George Magazine, April 1997
From April 1997 of George Magazine
Helmut Kohl may be chancellor of Germany, but he isn't accustomed to getting
mail from the likes of Dultin Hoffman. Nonetheless, in the January 9, 1997,
edition of the Interational Herald Tibune, he was the target of an open letter,
signed by the Academy Award winner and 33 other prominent entertainment industry
figures, including actress Goldie Hawn, director Oliver Stone, talk-show host
Larry King, producer Aaron Spelling, Warner Bros. cochairman Terry Semel and
author Gore Vidal. The celebrities expressed grave concern about recent ominous
developments in Germany invoking Adolf Hitler and the "unspeakable horrors" Of
the Holocaust, they worried whether the heirs to the Third Reich', bitter legacy
were once again, headed down a Potentially tragic path. This though, the victims
were not Jews. The members of a controversial and little-understood group, the
Church Of Scientology Protesting "the invidious discrimination against
Scientologists the missive concluded, "This organized oppression is beginning to
sound familiar ... like the Germany of 1936 rather than 1996."
Kohl's petitioners are not Scientologists. Indeed, many are Jewish. So is
Bertram Fields, the powerful Hollywood lawyer who drafted the letter, solicited
the signatures, and paid $56,700 of his own money for the ad space. Fields, who
has represented Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, and Warren Beatty, says he got
the idea when he learned that a German youth group was promoting a boycott of
Mission: Impossible in the summer of 1996 because its star, Tom Cruise, is a
Scientologist. Cruise happens to be Fields's client, as is another Hollywood
powerhouse and Scientologist, John Travolta.
It is unclear how much the signatories, 12 of whom are Fields's current clients,
know about Scicntology, Germany's position on the group, or even the contents of
the letter before they signed it. According to Hollywood sources, it's common
practice among industry types to ask friends to lend their names to literature
about a cause, sight unseen. (One signer, director Constantin Costa-Gavras,
publicly retracted his name from the letter after a more "carefull reading.")
But even Fields doesn't seem to want to peer too deeply into the controversy
When a German reporter told Fields that Scientology was "dictatorial," he
dismissed the charge, saying that "Orthodox Judaism is dictatorial, the Catholic
Church is dictatorial." He insists "these people are being discriminated against
radically for something they believe in. I'm not advocating Scientology, and I
don't know a hell of a lot about it. I know that the two people I know [Cruise
and Travolta] who are in it have really straightened out their lives."
But why such a public (and expensive) show of support? "This is the way you buy
goodwill in Hollywood," says one insider. "You take out ads." Indeed, according
to the source, Fields's motives are obvious to any industry veteran. "Just look
at the grosses of Cruise and Travolta's movies. They're the most successful
stars in Hollywood. It's what they said in Watergate: Follow the money. Or let
me put it to you this way. Fifty-six thousand dollars is a miscellaneous billing
for the legal bills that Cruise and Travolta generate."
What has become an international incident involving celebrities developed out of
an ongoing, highly contentious debate that has recently included verbal tussles
between the U.S. and German governments. The accusations against Germany first
came to the attention of Americans in another ad campaign in the New York Times,
this time paid for by the Church of Scicntology. Readers of the Paper of Record
were greeted by a series of ten full-page ads (at a cost of $60,000 each) last
fall, decrying a return to jackbooted thuggery in Germany PRACTICING RELIGIOUS
INTOLERANCE, read the first ad's headline, an eagle and swastika insignia
menacing below. "You may wonder why German officials discriminate against
Scientologists," the ad stated. "There is no legitimate reason, but then there
was none that justified the persecution of the Jewish people either." The ads
recalled how Jewish children, teachers, and workers were stigmatized in the
first days of the Third Reich. Today, the ads charged, Scientologists were
experiencing a similar fate-losing jobs, being harassed, and being excluded from
Undoubtedly, Scientology isn't about to win any popularity contest in Germany. A
general alert about the organization has been sounded, from the Lake of
Constance to the Baltic Sea, which may seem odd to most Americans, who know
little-and often care less-about the church that was founded in the U.S. by the
late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. But Scientology is a newer
phenomenon in Germany, a much smaller country with a relatively homogeneous
population. There, the general consensus is that the Church of Scientology uses
religion to cloak a dangerous cult movement with the look and feel of big
In fact, German officials respond to the group's highly publicized charges with
a reciprocal blast-that it is Scientology that bears similarities to extreme
political movements in Germany's past, such as Nazism and communism. Therefore,
they argue, the organization constitutes a legitimate security risk.
"Scientology is a new kind of extremism," says Dr. Jiirgen Keltsch, a former
Bavarian prosecutor who has devoted more than a decade to investigating the
church. "If you look to the end, you have an Orwellian society."
