German Vice Chancellor Condemns Nationalist’s Holocaust Remarks

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Berlin on Wednesday. (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)

Germany’s vice chancellor on Wednesday harshly condemned remarks by a prominent member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who suggested ending the country’s decades-long tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

Sigmar Gabriel, who serves as vice chancellor and economy minister, wrote on social media that even though he knows the AfD party thrives on provocation, the comments by Bjoern Hoecke, who leads the party in the eastern state of Thuringia, were “shocking.”

“This is not just some kind of provocation,” Gabriel wrote. “We must never let this kind of demagoguery be undisputed.”

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Hoecke had called the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust a “monument of shame.” He told party supporters in the eastern city of Dresden that no other country would erect such a memorial in its capital and called instead for Germany to take a “positive” attitude toward its history. He also said Germany needs to perform a “180-degree turn” when it comes to remembering its past.

Nazi Germany was responsible for the murder of more than six million Jews and five million other civillians.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is situated in downtown Berlin near the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate. It’s an uneven field of thousands of concrete slabs, comparable to a gigantic graveyard.

Gabriel said that whereas Hoecke had insinuated that dealing with the Nazi past belittles Germans, Gabriel believes that “learning from our history was the premise for Germany to be respected worldwide.”

Gabriel, a Social Democrat, said he entered politics decades ago partly as a protest against his own father’s Nazi convictions.

Bjoern Hoecke, chairman of the Alternative for Germany Party. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany also criticized Hoecke’s remarks, calling them “deeply upsetting and totally unacceptable.”

“With these anti-Semitic and inhuman words, the AfD shows its true face,” Josef Schuster said. “I would not have dared to think that 70 years after the [Holocaust] such remarks by a politician in Germany would be possible.”