Top General Sacked as Anti-Semitism Scandal Spreads | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.11.2003
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Top General Sacked as Anti-Semitism Scandal Spreads

German Defense Minister Peter Struck has fired the head of Germany’s Special Forces after he voiced support for anti-Semitic comments made by conservative MP Martin Hohmann.


Brigade General Reinhard Günzel was sacked by Defense Minister Peter Struck on Tuesday

The anti-Semitism row that has dominated the German press over the past week erupted again in dramatic style on Tuesday when a top general in the German army was fired for expressing support for the comments made by Martin Hohmann, the conservative backbench member of parliament at the center of the storm.

Brigadier General Reinhard Günzel, the head of Germany's prestigious special forces unit, the 1,000-strong elite Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) which participates in foreign missions such as Afghanistan, was dismissed after writing a letter of support to the MP, praising Hohmann’s speech in which he compared the actions of Jews in the Russian revolution with those of the Nazis.

The revelations came to light after Hohmann appeared on Germany's public television station ZDF over the weekend, brandishing the letter from the 59-year-old General Günzel and backing away from an apology he made under pressure from opposition colleagues. "An apology would, I think, be a signal that the facts to which I referred are not correct," he said. "But the facts are correct."

Letter of praise

KSK Soldaten im Einsatz

Soldiers of the German Army's Special Forces KSK.

In the letter sent to Hohmann by the Special Forces commander, who had recently returned with his troops after serving in Afghanistan, Günzel allegedly wrote, "An excellent speech... of a courage, truth and clarity that you rarely hear or read in our country."

Complaining about a climate in Germany in which those expressing nationalistic views were immediately labeled rightwing extremists, Günzel added, "You can be sure that you speak for the majority of Germans... Don't let the accusations from the dominant left camp put you off."

After consultations with various officials, German Defense Minister Peter Struck decided to relieve Günzel of his post, a move seen by many in the ruling red-green coalition government as a brave stand against anti-Semitism.

Damaging to Germany and army

Verteidigungsminister Peter Struck

Peter Struck tells the press of his decision on Tuesday.

Struck told reporters: "This is about a lone, confused general who agreed with an even more confused statement made by a conservative member of parliament." He added that Günzel’s views were not those of the army. "His remarks damaged the Federal Republic of Germany as well as the German Army," Struck said.

"I have decided to relieve him of his command and to dismiss him. With that, the case is closed for me."

A spokesman for the defense ministry added, "The removal of a general is a very, very rare occurrence. I am not sure whether it has ever happened before."

Pressure on Merkel

Angela Merkel in Bundestag für Frauengalerie p178

The left want Angela Merkel to take action.

The defense minister’s decision has added strength to the calls from the left for action to be taken by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chief Angela Merkel to fire Hohmann for his comments. To date, the party has only gone as far as to distance itself from the offending MP and remove him from his position on a parliamentary committee responsible for dealing with reparation claims by Holocaust survivors. He has not been fully dismissed.

The German press has also focused on this angle and is beginning to exert pressure on Merkel in scathing editorials. The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said on Wednesday, "Everything that applies to Mr. Günzel applies equally to deputy Hohmann... He should be expelled from the party caucus. Unlike Struck, however, CDU chief Merkel has not yet summoned up the courage to do this." The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung added that "the CDU must part company with Hohmann and his ilk."

Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin told reporters, "We are certain that the CDU will take the necessary measures to deal with these issues," and called Struck's action "extremely encouraging."

Jewish leader makes formal complaint

Paul Spiegel - Präsident des Zentralrats der Juden in Deutschland

Paul Spiegel, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Legal action could also be taken against Hohmann following complaints made by Paul Spiegel (picture), president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and an unnamed private citizen.

Proceeding with the complaint, prosecutors in the central German city of Fulda opened an investigation on Monday, accusing the MP of incitement, slander and disparaging the dead for his comments in the October 3rd speech. Anti-Semitic remarks constitute a crime under German law.

In his speech made on the anniversary of German reunification, Hohmann argued that Germans still shoulder the burden of Nazi crimes, but other nations with bloody pasts continue to play the role of "innocent lambs," citing the French revolution and the prominent role of Jews in the 1917 communist revolution in Russia.

Martin Hohmann

Martin Hohmann.

"With a certain justification, one could ask in view of the millions killed in the first phase of the revolution about the 'guilt' of the Jews,'' Hohmann said. "It would follow the same logic with which the Germans are described as a race of perpetrators.''

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