When Kurt Weiland, an Austrian who is a director of the Church of Scientology
International in Los Angeles, is read this last quote, his response is biting:
"They must be looking into their own minds, reciting their own plans for the
future." The exchange highlights the inherent irony of the battle between these
two powers, each seeking to move beyond its controversial past.
On a dismal December evening, a crowd assembles outside Scientology's
glass-fronted, five-story building on Hamburg's Steindamm thoroughfare. The
federal minister of labor, Norbert Blum, has flown in from Bonn to address an
anti-Scientology rally of the Junge Union, the youth wing of the ruling party,
the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which called for the Mission: Impossible
boycott.As the.rain becomes heavier, party officials congregate in a tent set up
for the occasion. Across the way, Scientology officials watch the proceedings
from beneath their own canopy.
When Blum arrives, both sides head off for an indoor rally some blocks away. As
I follow the crowd, a man approaches, takes my picture, then scurries off Inside
the lecture hall the air crackles with energy. With their prim turtlenecks and
cardigans, the audience members from the Junge Union resemble a gathering of the
Young Republicans. Blum launches into his trademark speech on the church:
"Scientology misuses the good name of religion for a business despising men....
[It is] a criminal organization ... an imperialistic organization wanting to
conquer humanity... Democracy has to fight back against this new form of
violence, of psychological terror, of suppression." The audience has grown to
several hundred, and Blum is greeted with vigorous applause.
Some of the people from the Scientology tent have filtered into the hall. In the
bleachers, a man with a telephoto lens points his camera almost exclusively at
me. Every time I obscure my face, he puts his camera down.
It's time for questions, and the Scientologists line up one by one to give
statements. Blum doesn't understand Scientology, they say. He takes its
writings out of context. The two sides heckle each other, and the event abruptly
ends. As I prepare to leave, an intense-looking woman with dark hair approaches.
"You are Mr. Baker," she says. She identifies herself as Sabine Weber,
Scientology's German spokesperson. She wants to know "what sort of story" I'm
working on. I'm taken aback. I wrote one article and did a short television
segment on Scientology in the U.S. several years ago, but I have never reported
on the organization in Germany. The experience is doubly unnerving since one of
the criticisms of the group is that it pays inordinate attention to outside
observers, one of many reported mechanisms used to control its image.
Although Blum is clearly in the vanguard of the German campaign against the
group, he is considered somewhat extreme by many Germans. They may agree with
the essence of what he says, but they think he's fostering a hysterical
environment for political gain. But as Hans-Jorg Vehiewald, a reporter for the
prominent newsweekly Der Spiegel, explains,"You can't do wrong in Germany
fighting against Scientology."
German concerns about Scientology were first expressed in the early '80s by the
Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, which had received scattered complaints
from parishioners who were worried about the involvement of their relatives in
Scientology. Former Scientologists also claimed that the group had coerced them
into parting with large sums of money. In the late '80s the unease turned into
full-fledged alarm when the self-described spiritual movement began appearing
increasingly in business contexts-developments that critics saw as cult
expansionism. "In the morning it's a company," says German parliament member
Freimut Duve. "At midday it's a doctor to treat people psychologically, and in
the evening it's a church."
Several states, including Hamburg, Berlin, and Bavaria, began scrutinizing
complaints about aggressive real estate companies that allegedly intimidated
tenants and abused employees - companies whose owners were allegedly promoting
and sending large donations to the Church of Scientology. Although
investigations turned up improper and, in some cases, illegal activities-in 1992
two prominent Scientologist businessmen were jailed for tax fraud-there was
insufficient evidence to prove a coordinated organization-wide pattern of
racketeering. Lacking the legal grounds to prosecute or shut down Scientology,
authorities began taking a variety of measures to at least stem its
influence-some highly controversial, including distributing brochures warning
schoolchildren about the group.
Bavaria, the southern German state known for its Oktoberfest revelry and its
rock-ribbed conservatism, gained worldwide attention last November when it
passed a decree requiring that all prospective civil servants fill out a
questionnaire detailing any links to Scientology- The decree has drawn criticism
from many Germans-including staunch critics of Scientology-who see it as a clear
infringement on civil liberties. "I personally have some doubts whether the
government is entitled at all to question an applicant for civil service about
his religion," says constitutional scholar Ingo Von Munch of the University of
From April 1997 George Magazine
University of Maryland law professor Peter E. Quint, a specialist in U.S. and
German constitutional law, offers this explanation for why Bavaria thinks it can
probe employees' beliefs: The German constitution, known as the Basic Law,
requires anyone in civil service to be prepared at all times to affirmatively
support the "free democratic basic order." According to Quint, "It's not just
that you aren't against it, it's that you have to stand up and support it." He
also cites Article 9 of the Basic Law, which states that associations "whose
aims or activities contravene criminal law or are directed against the
constitutional order, or the notion of international understanding shall be
banned." No court has yet evaluated the Bavarian questionnaire, although
Scientology officials say they are considering a legal challenge.
