Björn Höcke of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) was giving a speech to the group “Young Alternative Dresden” on Tuesday when he began discussing how Germany remembers its history.
He urged the country to end its 'culture of remembering Nazi crimes', adding that Germany must make a 180-degree change in how it reflects on the past, describing it as a “stupid coping policy”, according to broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
“We Germans, our people, are the only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of the capital city,” he said, referring to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.
He also compared Chancellor Angela Merkel to Erich Honecker – the former socialist leader of East Germany who was put on trial for human rights abuses during the Cold War, including for the killing of people who attempted to flee the country.
When Höcke compared the Allied forces’ bombing of Dresden to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he received a round of applause.
He further described Germany’s frame of mind as “a brutally beaten people”.
“Instead of bringing up the new generation with the great philanthropists, the world famous, groundbreaking philosophers, the musicians, the ingenious explorers and inventors, of which we have many… maybe more than any other people in the world… and instead of exposing our students in schools to this history, the history – German history – is made into something rotten and ridiculous.”
The politician further said that both de-Nazification and the bombing of German cities had “cleared out our roots”.
Höcke also bashed the famous speech in 1985 by then President Richard von Weizsäcker, in which he called for Germany and all Germans to remember their historic responsibility in the crimes of the Nazis, marking 40 years after the end of the Second World War.
The AfD politician said Weizsäcker had made a “speech against his own people”.
The chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said he was shocked by the comments.
“The AfD have shown their true face with these anti-Semitic and extremely inhumane words,” Schuster said.
“I would have never believed that it would be possible for a politician in Germany to make such statements 70 years after the Holocaust.”
Höcke responded on Facebook on Wednesday, saying he was astonished by the media coverage of his speech. He defended his calling the Holocaust memorial a “memorial of shame,” saying he was also acknowledging Germans' shame over the genocide.
“In my speech in Dresden, I was concerned with the question of how we Germans look back on our history and how this can can help us establish our identity in the 21st century. Undoubtedly, we must be aware in our self-assurance of our immense guilt. It is part of our history. But it is only part of our history,” he wrote.
“Guilt consciousness alone cannot create a healthy identity, but only a broken one. And it must also be clear to us that the integration problems that are all visible to us in this country also result from our broken identity.”
But Höcke did not comment on his other statements about city bombings, Weizsäcker, or “doing a 180” on remembering the Nazis' crimes.
Opposing politicians have also condemned Höcke’s comments.
“Höcke held a rabble-rousing speech in Dresden, he wants to rewrite history,” wrote Social Democrat Ralf Stegner on Twitter.
“No influence for the neo-Nazi pack!”
— Ralf Stegner (@Ralf_Stegner) January 18, 2017
Green party leader Simone Peter said that Höcke’s statements were “unspeakable”.
“The AfD must unmistakably distance themselves from this and apologize to our Jewish friends,” Peter said.
AfD politicians have stirred controversy before with statements seemingly sympathizing with Nazis or downplaying the Holocaust. It was revealed in September that one then newly elected member of the Berlin parliament had referred to civilian victims of the Nazis as “guerilla fighters” and said that killing them was “legal”.
Another politician described the Holocaust, in a book, as “certain infamous actions” and Holocaust deniers as dissidents.