Recent posts on Telegram, Twitter and Facebook have suggested that German politicians Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach have grandfathers who were high up in Adolf Hitler's feared Schutzstaffel (SS), a major paramilitary organization in Nazi Germany. The posts also claim that the grandfather of Polish politician and former European Council president Donald Tusk voluntarily served with the Wehrmacht.
In the posts, photos of the politicians are shown next to photos of men in Nazi uniforms whose names and facial features resemble those of the politicians. Users around the world have spread these claims in English , Russian, German, Polish, Spanish, Turkish and Greek for example.
All allegations are wrong, as we explain in this fact check.
A Telegram user claims that Fritz von Scholz, a lieutenant general of the Waffen SS, "is the grandfather of the Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz".
Fact Check: False
The man in the picture above (left) is Fritz, aka Friedrich Max Karl Scholz Edler von Rarancze. He was an Austro-Hungarian career officer born in 1896. Von Scholz joined the SS in 1933 and died fighting the Soviet Army in 1944 without fathering any children, according to the German news agency DPA (link in German).
A spokesperson for the German government told DW that the suggestion that the Nazi Lieutenant general von Scholz was related to German Chancellor Scholz was "utter nonsense".
Olaf Scholz's own father was born in 1935 and his real grandparents worked on the railways in the northern port of Hamburg, as documented by the Munziger biographical archive (link in German).
"Scholz" has been ranked as the 47th most common name in Germany, with more than 30 thousand Scholzes currently living all over the country, according to the geneology tracker site geogen.
The Nazi grandfather allegations were traced back to March 6th and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin by a German journalist.
Apparently angered by Chancellor Scholz's dismissal of Russian claims of genocide in eastern Ukraine, Prigozhin alleged that a number of high-ranking German officials were directly descended from senior members of the Nazi SS.
Prigozhin is subject to international sanctions for his ties to the "Internet Research Agency", which is held responsible for Russian social media "troll factories" attempting to influence the 2018 US midterm elections, as reported by CNN.
A Facebook user claims that Gerhard Lindner, a major-general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, "is the grandfather of Finance Minister Christan Lindner". Similar claims were published on Telegram.
Fact Check: False
A spokesperson for Christian Lindner's FDP party told DW it was "utter nonsense" that the Nazi officer Gerhard Lindner was his grandfather.
Military information about Gerhard Lindner shows that in the Second World War, he led the Götz von Berlichingen 346th Infantry Division, which was part of the SS. He died in 1982 in a small town in the far north-east of Germany.
By contrast, Christian Lindner's grandparents - at least from one parental side - were from the western German town of Wuppertal, where they ran a bakery, according to the Munziger biographical archive (link in German).
Christian Lindner, who was born in 1979, wrote in his autobiography about hanging around his grandparent's bakery as a boy. Assuming he was aged at least 10 at the time, that would have been many years after the former Nazi general Gerhard Lindner died in another part of the country.
"Lindner" ranks the 107th most common name in Germany, with almost 17,000 Lindners currently living all over the country.
A social media post suggests, that German health minister Karl Lauterbach's grandfather was "Hartmann Lauterbacher", who rose through the Hitler Youth to become one of the most senior members of the SS.
Fact Check: False
Hartmann Lauterbacher, besides having a different surname (ending in "-er"), was born in Austria in 1909 and died in Bavaria in 1988, after a murky post-war life dodging war crime charges and intelligence services, as revealed by the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The current German Health Minister, however, was born into modest circumstances in 1963 in a small town near Germany's western border with the Netherlands. His father was born in 1935 and worked in a dairy, his mother looked after the household.
DW was not able to establish details about the grandparents of Karl Lauterbach at the time of writing this article. However, in 1935 when Karl Lauterbach's father was born into a rural family in the far west of Germany, the Austrian Nazi Hartmann Lauterbacher was getting married in Braunschweig, with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as his best man.
At the timing of writing, Lauterbach's SPD had not responded to a DW request for comment.
"Lauterbach" is not a common surname in Germany, ranked 891st with just over 3400 people.
However, "Lauterbacher" is much rarer in Germany, ranking 99199th with just 30 individuals.
A Telegram post claims that Jozef Tusk, member of the Security Service of the Reichsführer SS, is "a direct relative" of Polish politician Donald Tusk.
Fact Check: Misleading
The misleading claim about Donald Tusk's grandfather has been circulating for many years. In 2005, DW covered the story as did the fact-checking website Fullfact in 2019. Donald Tusk's grandfather was indeed called Jozef Tusk, but he was never a member of the SS. The European Council told Fullfact that Jozef Tusk was a Polish citizen who was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1939. He was imprisoned in two concentration camps, released in 1942 and conscripted into the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany's combined armed forces. Fullfact's research suggests that Tusk deserted in March 1945 and returned to Poland later that year.
In addition, the person shown in the photo with the misleading claim is not Jozef Tusk. According to the German Federal Archives, the uncropped photo was taken in September 1939 in Poland, close to Ustronie, and shows members of the intelligence agency of top SS official Heinrich Himmler ("Reichsführer SS"). According to the archives, the man in the photo alleged to be Donald Tusk's grandfather is a Sturmmann, or low-ranking member of the SS.
A spokesperson for Tusk's European People's Party confirmed to DW that the photo did not show Donald Tusk's grandfather, and that Jozef Tusk was not a member of the Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS.
It is relatively easy to debunk the photomontages alleging links between leading contemporary politicians and senior Nazis that are simply based on similar family names. Nevertheless, the claims continue to spread from their Russian source across social media and regularly crop up in many languages on social media.
Uta Steinwehr contributed to this report.
Edited by: Rachel Baig
This article was changed on August 5. We deleted two screenshots of social media posts due to legal issues. We added a link to an archived version of the post instead.