The federal government in Bonn has not passed any specific legislation against
Scientology, but it has registered its mounting panic. "After having conducted
thorough studies on the Scientology organization," reads one of its recent press
releases, "the federal government has come to the conclusion that the
organization's pseudoscientific courses can seriously jeopardize individuals'
mental and physical health and that it exploits its members." In the spring of
1996, the government formed an investigative commission on sects and cults, to
consider possible measures against them. Made up of investigators from the
German states, the commission seems to be focused primarily on Scientology.
Various politicians and political parties have floated proposals to ban the
group entirely, to bar members from federal civil service jobs nationwide, and
to conduct a surveillance of the organization. In 1994 Minister Blum introduced
a decree, since overturned, stating that Scientologists could not run employment
Some Scientologists have evidently been victims of the current climate of
suspicion surrounding the group. Scientology officials detail dozens of
incidents aimed at its members and facilities, including graffiti, verbal
insults, broken windows, and hate mail. (German authorities insist that such
incidents aren't common, that police investigate all reported incidents, and
that Scientologists have standard recourse to the justice system when cases of
discrimination do occur.) There have also been efforts to keep Scientologists
out of political parties. Helmut Kohl's party, the CDU, doesn't accept
Scientologists, claiming that it is a Christian party and that Scientolo- gists
say they are members of a distinct religion.
The German reaction toward Scientology has been met with cautious condemnation
by such organizations as the United Nations and the U.S. State Department, which
point out the hazards of government-sponsored campaigns against minority belief
systems. German officials counter that Germany, of all nations, is attuned to
the need to protect civil liberties. Explaining the country's scrutiny of
Scientology, a German policy paper states that "because of its experiences
during the Nazi regime ... German society is particularly alert toward
radicalism of any kind and has set stiff standards for itself when dealing with
aggressive, extreme groups-even when the groups are small in number." A policy
like this is more common in democracies than most officials would care to admit.
U.S. police agencies have long monitored "threatening" groups, but
investigations are rarely made public unless arrests occur or scandals emerge.
Germany is currently in the spotlight, partly because its inquiries are so
In general, Germany isn't bashful about taking action against organizations it
considers cults. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who founded the controversial
Unification Church (known to most people as the Moonies), was barred from
entering Germany in 1995, though his group isn't banned. Scientologists point
out that other groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and fundamentalist Christian
groups, are also regarded with suspicion.
Certainly, from the mass suicides at People's Temple, run by the Reverend Jim
Jones, to the subway chemical attacks by Japan's Aum Shinrikyo, governments have
periodically faced catastrophic circumstances at the hands of self-proclaimed
churches. The question, debated increasingly in Germany, is, What measures can a
society take in order to protect itself, without trampling on the individual
rights of citizens?
Scientology's response to the debate can be found on the boulevards of most
German cities. On a crisp winter evening, two men and a woman stand on Berlin's
regal Kurffirstendamm. Tall, blond, and good-looking, the trio exude a
clean-scrubbed confidence. They carry baskets, filled with copies of L. Ron
Hubbard's introductory text, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,
which has sold 17 million copies worldwide, according to the book's cover.
I strike up a conversation with one of the Scientologists, a polite fellow named
Berndt. When I ask him about the German complaints about Scientology, he
explains that it Is all disinformation. What about complaints by former members?
I ask. He suggests that perhaps they failed to follow Hubbard's "technology"
carefully enough. For success in Scientology, says Berndt, it is imperative to
study and hced Hubbard's every instruction. "If you fail to carry out one, the
technology will not work for you."
Scientology jargon, in which words like technology have been redefined, can take
years for outsiders to master. Consequently, it is difficult-by design, some
critics argue-for a non-Scintologist to explain the belief system, and its
followers don't always do a better job.
Scientology, founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard and based on his writings,
is an amalgam of psychological concepts that gradually took on a religious
overlay Although Scientology has been calling itself a church since 1954,
membership in other religions has been declared compatible.
