Kohl Lays Wreath at Auschwitz; Aide Apologizes for Slander Remark
Menu JTA Search

Kohl Lays Wreath at Auschwitz; Aide Apologizes for Slander Remark

Download PDF for this date

Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany placed a wreath at the site of mass killings at the former Auschwitz death camp Tuesday and acknowledged that the chief victims were “European Jews” slain “in the name of Germany.”

He inscribed those words in the visitors’ book, adding that “the warnings emanating from this place must never be forgotten.”

The historic occasion was marred earlier in the week by a reference to “international Jewry” by one of Kohl’s aides. The remark provoked an angry protest from Heinz Galinski, leader of West Germany’s 30,000-member Jewish community, who accompanied the chancellor to Auschwitz.

Galinski pointed out that the phrase “international Jewry” was a staple of Nazi propaganda and anti-Semites everywhere, one that conjured up the image of a global Jewish conspiracy to control the world.

The German official, government spokesman Hans Klein, used it in the course of explaining a change in the chancellor’s itinerary.

Kohl’s official visit to Poland began last Thursday with an agenda that originally included a visit to Auschwitz on Saturday.

Jews took offense and Galinski, himelf an Auschwitz survivor, refused to accompany the chancellor there on the Jewish Sabbath.

In trying to make amends, Klein made matters worse. He announced at a news conference Friday that the Auschwitz visit was shifted to Tuesday out of respect for the feelings of “the international Jewry.”

He was promptly accused of demeaning Jews with a well-worn Nazi stereotype, to which he responded angrily that he was only describing Jews as a general community, as he would any other population group.

Galinski took Klein aside Monday and after a 20-minute private conversation, the German official emerged contrite.

“I used the term international Jewry’ but did not dream this would be interpreted to be a National Socialist expression now,” Klein told reporters after the meeting.

“But I have no problem declaring I will not use the term again,” he added.

Galinski said later he was “very pleased that Mr. Klein has immediately corrected his words. The problem is now settled.”

The Auschwitz ceremony was a low-key but emotional occasion.

Kohl stepped forward alone to place the wreath of red and yellow flowers at the so-called Killing Wall in the main Auschwitz camp, where some 30,000 people were shot to death.

Then he backed away several yards and stood with bowed head for several minutes in silent tribute to the victims.

A similar wreath was laid at a black stone monument near the ruins of the gas chambers in the Birkenau section of the camp.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the Nazi death factories, where some 1.6 million people perished, including 1.35 million Jews.

The fact that most of them were Jews was emphasized by the only speaker on the occasion, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz of Warsaw, who is the chief and only rabbi of Poland.

He spoke of Auschwitz as the most notorious symbol of Nazi atrocities, of which Jews were the principal victims.

His remarks were seen as a bitter allusion to the continued presence of a Carmelite convent on the continued presence of a Carmelite convent on the Auschwitz grounds, despite a pledge by the Roman Catholic Church more than two years ago to have it relocated.

Kohl’s inscription in the visitors’ book read: “The warning emanating from this place must never be forgotten.

“Unspeakable harm was inflicted on different peoples here, above all European Jews, in the name of Germany.

“We vow here once again to do everything to ensure that life, dignity, justice and freedom for all persons — regardless of what God they worship, what nation they belong to, and what heritage they have — remain inviolated on this earth.”

Kohl was the second West German chancellor to pay tribute to the victims of Nazism at Auschwitz. His predecessor, Helmut Schmidt, visited the camp in 1977.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund