BERLIN, Jan. 18 (JTA) — Jewish leaders here are in an uproar over a false report involving Holocaust survivors in a money-laundering scandal that has rocked the leadership of Germany’s leading conservative party.
In the scandal’s latest twist, a former Christian Democratic Party leader from the western state of Hesse said a secret account set up in the 1980s in Switzerland included millions of dollars bequeathed to the party by “grateful Holocaust survivors.”
Only hours after he had vigorously defended his story, former party Treasurer Casimir Wittgenstein admitted he had “lied to help the party.”
The story set off alarms among German Jewish leaders.
The statement is not only false, but it is “the biggest scandal in this scandal,” said Michel Friedman, a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a member of the Christian Democrats.
Friedman, a Frankfurt attorney, called it “unbelievable and irresponsible” to add “such a story” to the “disastrous criminal act.”
“Telling the public that this is money” given “by Holocaust survivors” to the Christian Democrats is “the worst thing that has happened in this story.”
Friedman, who said an apology from Hesse Governor Roland Koch was in order, has called for action against the former head of the state of Hesse, Manfred Kanther, and the 83-year-old Wittgenstein, who in the 1980s allegedly transferred millions of money into foreign accounts and later withdrew it secretly.
Also lashing out at the party, Salomon Korn, president of the Jewish community of Frankfurt, told Radio Free Berlin on Monday that the words “Jewish money” had been used not simply by accident but because of “old prejudices.”
A day later, the head of the Christian Democrats, Wolfgang Schaeuble, apologized to Germany’s Jewish community on behalf of his party.
Friedman later said that he and Paul Spiegel, the newly elected leader of the nation’s Jewish community, felt Schaeuble’s apology was “better late than never.”
But he said this did not erase the shocking fact that such imagery could be used by a top party member as an excuse for money laundering.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other leading members of the Social Democratic Party have been calling for a revote in last year’s state election in Hesse, which the Christian Democrats won.
An investigation into possible fraud in Hesse was opened Monday.
Along with Wittgenstein, the investigation concerns tax adviser Horst Weyrauch, who allegedly played a role in private party accounts connected with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Kohl has been under investigation since last month, when he admitted having received as much as $1 million in unreported campaign funds during his 16 years in power. Last week, Schaeuble, Kohl’s successor as party head, also admitted to taking undeclared campaign donations.
The resulting scandal has been described as the worst in Germany’s postwar history. On Tuesday, Kohl resigned as honorary leader of the Christian Democrats.