People who first encounter Scientology may not think they're dealing with a
spiritual system at all. Many begin by taking free "personality tests" offered
at curbside card tables, or by enrolling in management-training courses that
turn out to be Scientology-sponsored, all of which eventually lead to a regimen
called "auditing," the central component of Scientological practice. In these
intense counseling sessions, members are encouraged to recount sublimated
experiences that may hinder their progress in life, using a device developed by
Hubbard called an E-meter, which is similar to a lie detector: While the member
grasps handles that measure electrical charges in the skin, an auditor watches a
needle float up and down on a screen. Everything the auditee reveals, regardless
of how personal, is written down and stored in Scientology's files. The
ostensible goal of auditing is to eliminate psychic obstacles and eventually
attain the state of "clear," which at one time was the ultimate definition of a
truly realized Scientologist.
But Hubbard later added higher levels of achievement, so-called Operating
Thetan, or OT, levels. According to the Scientology belief system, a tyrant
named Xenu ruled a galactic federation 75 million years ago. Seeking to
alleviate overpopulation, he ordered his henchmen to freeze excess bodies in a
mixture of alcohol and glycol and I transport them by spaceships resembling DC-8
planes to earth, which Hubbard called Teegeeack. Dropped into volcanoes and
bombarded with hydrogen bombs, the souls of these banished creatures, known as
Thetans, began to possess humans and are the source of all human unhappiness. In
order to attain superior levels of achievement and control over life, one needs
to exorcise these Thetans through auditing, instruction courses, and
body-purification regimens. According to Scientology buffs on the World Wide
Web, John Travolta is believed to be at least an OT5, Tom Cruise an OT3 or
higher, Lisa Marie Presley slightly below a clear.
The system of thought and the counseling courses are referred to as technology.
"Scientology works 100 percent of the time," reads Executive Directive No. 450,
from the Religious Technology Center, the corporate entity of Scientology's top
leadership. "There has never in our history been a failure of the technology
itself. The only failures have been staff or organizational failures, when the
technology was not known or applied."
Being a Scientologist is expensive. Ordinary members can spend hundreds of
thousands on courses over several years. Scientology refers to these fees as
"donations," but price lists must nevertheless be strictly followed. Internal
memos refer to "freeloaders" whose course fees are overdue. Some Scientologists
who lack the funds to pay for courses are strongly urged to join what is called
the Sea Organization, a Scientology branch whose members wear faux naval
uniforms, bunk in spartan quarters, and work long days for little pay.
Celebrities, however, are treated differently, which is consistent with
Hubbard's declaration that recruiting the famous would be crucial to the
expansion of the movement ("Rapid Dissemination can be attained ... by the
rehabilitation of celebrities who are just beyond or just ap- proaching their
prime.") Around the world, actors, musicians, and other glitterati take their
courses at luxurious Celebrity Centres, where they see little of ordinary
Before and since his death in 1986, Hubbard has been revered as almost a deity
by Scientologists. But former ranking members insist that he was a fraud, whose
self-descriptions as a physicist and war hero were fabricated. Regardless,
Hubbard and his ideas have proved seductive. His thousands of prescriptions
apply to nearly all aspects of life. There are tips on studying, on marriage, on
job interviews. And the auditing sessions provide members with a powerful
emotional release and a sense that someone cares and is paying attention.
Scientologists clearly believe they are im- proving themselves.
Explaining why he became a Scientologist, the former Melrose Place actor Jason
Beghe says, "I wanted to know myself Auditing helps you discover yourself It's
not like sitting in a church and listening to someone preach.... It's true only
if it's true for you." Beghe became a fervent Scientologist in 1994 when he
finished the organization's introductory detoxification regimen, which "handled
all the residual drug traces and toxins in my body," he says. "It was amazing.
In just three weeks my eyesight improved by nearly 70 percent. I never looked or
felt better, and my IQ went up by 16 points." The actor, who is to appear in the
upcoming movie In Pursuit of Honor opposite Demi Moore, is now an OT4.
Scientology's membership numbers are not verifiable. The group claims 8 million
members worldwide, a figure former staffers consider wildly inflated, especially
since Scientology says it has only about 30,000 followers in Germany, which,
until a decade ago, had been among its most fertile recruiting grounds. A 1995
church publication notes that there are about 50,000 clears worldwide.
from April 1977 issue of George Magazine
Despite its effectiveness in recruiting new members, Scientology has to deal
with constant public recriminations from former adherents. On one Web page after
another, people who identify themselves as ex-Scientologists post personal
accounts of emotional damage and financial ruin. Most legal actions in the U.S.
against Scientology involve cases filed by former members with similar
complaints. Many of Scientology's legal tussles have also involved the media.
Since 1991 alone the organization has sued Time, Reader's Digest and the
Washington Post over critical articles-most of the suits were unsuccessful but
cost the publications a fortune in legal fees. Overall, the growing visibility
of Scientology, thanks to its celebrity members, combined with a fear of the
group's litigiousness, has helped blunt criticism and press coverage. (During
the reporting of this article, George was bombarded with letters and phone calls
from Scientologists expressing concern about the direction the story might take.
