German Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticized a fellow conservative on Friday for "whitewashing" the Nazi past of his predecessor, the former leader of a powerful southern German state.
Merkel is perhaps not as pleased about Öttinger's election as she was last year
Merkel said she called Günther Öttinger, the state premier of Baden-Württemberg, to reprimand him for his controversial eulogy of the former state leader Hans Karl Filbinger, who died on April 1. Öttinger had caused a furor on Wednesday when he eulogized Filbinger, a former navy judge under the Third Reich, as an "opponent of the Nazi regime."
In a statement, Merkel said she wished that “beyond honoring the great life’s work of premier Hans Filbinger, critical questions about the Nazi era had also been posed.” She said this was especially important “out of respect for the feelings of the victims” of the Nazi regime.
Öttinger had outraged political and religious leaders on Wednesday when he claimed that “there is no verdict that Hans Filbinger handed down that led to someone losing his life.” Evidence directly contradicts this claim, as Nazi-era documents show that Filbinger was involved -- as a judge and prosecutor -- in death sentences against deserters during World War II.
Öttinger claimed during the eulogy that Filbinger was not a real Nazi, but like millions of other Germans was forced to bow to the pressure of the times.
Hans Filbinger: criminal or victim?
In the state capital Stuttgart, Rabbi Joel Berger told the daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that Öttinger “better have damned good evidence for publicly claiming Filbinger was an opponent of the Nazi regime.”
The leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, went further, telling AFP news service that Öttinger’s claim was “dangerous and, for the survivors, an insulting perversion of historical reality.”
Öttinger also came under fire from Social Democrats and the opposition Green party. Ute Vogt, leader of the Social Democratic Party in Baden-Württemberg, echoed Knobloch’s view that Öttinger “is distorting history,” she told German television. “He issued two death sentences. It’s wrong to call Filbinger a victim,” she said.
And the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international organization that hunts down Nazi war criminals, has called on Öttinger to resign. “The Öttinger comments are absolutely incredible,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli chapter in Jerusalem, told Reuters news agency. “It is unacceptable for a German state premier to deny and whitewash the Nazi past of an ex-leader and Nazi judge,” he said, “and we call for his resignation.”
Filbinger resigned over Nazi past
Filbinger (left) after his resignation in 1978. Lothar Spät succeeded him
Günther Öttinger is a prominent political leader of the Christian Democratic Union, which rules in coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party at the national level but enjoys a wide electoral margin in Baden-Württemberg, a predominantly conservative state. In 2005, Öttinger was elected premier of this wealthy southern state and, eight days later, state party leader.
For his part, Hans Filbinger was elected state premier of Baden-Württemberg in 1966, and led the state for over a decade. But in 1978, he resigned after his role as a Nazi judge came to light through a play by Rolf Hochhuth.
Filbinger never publicly expressed regret about his Nazi past, and the state chapter of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has fiercely defended his record, naming him its honorary chairman in 1979.