny town situated in the southwestern state of Saarland -- one of the country's smallest -- that has been embroiled in a debate about the name of a suburb for decades. Hermann-Roechling-Hoehe, population 1,500, was named after a local industrialist in 1956.

The people have been arguing about that name ever since. Why? Hermann Roechling was a Nazi supporter who used thousands of forced laborers in his steelworks and was later convicted of war crimes.

Although much of the community had a bout of collective amnesia when the suburb was renamed, the decision sat uneasily with some locals. But it wasn't until a television report exposed the issue 13 years ago that the town became deeply divided.

Some want a return to its old name -- Bouser Hoehe -- while others are proposing Voelklinger Hoehe. Several older residents want to drop the name Hermann, and just keep the Roechling part in honor of the family, which provided housing and credit for many locals over the years. Others want to keep the full name as they have known it all their lives.

After years of contention, the city council votes this week -- on Jan. 31 -- on the renaming. Local Christian Democrats and even the Social Democrats see dropping Hermann from the name as the most reasonable compromise.

For some, that's simply not enough. ``It took us decades to get rid of Hermann,'' Christoph Gottschalk, a member of the citizens' action group, was cited by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as saying. ``Now we are fighting to make Roechling disappear.''

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