At one point, the president of the Church of Scientology International, Heber C.
Jentzsch, accused me of having fraternized with people who believe the Holocaust
never happened-a difficult argument to make, since my own mother escaped from
Nazi-occupied Europe and some of my relatives died in concentration camps.)
Nonetheless, government investigations date back almost to Scientology's
inception. In the early '70s, during an audit, the IRS discovered that Hubbard
was skimming millions of dollars from the church and diverting the money into
his personal Swiss bank accounts. Affairs took a more troubling turn on June 11,
1976, when the FBI discovered two Scientologists with forged IDs inside the U.S.
Courthouse's Bar Association Library in Washington, D.C., after visiting hours.
An FBI raid of the church's offices ensued, revealing an elaborate undercover
Scientology operation to obtain government documents on the organization, with
the help of members working inside the IRS, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Drug
Enforcement Administration. In 1980, 11 top Scientology officials-including
Hubbard's wife-were imprisoned for infiltrating, burglarizing, and wiretapping
more than 100 government and private agencies in an attempt to block
investigations of the church.
Critics of Scientology contend that the spy operation was part of a larger and
more sinister global plan, laid out in Hubbard's pronouncements, such as this
one from 1960: "The goal ... is to bring the government and hostile philosophies
or societies into a state of complete compliance with the goals of Scientology.
This is done by high-level ability to control and ... low level ability to
What the German authorities see as Scientology's espionage-like aspect is one of
the government's biggest areas of concern. In the mid-'80s, Bavarian officials
say, they discovered that the organizafion kept dossiers on public figures. They
also cite one of Hubbard's early policies, known as Fair Game, directed against
perceived enemies of Scientology, who are known as Suppressive Persons. SPs, he
wrote, "may be tricked, sued, or lied to or destroyed" and "may be deprived of
property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of
the Scientologist." Scientologists claim that the policy is no longer in effect.
German authorities also worry about how Scientology officials might use the
auditing files. These are, after all, an individual's deepest, most private
confessions. Among Scientologists' files entered into evidence in a U.S. court
case was this 1976 profile of a member: "She has quite a record of
promiscuousity [sic] in these early years.... She has masturbated regularly
since she was 8 years old, mentions doing it once with coffe [sic] grounds
(doesn't say how) and once had a puppy lick her. She slept with [a man] while he
was married to her cousin."
When Hubbard's former spokesman Robert Vaughn Young left the organization and
became a critic, Scientologists responded by sending his relatives a description
of an alleged extramarital affair aboard a cruise ship. A Scientology
spokesperson says the organization was just trying to show "what kind of
character we are dealing with.... As I remember, it was with a minor." But it
wasn't a minor, I recall. "So he was break- ing the marriage," she says.
Scientology publications routinely accuse critics of all kinds of salacious
acts, from collecting pornography to dancing nude. Scientology officials defend
these tactics as being within the purview of a religion under siege.
Some critics of Scientology believe the motivation behind the organization's
publicity campaign against the German government is financial. Germany refuses
to grant Scientology tax exemptions accorded to religions, contending that the
group is seeking to gain tax benefits. With a cash flow reported at hundreds of
millions of dollars annually, Scientology is treated in Germany as a commercial
enterprise. Belgium, France, Israel, Italy, Spain, and Mexico have all refused
to grant the organization religious status.
Until four years ago, the United States also denied the church religious tax
exemptions. In 1993, after 40 years of stubborn resistance, the agency abruptly
reversed its stance. (The briefs on the decision are sealed, although
TaxAnalysts, a Virginia publisher of tax research materials, has filed a lawsuit
to have them made public.) Scientology, which had struggled mightily for the
reversal, celebrated with a lavish gala and with headlines in its in-house
quarterly newspaper, International Scientology News, declaring that THE WAR IS
In the old port city of Hamburg, behind the locked bulletproof glass door of a
downtown office building, is Scientology's enemy number one, Ursula Caberta. The
woman whom a top Scientologist dubbed the "new Goebbels" is portrayed as a
clawed witch in Scientology's Freiheit (Freedom) magazine. Caberta is the head
of the city's official Scientology task force, a small fulltime unit that
investigates the organization. Founded in 1992, the office provides the public
with information about Scientology and counseling for people who consider
themselves to be victims of the group. It also tracks businesses affiliated with
Caberta begins to lay out her concerns about Scientology, whose texts she has
pored over for years with an intensity shared perhaps only by Hubbard's
followers. "For me, it's like Hitler's thinking," she says, struggling with her
English. "Hitler was thinking that the Aryans were going to rule the world, the
untennenschen. The philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard is the same." She compares
Hubbard's Introduction to Scientology Ethics with Mein Kampf "People used to say
of Hitler, 'He's a little bit crazy,' " she goes on. "They are saying the same
thing about L. Ron Hubbard.... Germans are a little more sensitive than others,
because we know what it means if people think one is 'only a crazy one.' We know
what it means if this thing is one day a reality."
