Christian Wulff, the conservative premier of Lower Saxony and deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made the comments late Thursday on a television talk show debating whether high salaries for business executives were appropriate.
"I don't think you should whip up a pogrom atmosphere against someone who pays €40 million in taxes and creates tens of thousands of jobs," Wulff said on the show. The word "pogrom" applies to the persecution and massacre of specific groups, but in Germany it is often associated with the actions of Nazis against Jews in the Third Reich.
Wulff's comment sparked criticism from Germany's Jewish community and from politicians.
Stephan Kramer, general secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews told newspaper Neuen Presse Wulff had held an "incendiary speech" which damaged the painstaking efforts to inform and educate people of the events of 1938. "I don't want to dramatize this, but I think Wulff should ask himself whether he's fit to be state premier of Lower Saxony," Kramer added.
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews, also attacked Wulff for his comments. "Unfortunately you still see unspeakable comparisons such as those uttered by Lower Saxony Premier Wulff," Knobloch told the Ruhr Nachrichten. "These lapses are unacceptable."
On Friday, Wulff said he regretted the use of "pogrom atmosphere," and apologized. "Nothing can be compared to the persecution of Jews and the horrible pogroms against Jews," he said. "But cheap generalized propaganda against the high pay of executives is wrong," he said.
In October, one of Germany's most prominent economists, Hans-Werner Sinn, was forced to apologize after comparing the criticism bankers were facing because of the financial crisis to anti-Semitism in 1930s Germany.
on Thursday, Wolfgang Jüttner, head of the opposition Social Democrats in Lower Saxony, called Wulff's comments "shameful" and "tasteless."
"It's shameful for Lower Saxony when the state premier makes such a tasteless remark three days before the 70th anniversary of 'Kristallnacht'," he said.
On Sunday, Germany marks the 70th anniversary of the Nazis' 1938 "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom against the Jews, when synagogues, Jewish homes and businesses across Germany were attacked and looted.