A leading member of German anti-immigration party AfD sparked an outcry Wednesday over his criticism of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and calls to stop focusing on the country’s Nazi past.
“Up to now, our state of mind is still one of a totally defeated people… We Germans, our people, are the only people in the world who have planted a monument of shame in the heart of the capital,” Bjoern Hoecke told party faithful including youth members, according to a video of the speech circulated online.
“We need nothing less than a 180-degree turn in the politics of remembrance,” he said in the remarks on Tuesday to chants of “Germany, Germany.”
Instead of introducing younger generations to home-grown “internationally-acclaimed philosophers, musicians and ingenious inventors… German history has been made lousy and ridiculous,” he complained, winning a standing ovation from the crowd.
“There is no moral responsibility to make yourself disappear,” he said, adding that Germany should instead “build up a positive relationship with our history.”
The comments triggered an instant uproar, with Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel writing on Facebook that even though he knows the AfD party thrives on provocation, the comments by Hoecke were “shocking.”
“This is not just some kind of provocation,” Gabriel wrote. “We must never let this kind of demagoguery be undisputed,” he wrote.
Social Democrat vice chief Ralf Stegner accused Hoecke of making a “hate incitement speech” that called for history to be rewritten.
Chairwoman of the Greens Simone Peter said the comments were “unspeakable” and demanded an apology from the AfD to the Jews.
Germany’s Jewish Council also lashed out, accusing the politician of trampling on six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
“The AfD has shown its real face with these anti-Semitic and extremely hostile words,” said the council’s chairman Josef Schuster.
“I’ve never thought that 70 years after the Holocaust, a politician in Germany could say such things,” he added.
In a post on Facebook on Wednesday, Hoecke insisted that he had been misinterpreted and that he “described the Holocaust… as a shame for our people.”
The AfD had started out as an anti-euro party, but has since morphed into an anti-immigration outfit railing against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy that brought some 890,000 refugees to Germany in 2015 alone.
The party, which disputes the place of Islam in Germany, is polling nationwide at around 12 to 15 percent ahead of general elections.
Hoecke, the AfD’s leading candidate for the eastern state of Thueringia, is viewed as one of the most right-leaning members of the populist party.
In December 2015, he again sparked outrage when he said that the “reproductive behavior of Africans” could be a threat for Germany.
Most recently, he was greeted by students chanting “Nazis out” as he tried to make a speech at a university in the eastern city of Magdeburg, and had to leave the hall under police escort.