Philosophical concerns notwithstanding, Caberta says the city government
established her office for more workaday reasons. In the late '80s, Hamburg
authorities began receiving harassment complaints from tenants in buildings that
were bought by Scientologists after condo conversions became legal. They claimed
the new landlords were trying to oust them in order to sell the apartments for
According to Scientology officials, hundreds of German companies, including real
estate, head-hunting, temporary-employment, computer, and engineering firms,
license the use of "technology"-Hubbard's concept and management techniques.
Scientologists claim these are not church businesses but members of the World
Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), an entity that is legally distinct
from the Church of Scientology.
Yvonne SeiferL-Dreyer, a 48-year-old beautician, says she knew nothing about
Scientology until a Hamburg real estate magnate and WISE member, Goetz Brase,
bought the building containing her salon and apartment. She says tenants
received threatening letters and late-night crank calls. Some tenants described
being shadowed by individuals who spoke loudly into tape recorders, saying, for
example, "It is 10 Pm., and Mrs. Gunther is now leaving her apartment." At one
point, recalls Seifert-Dreyer, the building's basement was overrun by rats. "Lab
rats, not wild ones," she says. When it became clear that the tenants wouldn't
budge, the management offered to pay cash rewards and moving costs for those who
were willing to leave. German officials say profits flow into Scientology's
coffers and believe that the techniques themselves are inspired by Scientology
teachings. The Society of German Real Estate Brokers concurs and has now banned
Scientologists from membership.
In Hamburg I spend several hours with former Scientologist Gitta Gerken, 46, a
handsome, neatly coiffed woman who worked as a real estate agent from 1994 to
mid- 1995 at Brase's real estate firm. "Brase was the money machine for the
Hamburg org," she explains, using the in-house term for a Scientology center.
"Brase's aim was to make money in Hamburg to reinforce the organization and to
start businesses in other cities to reinforce other orgs-in Dusseldorf, Munich,
Berlin." Although they are entitled to commissions, she says, Brase staffers who
sold an apartment were imme- diately pressured by co-workers to donate the money
to Scientology. An office memo, for example, congratulated the staff on
"fulfill[ing] the purpose of the company, by succeeding to produce a highest
ever [record] ... just for Ron [Hubbard]'s birthday: Twenty-two housing units
were sold in one week." Gerken, who tells of being forced to work up to 70 hours
per week, says employees operated in a climate of fear and paranoia, reporting
on each other to Scientology officials. (The group's publications urge members
to file "knowledge reports" when they hear members or outsiders expressing
criticism of Scientology.)
Gerken also says she was pressured to spend her money on more courses and
auditing sessions. After she and her Scientologist husband had pumped
approximately $270,000 into the organization, she complained to a Scientology
chaplain. Her husband was then given a document declaring him a PTS, a potential
trouble source, for having failed to apply the Scientology rules for a happy
marriage. The document, citing their names, was published in church
Ralf Burmester, a Hamburg lawyer who represents former Scientologists, says many
of his clients were pressured to borrow heavily to pay for courses. "'They
normally start with a small course, say $40," he says, "and it becomes more and
more. I have many people who spent $60,000 to $180,000 in one or two years."
Brase, who was never charged with any criminal offense, denies any wrongdoing,
saying tenants in Seifert-Dreyer's building were "paranoid." As for Gerken's
claims: "I don't like being called a money machine," protests the businessman,
who says he has converted hundreds of buildings in Hamburg. "What she means is I
personally in the past bought buildings which I rented out to the church or
social movements supported by the church, like a drug rehab. That's my personal
decision.... What I've done in the past is use this personal purpose for
motivating my employees." Scientology officials point out that none of Hamburg's
investigations have led to any criminal convictions.
from the April 1997 issue of George magazine
Several days after she approached me at the Hamburg anti-Scientology rally, I
meet Sabine Weber, Scientology's chief German spokesperson, at the group's
Munich head- quarters in an affluent shopping district. Weber, a smart,
attractive woman, supremely trained to interpret Scientology for the layperson,
doesn't want me and my photographer on the premises, so we repair to a nearby
restaurant. She tells me how she came to be a Scientologist ten years ago. "You
wouldn't believe it," she says. "I was asked on Market Street in San Francisco
if I wanted to do a personality test."
