Liechtenstein prince calls Germany a "Fourth Reich"

ZURICH (Reuters) - Liechtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II has dubbed Germany a “Fourth Reich”, drawing fire from Jewish groups for trivializing Nazi crimes and stoking already tense relations between the two countries.

The prince made the comments in a letter to Berlin’s Jewish Museum explaining why he would not make a painting available to an exhibition of art works stolen by the Nazis.

“I would really have liked to support the exhibition as our collection was itself a victim of art theft during World War Two and afterwards, if only it wasn’t in Germany,” he said in the letter published by Swiss daily Tagesanzeiger on Thursday.

“As far as German-Liechtenstein relations are concerned, we are waiting for better times, which I am hopeful for as we have already survived three German Reichs in the past 200 years and I hope we will also survive a fourth one.”

The Alpine principality nestled between Austria and Switzerland reacted with fury in February when Germany launched an investigation into thousands of its citizens suspected of parking savings in Liechtenstein banks to evade tax.

Liechtenstein accused Germany of illegally acquiring secret bank data by purchasing information on suspected tax dodgers from an informant the principality views as a criminal.

“Since Germany is less and less inclined to orientate itself to the basic principles of international law in its relations with...Liechtenstein, we have decided to no longer make any loans out of our collection to Germany,” the prince said.

Eva Soederman, a spokeswoman for Berlin’s Jewish Museum, confirmed the receipt of the letter and criticized its content:

“If you describe the Federal Republic of Germany as a ‘Fourth Reich’, and thereby suggest parallels between the current country and the Third Reich, you are trivializing the severity of National Socialism in a most irresponsible way.”

The prince’s office said in a statement he had in no way intended “to belittle the atrocious events of the Third Reich” in what was meant to be a private and personal letter.

Prince Hans-Adam, 82, handed over day-to-day running of Liechtenstein to his son Prince Alois in 2004 but remains head of state. Prince Hans-Adam’s father became the first monarch to take up permanent residence in Liechtenstein when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, which had been their home.

Additional reporting by Josie Cox in Berlin; Editing by Angus MacSwan