Menu JTA Search

Kohl Defends Jenninger’s Reputation at Birthday Tribute to Wiesenthal

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, speaking here at a dinner Monday honoring Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, defended the intentions and “political integrity” of Philipp Jenninger, the Bundestag president who quit Friday after delivering a controversial speech on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

After repeating Jenninger’s regrets that the speech was misunderstood by listeners, Kohl lauded him for having always taken a “particular and personal interest in bringing about reconciliation with the Jews” and defending Israel.

Kohl was introduced — accompanied by the strains of “Hayveinu Sholom Aleichem” playing in the background — to some 900 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at its Eastern Region dinner at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The $500-a-plate dinner was a birthday tribute to Wiesenthal, who turns 80 Dec. 31. As founder of the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Wiesenthal has tracked down hundreds of Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann.

Jenninger, a senior member of Kohl’s Christian Democratic party, caused an international uproar when his speech marking the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom seemed to justify Germany’s acceptance of Nazism.

The anti-Jewish pogrom on Nov. 9-10, 1938, confirmed the deadly resolve of the Nazis in dealing with the Jews in Europe.

OPPONENT OF TOTALITARIANISM

Kohl did not question Jenninger’s decision to resign, but called him “an uncompromising opponent of any form of totalitarianism.”

Kohl spoke in German, while the audience listened to a simultaneous English translation.

On Saturday, Wiesenthal also defended Jenninger, saying, “It was not his wish to say something that could have a pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic character.”

In Kohl’s remarks Monday about the lessons of Kristallnacht, the chancellor was more successful than Jenninger in describing the personal guilt of the Nazis and their collaborators versus the common responsibility of the German people to remember history.

“Dear Simon Wiesenthal,” he said, had shown the way: “We can conquer darkness by unwaveringly holding up the torch of humanity.”

Another way, Kohl said, is through “solidarity with Israel’s interests.”

Wiesenthal, addressing Kohl in English and German, said the chancellor leader did not belong to “that group that simply wants to put history behind them.

“On the contrary,” he said, “you have always spoken about the responsibility for everything that was committed in the name of the Germans.”

But some activists here and in West Germany dispute those sentiments, noting Kohl’s invitation to President Reagan in 1985 to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the military cemetery at Bitburg, where members of the Waffen SS are buried.

The rest of Wiesenthal’s remarks were strikingly downbeat. Even while acknowledging his own successes, he said the world, and not the Nazis, had actually lost World War II because it still has not done enough to combat tyranny.

NEXT STORY