It was the auditing sessions that drew her in, she says. "I was impressed how
you can recognize situations from the past that affect you in the present time."
We talk about the reasons for what she perceives as a formal harassment campaign
by the German government. "The problem in Germany is we don't have separation of
state and church in this country," she says. "This is a Christian country, so
all they understand is they have a certain type of church."
Legal experts partly concur. "It's clear there's a separation, but it's not a
complete separation," says law professor Quint. Most Germans identify themselves
as either Lutheran or Catholic. Those two religions are supported by taxes
collected from their members by the states. Scientologists say that the
government, in investigating offbeat sects, is responding to pressures from the
two churches, which worry about declining membership.
But what about the separation between the Church of Scientology and
WISE-affiliated real estate agents? I ask Weber. "[They] are businessmen who use
the administrative technology of L. Ron Hubbard," she explains. As for Brase, he
is "just a simple member of the church. He just contributes like any other
When she is asked about claims of financial ruin by former members, Weber gets
impatient. "It's easy to find a few people to tell that story- they're needed to
fuel the campaign," she says.
Weiland, the U.S. director, is more blunt. "Usually, they squandered their
money," he says, "Scientology offers an educational route ... that is no more
expensive than a college education ... yet there's much more substance, and it
takes much longer to study it."
But German officials cite Hubbard's writings as proof that the organization is
out to make money. The church's governing financial policy letter states, for
example, that members must "make money. Make more money-make other people
produce so as to make money." "I can give you a hundred quotes for every quote
they bring up that show [that what they are saying] is nonsense," says Weber.
"They bring up these wonderful quotes that sound aggressive, but no
Scientologist ever followed them."
Irrespective of their commitment to Scientology, some German members, whose
names were provided to me by Scientology's U.S. parent organization, have faced
discrimination. Though it is hard to say how many, Scientologists have lost
their jobs and seen their bank accounts closed and their children ejected from
schools. One such person is Gerhard Waterkamp. In 1995 he was fired from his job
as a divisional general manager at a multinational automotive-supply company
after his name turned up on a list of people who had taken Scientology courses.
As the company explained in a letter, it did not want "the management technology
of Ron Hubbard to be introduced in our company"
"The majority of companies in Germany share this attitude with us," the letter
concluded, offering to write a recommendation to any company that felt
otherwise. Today, Waterkamp lives in Burbank, California, where he is an
executive in a Scientologist-owned market research firm.
One woman, who asks that her name not be used, says her thriving
image-consulting firm began to fail after a newspaper article described her
involvement with Scientology. "The story was always the same," she recalls,
"that I didn't own my own company but was working for Scientology." She also
provided me with a letter from her bank addressed to her husband, explaining why
their account was being closed: "The Commerzbank AG categorically rejects any
relation with the method and the ideas propagated by L. Ron Hubbard," it stated.
Although these examples of discrimination appear to be legitimate, other
instances, including those cited in Scientology's Times ads, have proved to be
more complex. One ad mentioned a teacher who had been fired after it was
discovered that she was a Scientologist. "Scientology tells you half the story,"
says the German journalist Vehlewald. He says the teacher was removed from her
post after being reprimanded for handing out Scientology literature to students
on 12 occasions.
Still, letters like the one Monika Wieneke received in 1987 from her daughters'
school can be enough to make a person leave Germany. "You did not tell me that
you are a member of the Scientology group," wrote the private Catholic
Sophie-Barat-Schule in Hamburg. The school informed her regretfully that her
children would no longer be permitted to attend. Wieneke is now a Scientology
minister in Clearwater, Florida.
Scientologist artists also tell of losing commissions from clients and being
shut out of gallerics when their affiliation became known. In fact, U.S.
authorities were alerted to the problem in 1993 when American jazz pianist Chick
Corea complained that one of his concerts was canceled in the southern city of
Stuttgart after the authorities learned that he was a Scientologist. Hans-Werner
Carlhoff, the head of the rcgion's investigative teams on cults, says Corea was
under consideration for a state subsidy for the concert and that talks broke
down after officials learned that the celebrity promotes Scientology at his
So far, a number of cases of proselytizing by other Scientologists have been
documented, but they do not appear to reflect a widespread pattern. One German
official tells me about a Bavarian policeman who stopped someone for reckless
driving and, instead of ticketing the man, sold him a copy of a Hubbard book. In
another reported incident, a Berlin police official asked job applicants to take
the Scientology personality test, then brought the results to a Scientology
facility to evaluate them on a computer. He was suspended and ordered to pay a
$7,000 fine. The case is on appeal.
