“Erwin Rommel, who was forced to commit suicide by the Nazis, died 74 years ago today,” wrote Peter Tauber, a former close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, on Twitter.
Heute vor 74 Jahren starb Erwin Rommel, von den Nazis zum Selbstmord gezwungen.
— Peter Tauber (@petertauber) October 14, 2018
The tweet unleashed an outcry on social media, with some condemning the conservative politician for rehabilitating the Nazi general while others defended Tauber saying Rommel's record was mixed.
Dubbed the “Desert Fox” for his tactical successes in the North Africa campaign, Rommel had been contacted in February 1944 by a group of officers plotting to kill Hitler.
But he was seriously wounded when a British plane strafed his car on July 17th, and that ensured he did not participate directly in an attempt made on Hitler's life three days later.
Gestapo investigators nonetheless discovered his role but Hitler knew he could not execute the popular officer.
Instead, Rommel was ordered to commit suicide, which he did on October 14th before being buried following a national funeral.
Malte Mahlberg, who identified himself on Twitter as a Social Democrat student, wrote: “Rommel was a Nazi and killed people. Someone like him deserves neither a commemoration day nor a mention in a tweet by a politician of a democratic country.”
Reacting with incredulity at Tauber's tweet, Petra Pau of the Left Party wrote: “Rommel participated in war crimes (to put it mildly), like so many others.”
Rommel war an Kriegsverbrechen beteiligt (vorsichtig gesagt), wie so viele andere auch. Leider straft der Herr Staatssekretär @petertauber seine Ministerin Lügen, wenn es um den #Traditionserlaß & neuen Umgang geht. #Bundeswehr
— Petra Pau (@PetraPauMaHe) October 15, 2018
Other Twitter users, however, leapt to the defence of Tauber, with Twitter user Justin Laun writing that the “barracks where I am stationed is still called Rommel Barracks”.
Defending his tweet, Tauber himself told Bild that Rommel had “repeatedly disregarded criminal orders” and was linked to the resistance against Hitler.
A debate about Rommel is important, “if we expect soldiers today to be responsible for the values of our country.”
For Pau, however, Tauber's line stood in opposition to Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen's vow in 2017 for the armed forces to make a clean break with the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich.
She then ordered a review of the army's 1982 “decree on traditions” that allowed displaying Wehrmacht items within their “historical context”, and said new names would have to be found for barracks still named after World War II figures, including Rommel.