A group of moderates in the nationalist Alternative for Germany is urging one of the party’s leaders to apologize for calling the Nazi era a “speck of bird poop” in German history, a comment that drew condemnation across the mainstream political spectrum.
The Alternative Center group said in a statement late Sunday that Alexander Gauland’s comment sounded at best ambiguous and “this should not happen to a politician who has a minimum of instinct and sense of responsibility for our history.”
Gauland, co-leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party, sparked outrage over the weekend for saying there was more to the country’s history than the 12 years of the Nazi regime.
“Yes, we plead guilty to our responsibility for the 12 years” of Nazi rule, he said in a speech to an AfD youth faction on Saturday. But, he said, “we have a glorious history and one, my dear friends, that lasted a lot longer than those damned 12 years.”
“Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird poop in over 1,000 years of successful German history,” Gauland added.
Gauland, whose party has more than 90 seats in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, received an enthusiastic round of applause for his speech before his party’s youth wing.
Gauland’s comments drew outrage on social media and swift condemnations from mainstream politicians. Leading the chorus of condemnations from lawmakers was German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who accused the AfD leader of belittling Nazi crimes and sowing hatred among Germans.
Anyone “who denies that singular break with civilization or minimizes it not only ridicules the victims but also wants to rip open old wounds and sow new hatred,” he said at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of a memorial for gay victims under the Third Reich. “We must all stand against this.”
The head of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat Union party also hit out at Gauland on Sunday, saying his latest remarks revealed the true nature of a party hiding behind middle-class respectability.
“50 million war victims, the Holocaust and the total war are nothing more than ‘bird shit’ for the AfD,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted. “That’s what the party really looks like behind its bourgeois mask.”
Later on Sunday evening, an AfD spokesman defended Gauland, saying his “extremely unfortunate choice of words” were taken out of context.
According to reports in German media, Jörg Meuthen told news outlet Zeit Online his party leader’s remarks were “an extremely unfortunate choice of words and inappropriate.” But, he went to add that “In the context of his speech, it becomes absolutely clear that he never minimizes or relativizes the awful atrocities of the Nazis, the way he was reflexively accused of doing so.”
Set up in 2013 as an anti-euro party, the AfD recorded a surge in support after it began capitalizing on unease in Germany over the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.