Corea sued the state and lost. The judge reportedly asked him if a "world-famous
pianist like him" needs state subsidies. It should be pointed out, however, that
the arts in Germany are heavily subsidized by the state. When an artist is
blacklisted, he or she could have a hard time surviving. Chick Corea did
recently play in Germany at a concert subsidized in part by the state.
Though some lawsuits have been filed in Germany by Scientologists, with mixed
results, the organization's most aggressive response has been to launch the
international ad campaign. German officials were, of course, morfified by the
stark comparisons to the country's Nazi past. "It's a distortion," protested
Germany's ambassador to the U.S., Juergen Chrobog, citing a U.S. State
Department statement calling the ad's language "needlessly provocative." The
comparisons also angered some Jewish leaders. "It's either out of complete
ignorance of Nazi Germany or a con- scious and deliberate abuse of that
experience for their own purpose," says Abraham Foxman, nationai director of the
Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
At a minimum, some Germans believe that Scientology is abusing legitimate
grievances for public-relations gains. In May 1996, for example, the church's
publishing arm sent a letter to German booksellers in which it cited "official
praise of the Church of Scientology from the American President, Bill Clinton."
After requesting clarification from Washington, indignant German officials
received assurances from the State Department that the president had made no
such comments. When I ask Weber about it, she taxes me several pages from a
Scientology magazine. They contain what appear to be generic campaign statements
about drug-abuse policy from Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, with no mention of
When I return to the United States, I phone the writer Gore Vidal, who was one
of the signers of the open letter to Helmut Kohl in the Interna- tional Herald
Tribune. "It's got me into endless trouble in Germany," he sighs. "I had been
led to believe by Bert Fields, my lawyer-he asked would I put my name to it-that
it was a civil liberties gesture, not approbation of Scientology as a religion
or a scam. I regard it as the second, personally, but then I'm not an
authority." Vidal says he agreed to sign when he was told that children of
Scientologists were barred from kindergartens. And, Vidal wants it known, he
once met Hubbard in the 1950s, when Scientology was in its infancy. "He exuded
evil, malice, and stupidity," says the historical novelist, "but perfectly
amiable to talk to."
Though it's unclear whether the ad campaign had any effect, Scientology scored a
major victory in January when the U.S. State Department issued its annual
international human rights report. Among the report's survey of notable devel-
opments around the world, it mentions "the sharp debate surround [ing] the
activities of the Church of Scientology, whose members allege both
government-condoned and societal harassment." Though it contains no outright
condemnation of German actions, the report lists, in carefully neutral language,
German measures taken against Scientology.
The State Department argues that it is compelled to speak out, since some German
policies have affected U.S. citizens, such as Chick Corea."Mind you, there's no
defense of Scientology here," says Steven Coffey, of the State Department's
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "It is simply the fact that the
German government has, for reasons that are totally unclear, decided to take
action against a group that it itself said has committed no criminal acts." The
impact of the report was subsequently undermined when the new secretary of
state, Madeleine Albright, called the Scientology ads "distasteful and
historically inadequate" and called the report "a subject that needs to be
Several members of Congress, including representatives Donald Payne of New
Jersey and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, have criticized German policy, some
after being contacted by celebrity Scientologists. McKnney was alerted to the
situation by the singer Isaac Hayes. "I don't know much about Scientology, but I
do know about Isaac Hayes," she says. "What I've been told by [him] is that the
Scientologists provide discipline for success and.that the methods that are used
to train and organize the mind are quite applicable to inner-city settings,
where young people need to develop that same discipline. I haven't gone to the
next step with Mr. Hayes, but certainly we need to look at opportunities for
Despite the public relations nightmare, German officials are determined to
continue on what they feel is a just, if risky, course. "It is our
responsibility to inform ... and to guard the people against [the Scientology
organization] -of course, within legal limits," says Peter Hausmann, a spokesman
for the German government. Numerous other governments have begun investigating
Scientology, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Last November
a court in Lyons, France, convicted a prominent Scientologist of involuntary
homicide in connection with the suicide of a member who couldn't pay for
Scientology courses. In December an Italian court sentenced 29 Scientologists to
jail for "criminal association." And in January, police in Clearwater reopened a
case of a Scientologist who died under mysterious circumstances at a Scientology
hotel in 1995 after she told her parents she planned to leave the group.
In Germany, debate grows more lively over what is the appropriate degree of
government response. Last fall, a former minister of justice declared that the
state should be more restrained in its dealings with Scientology. Anne Riihle,
who investigates sects in Berlin, agrees. "It seems that the U.S. is more
easygoing," she says, "I feel it should be more easygoing here. I think it's
necessary to deal with it on a solid, unemotional basis." Then she turns to her
mounds of complaints about Scientology and plows in. <the end>