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Germany

Merkel defends party colleague over Poland war comment

Chancellor Merkel has defended party colleague Erika Steinbach, who resigned from the party's executive board over a comment about World War II. A statement on behalf of the chancellor said the remark had been distorted.

Angela Merkel, front, and Erika Steinbach

Merkel said Steinbach's comment had been distorted

Chancellor Angela Merkel has issued a defense of Christian Democrat colleague Erika Steinbach, who stepped down from a party leadership role on Thursday over comments about Poland and the beginning of the Second World War.

Steinbach, head of Germany's Federation of Expellees, told a Christian Democrat (CDU) party convention on Wednesday that it was a historical fact that Poland had mobilized its army months before Germany invaded the country in September 1939.

She stood down from the party's national executive the following day, citing criticism of her remarks and their leaking to the media, as one of the reasons.

Speaking on Friday, Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Steinbach's statement had been distorted.

"These comments … have been very broadly interpreted, even beyond the extent that interpretation really bears," said Seibert. "There has been no doubt about the question of German blame for the war for many years now, and this will always remain the case."

"Germany started the Second World War," he said. "Germany brought the Second World War - and with it great suffering - onto the people of the world. Frau Steinbach, incidentally, does not dispute this."

No plans for further action

German troops in Poland

Toelg said the German invasion was a second step in events

Seibert said that the government saw no need for action concerning the controversial membership of two party and expellee foundation members on the board for a planned museum dedicated to wartime refugees.

Steinbach had made her comments in defense of the pair, Arnold Toelg and Hartmut Saenger, who had caused controversy with statements that critics said were "revisionist" attempts to justify the actions of Nazi Germany during World War II.

"Unfortunately, I cannot change the fact that Poland had already mobilized in March 1939," Steinbach told the conference.

Polish troop movements were used by Adolf Hitler as a pretext for war.

Steinbach later said that her comment was not intended to justify the actions of Nazi Germany.

There was little tolerance for the remark in Poland, where Steinbach, who was already a hate figure, was accused of trying to rewrite history.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the country's Radio ZET broadcaster on Friday that he welcomed the widespread criticism in Germany of her "scandalous" opinions.

"I hope the career of this woman in German politics is finished," said Sikorski.

'Polish actions were justified'

The CDU's parliamentary leader, Volker Kauder, had attempted to play down the remark on Thursday, insisting Steinbach's comments did nothing to diminish German responsibility for the outbreak of war. Poland had "every reason" to ready its military forces in light of the Nazi threat, Kauder said.

However, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, leader of the CDU's coalition partner party, the Free Democrats, said Steinbach's comments damaged Germany's reputation overseas.

German expellees fleeing

Steinbach's organization represents Germans forced to leave Eastern Europe


Controversial expellee federation members Toelg and Saenger are both board members of the Foundation for Flight, Expulsion and Reconciliation, which is overseeing a museum project dedicated to World War II refugees. They include Germans who were forced to leave Eastern Europe, who are represented by the expellee federation.

Toelg has claimed that the German attack on Poland was only the second step in events at the beginning of the war, after Poland first mobilized its troop in March 1939. Saenger stirred up controversy with claims that there was a hunger for war among other world powers as well as Germany.

Sixty-seven-year-old Steinbach was born in Poland to German parents who moved there after the Nazi invasion. She was among some 12.5 million ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe at the end of the war.

Author: Richard Connor (dpa/epd/Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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