The premier of the Australian state of Victoria has bowed to a wave of public criticism and apologized for comments he made linking a federal senator to the wartime Nazi Party.
Premier Jeff Kennett, whose position is equivalent to that of a governor in the United States, touched off a controversy when he said a senator in the national Parliament representing the small Australian Democrats Party was a member of the Hitler Youth.
“I don’t say it lightly: He was,” said Kennett, adding that Sen. Sid Spindler “finishes his public career in exactly the same way as he started.”
Kennett made the comments about Spindler after the Australian Democrats and the opposition Australian Labor Party had called for an inquiry into what may have been questionable dealings between the Victorian state government and a lucrative casino.
Spindler responded by repeating what he has made public for many years: that as a 10-year-old German boy living in Poland during the Nazi occupation he had been “automatically enrolled in the youth division of the Hitler Youth.”
He added, “My experience during those years has made me a lifelong peace activist, an anti-racist and a strong opponent of totalitarian regimes.”
Spindler said unless Kennett withdrew the comments, he would file a defamation suit.
Geoffrey Green, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the roof body for the state’s approximately 45,000 Jews, attacked Kennett for “totally inappropriate hyperbole” and “irresponsible language.”
Green said such comments serve “only to distress many in our community who still carry the deep scars of the Holocaust” and “demeans the memory of the millions who died” because they failed “the abhorrent Nazi test of Aryan purity.”
Other Jewish leaders from across Australia said Spindler had an excellent record in opposing racism.
Kennett initially refused his comments about Spindler. But after sustained public criticism, he apologized, telling a news conference that his comments were accurate, “but unnecessary.”
Kennett added that he thought that the call for an inquiry into the casino was misguided, but said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”