Video: Activists Turn Neo-Nazi March Into Anti-Nazi Fundraiser

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Police officers stand at the fringes of a neo-Nazi rally in Wunsiedel, Germany, November 15 2014. Participants in the march unwittingly raised money for anti-Nazi activists. Fricke/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

It’s become a tradition for neo-Nazis to pay an annual visit to the town of Wunsiedel in Germany’s Bavaria region, where the remains of Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man, Rudolf Hess, once rested. It’s also become customary for the small town to be angered by the presence of modern-day proponents of extremist Nazi views.

This year, activists decided to do something different about the annual gathering, which takes place in honor of the "martyr to the Fatherland" and began in 1988 after Hess was interred there.

Activists pulled a fast one on the participants Saturday when they turned the event into a fund-raiser for EXIT-Germany, a program that supports people who would like to leave extreme-right environments and start a new life. The prank was organized by the Rechts gegen Rechts (Nazis against Nazis), an initiative against right-wing extremism, The Guardian reports.

Residents and local businesses chipped in to turn every neo-Nazi step into a contribution toward EXIT-Germany. For every meter the march participants advanced, €10 went toward the program.

"We wanted to create an alternative to counter-demonstrations," Fabian Wichmann, an education researcher at EXIT-Germany, told The Local, a German English-language news site, on Monday. Germany has a long history of clashes arising from counter-demonstrations, The Washington Post reports, but the activists wanted to try something different this year. “We want to show what else you can do, what other courses of action you have. You can do more than just block the street or close the shutters,” Wichmann told the German news agency DPA.

Activists adorned the involuntary walkathon with all the trappings of a peppy fund-raiser, adding colorful banners to encourage the neo-Nazis to keep moving forward, thus raising more money to support defections from their cause.

One sign read, “Final sprint instead of final victory,” which according to The Washington Post was “a reference to the fact that many neo-Nazis refuse to acknowledge that Hitler's goal was to gain a ‘final victory’ over the Jews.”

Just as volunteers stood earlier this month along the sidelines of the New York City marathon handing out bananas (potassium helps prevent muscle cramps), the organizers of Saturday’s stunt set up a table with piles of the fruit. They labeled it Mein Mampf (“My Snack”), a punny play on the title of Hitler’s prison oeuvre, Mein Kampf. Confetti and certificates of completion awaited them at the finish line, thanking them for their help.

"It was an absolute success," Inge Schuster, spokeswoman for the mayor of Wunsiedel, told The Local. "It created something positive out of [the march], including the €10,000 donation for EXIT-Germany."

Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, was buried in Wunsiedel after committing suicide at the age of 93 at Spandau prison in West Berlin in 1987. Despite efforts over the years by the mayor and locals to prevent the neo-Nazis from assembling in Wunsiedel, they continued to flock to the city once a year. Even the removal of Hess’s body from his grave in 2011—another attempt to strip the neo-Nazis of their pilgrimage site—did not deter them.

"They probably won't go away. The history of the town is too important to them," Wichmann told The Local this week. "But at least we've created something good out of it."