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Antisemitic school leaflet returns to haunt Bavarian leader

August 26, 2023

The deputy premier of Bavaria, Hubert Aiwanger, was accused by a major German daily of penning and circulating an antisemitic pamphlet in his school days. But his elder brother said later in the day he was the author.

Hubert Aiwanger speaking at a press conference. Archive image. Bavarian state premier Markus Söder is visible, if out of focus, in the background of the shot.
Hubert Aiwanger quickly said the document had had nothing to do with him, his elder brother later stepped forward to say he had written itImage: Frank Hoermann/SvenSimon/picture alliance

Hubert Aiwanger, the leader of the Bavaria-only Free Voters (Freie Wähler) party that's the junior coalition partner in government, faced allegations in one of the state's biggest newspapers on Saturday that he was responsible for an antisemitic flyer distributed when he was in high school in the 1980s. 

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) national daily paper, headquartered in Munich, first reported the story on Saturday, saying the leaflet parodied a national history competition and made mocking references to Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust.

Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder, who had to turn to Aiwanger for additional support after the Bavarian CSU in 2018 failed to secure a majority by itself as it had at the previous election, was even quoted in SZ's story, calling the pamphlet "downright disgusting" and saying that Aiwanger would have to rapidly comment on the allegations. 

Aiwanger says he was not involved, elder brother then claims the text

Aiwanger responded fairly rapidly, at first saying only that he did not write the pamphlet or endorse its contents, that he knew the real author's identity, and that they would come forward themselves. He also said he was considering legal action.

"I did not write the paper in question and consider the content disgusting and inhumane," Aiwanger said in a written statement. "The author of the paper is known to me, he will explain himself."

Later on Saturday, Aiwanger's elder brother Helmut said that he had written the leaflet. "I am the author of the leaflet reproduced in the press," he said in a statement, adding that he regretted the consequences of this action. He said that he had written and distributed the document when upset at having to repeat a year in school. 

"At the time I was completely furious, because I had failed in school and was being torn away from my group of classmates," Helmut Aiwanger said. "I was still a minor at the time. That is basically all I can say about that." 

The leaflet was distributed during the 1987/88 school year, according to SZ's original reporting, which cited classmates and teachers as saying Aiwanger had faced sanctions.

Hubert and Helmut Aiwanger are separated by just a year in age and share the same first initial; SZ did not make it clear exactly how or if the leaflet had been signed. The brothers also attended the same secondary school.

Holocaust survivors in post-war Germany

Who are the Free Voters and Aiwanger, and why are they influential in Bavaria at present? 

The contentious report came with barely a month to go until Bavaria's next state elections, scheduled for October 8. 

The Bavarian Free Voters political party that Aiwanger leads will be hoping for another strong performance akin to its showing in 2018. 

Bavaria's dominant CSU tends to control the state, and usually the only open question when Bavaria votes is whether the CSU will end up needing a coalition partner at all. In 2018's vote, not only did it need a partner, it chose Aiwanger and the Free Voters group for the first time ever. 

This led to Aiwanger, despite leading a party commanding just over 10% of Bavaria's vote and being comparatively unknown outside his home state, becoming Söder's deputy and also his economy minister. 

The party is a loosely aligned and defined group, broadly classified as center-right to right-wing, whose primary demand is greater municipal and local independence from the national government in Berlin, and less dominance from Germany's established parties. 

It has held a 9% share or more of the Bavarian vote since 2008 (before that it polled nearer 5% for a few decades), and recent opinion polls had suggested it was on course for a slightly better showing this year than its 11.6% in 2018.

Politicians demand consequences, prior to big brother development

A host of leading Bavarian and national politicians made critical comments about the report prior to Aiwanger's brother claiming authorship of the leaflet, saying Hubert Aiwanger would need to explain himself and possibly even step down. 

Whether his brother identifying himself as the author will close the book on the issue for the Freie Wähler leader is not yet clear, particularly with an election campaign looming. 

dh/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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