Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, has described the Nazi era as a brief stain in Germany's otherwise grand history.
AfD politicians have often been accused of harboring Nazi-like views, but this latest comment has sparked a particularly angry response.
What Gauland said
Addressing the youth division of the AfD at a conference in Seebach, Thuringia, Gauland said:
- "Only those who acknowledge history have the strength to shape the future."
- "Hitler and the Nazis are just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history."
- "Yes, we accept our responsibility for the 12 years … [but] we have a glorious history — and that, dear friends, lasted longer than the damn 12 years."
CDU Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told Die Welt: "Fifty million dead in World War II, the Holocaust, total war — and to call it all 'bird shit' is such a slap in the face of the victims and such a relativization of what happened in the name of Germany ... It is simply stunning that this is said by the leader of a supposedly civic party."
SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil told DW that Gauland had now dropped all facades. "This is a frightening trivialization of National Socialism. It is a disgrace that such people are sitting in the German Bundestag."
Marco Buschmann, parliamentary manager of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, told the Funke Media Group: "Any politician who deliberately tries to minimize the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust gives an indication of how sinister the visions he has for Germany are."
The Greens' Katrin Göring-Eckardt called Gauland's comments a slap in the face to Holocaust survivors and their descendants and said they highlight the need to push back against a hate-filled minority.
AfD faction spokesman Christian Lüth responded on Twitter: "Bird shit is what I think of the Nazi era," if you take into account the 1,000-year-history of Germany.
Monument of shame: AfD politicians have argued in the past that Germany is hobbled by its memory of the Holocaust. Björn Höcke, the party's Thuringia head, in January 2017 called for "nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance." He took particular issue with Berlin's vast memorial to murdered Jews, calling it a "monument of shame." Gauland was one of the main politicians to defend Höcke against accusations of Nazism.
Who is Gauland? He is co-leader of the AfD, the main opposition party in Germany's Bundestag. The 77-year-old has repeatedly railed against Islam and argued that Germany should be proud of its World War I and World War II veterans. He has also been criticized for failing to rein in the extreme fringes of the party.
Between 1987 and 1991, Gauland was the right-hand man of the CDU's Walter Wallmann, the mayor of Frankfurt at the time. Through the years Gauland built up a reputation as one of the conservative minds of the CDU. He is also a liberal in the economic sense, believing in minimal state intervention.
It was arguably his published books on conservatism, in which his tone became increasingly gloomy and pessimistic, that are most emblematic of his shift to the right and his eventual move to the AfD.
aw/cmk (dpa, AFP)