BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government condemned on Monday an apparent attempt by the co-leader of the anti-immigrant AfD party to play down the significance of the Nazis in Germany’s history, and it stressed the unique nature of the Holocaust.
On Sunday politicians rebuked Alexander Gauland, one of the leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), after he told a party gathering: “Hitler and the National Socialists are just bird shit in 1,000 years of successful German history.”
Gauland denied on Monday that he had intended to trivialize the Nazis and their crimes, but Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said it was shameful that a member of the German national parliament had made such comments.
“The Nazi regime and the crime of the Holocaust conceived by the Nazi regime are unique, a real crime against humanity, and immeasurable suffering was the result in many countries, including here in Germany,” Seibert said.
“It’s only because we Germans proclaim the perpetual responsibility that comes from that - and all German governments since the first government of the Federal Republic of Germany have done that, including this one - that Germany was able to become a respected country again and good partner for other countries and peoples in the world,” he said.
The Nazi dictatorship remains a highly sensitive issue in Germany more than seven decades after its defeat. Germany has built its post-World War Two identity on the principle of keeping alive the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and a commitment to Israel’s right to exist.
Gauland said his comments had been misunderstood or misinterpreted and added that he had expressed his “deepest contempt” for National Socialism in the speech he made to the AfD’s youth wing on June 2.
“For me, ‘bird shit’ is and remains the lowest piece of filth - animal excrement that I compared National Socialism with,” he said in a statement.
“It was never my intention to trivialize or even deride the victims of this criminal system,” he said.
AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen told Zeit Online that Gauland’s choice of words was “inappropriate” but added it was clear from the whole speech that Gauland was not playing down or relativizing Nazi atrocities.
The AfD’s federal board said in a statement it was dismayed by the youth wing singing stanzas that are no longer part of the national anthem at the event where Gauland spoke.
The first stanza, with its words “Germany, Germany above all else” - which stemmed from efforts to unify Germany in the 19th century - was officially dropped from the anthem in 1991 following reunification, as was the second stanza.
Gauland prompted controversy last year when he said Germans should be proud of what their soldiers achieved during World War One and Two.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones