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German Presidential Candidate Pulls out in Wake of Controversy

Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s personal choice to replace Richard von Weizsacker as president of Germany has withdrawn his candidacy following months of controversy over his remarks.

Steffen Heitmann, who resigned as the Christian Democratic presidential candidate Nov. 25, had managed to offend many Germans with his comments about the Holocaust, the status of women and his feelings about foreigners.

The Jewish furor over Heitmann began in mid-September, when he told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that it was time to put the Holocaust in its “proper place” in history.

“The German special role in the postwar period was, to a certain extent, a continuation of the Nazi times,” he was quoted as saying. “That is over.”

His comments were sharply criticized by the World Jewish Congress and by Jewish organizational leaders here.

Heitmann has also stated his belief that women should not work outside the home, and his views on foreigners were considered similarly backward by liberals here.

Days before Heitmann’s resignation, Ignatz Bubis, the head of Germany’s Jewish community, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that any of the other candidates for president would be acceptable to him.

“I don’t know who I want, but I know who I don’t want,” Bubis said.

Bubis had supported Jens Reich, a scientist from eastern Germany, because he felt that a non-political person would be a good choice for the office.

“But the political parties didn’t accept him,” Bubis said. “That was a disappointment.”

The remaining candidates include the Social Democratic Party candidate, Johannes Rau, and Hildegard Hamm-Bruecher of the Free Democratic Party.

But this past weekend there were signs that Hamm-Brucher was losing support from the FDP and that the coalition parties — the FDP and Kohl’s supporters among the Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists — would support a common candidate.

That candidate is likely to be Roman Herzog, according to several reports here. Herzog is head of the Constitutional Court and a respected figure here.

A new weekly newspaper, Die Woche, suggested in its first issue that Bubis run for president, but the Jewish community leader said he never took the idea seriously.

“Germany isn’t ready for that,” Bubis said. He said he received a lot of anti-Semitic mail following the publication of the suggestion, “but I get that with or without” such articles, he said.

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