‘Catastrophic’: German antisemitism czar blasts gov’t support of official who ‘mocked’ Holocaust

Bavarian deputy PM Hubert Aiwanger to remain in office – despite reports he publicly mocked the Holocaust during high school.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

The German federal government’s top official tasked with combating antisemitism has strongly criticized the decision of Bavaria’s prime minister to allow his deputy — accused of authoring and distributing a leaflet demeaning the Holocaust while a schoolboy — to remain in office.

Felix Klein — the federal government’s commissioner for Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism — warned that the decision of Markus Söder, the prime minister of the southern state of Bavaria, to permit his deputy Hubert Aiwanger to stay in his post could result in “catastrophic consequences” for the ongoing tasks of combating Jew-hatred and commemorating the Holocaust.

“After Prime Minister Söder’s decision to leave Mr. Aiwanger in office, the Bavarian state government should not return to the political agenda,” Klein told German media outlets on Monday. “The matter has damaged the fight against antisemitism in our country.”

A report in the the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) news outlet ten days ago claimed that Aiwanger was behind a typewritten leaflet mocking the Holocaust distributed at the Burkhart Gymnasium in the town of Mallersdorf-Pfaffenberg in 1987, when he was 17. According to the SZ, members of staff and former students at the school confirmed that Aiwanger had been summoned before a school disciplinary committee over the leaflet and was sanctioned as a result.

The leaflet parodied national history competitions through demeaning references to the Holocaust. For example, the “prize” for the best answer to the question “Who is the greatest traitor to the fatherland?” was “a complimentary flight through the chimney at Auschwitz.”

Similar “prizes” were offered for answers to other questions, among them a “lifelong stay in a mass grave,” “a free shot in the back of the neck,” “a ticket … to the entertainment quarter Auschwitz,” and a “night’s stay in the Gestapo cellar, then a trip to Dachau.”

Aiwanger furiously denied being the author of the leaflet, for which his brother Helmut later claimed responsibility. However, Jewish leaders and German politicians across the spectrum were unimpressed by his denial, pointing to the presence of copies of the leaflet in his school bag. As the scandal intensified, former schoolmates of Aiwanger’s gave interviews in which they accused the deputy prime minister, now 52, of delivering Hitler salutes, imitating Hitler’s speeches, and cracking antisemitic and racist jokes.

At a hastily organized press conference on Sunday, Söder — who faces state parliamentary elections on Oct. 8 — confirmed that he had opted against firing Aiwanger.

“I know not everyone will like my decision, and others will have residual doubts. But I stress again, this result is the outcome of a fair and orderly process,” he said.

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Söder nonetheless criticized Aiwanger for his handling of the controversy.

“To first dispute everything, then partly admit some things, some of the contradictions, this has not increased his credibility in the past week,” Söder said. However, given that the leaflet was published 35 years ago, that there was no evidence of Hubert Aiwanger’s authorship, and that Aiwanger had not made any antisemitic statements since then, “in my opinion, dismissal from office would not be proportionate,” he said.

“Late, and in my view not too late, there was a clear apology and clear distancing of himself from the comments. This was right and necessary,” he added.

Separately, Aiwanger told the newspaper Bild that he saw “no reason whatsoever to resign or to be released from office.”

Klein countered by saying that Aiwanger should have resigned because of “insufficient information about his connection to the antisemitic hate leaflet and his statement that the Shoah was used here for party political purposes.” Last week, Aiwanger complained that the scandal was “now being used in a political campaign against me and my party.”

Klein expressed concern that the scandal would allow party political considerations to compromise the struggle against antisemitism and the commemoration of the Holocaust. In 2022, the German authorities registered about 2,500 antisemitic incidents — including a record number that involved extreme violence.

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