BERLIN, November 4 (JTA) — Germany´s leading Jewish group filed a lawsuit against a politician who made an anti-Semitic speech just as a general in the German army was dismissed in the growing scandal surrounding the issue. Defense Minister Peter Struck fired Reinhard Guenzel, head of the army´s Special Military Unit, because of a letter he wrote praising an anti-Semitic speech by Christian Democratic Union legislator Martin Hohmann. Struck was praised for his swift dismissal of Guenzel, while the CDU continues to waver on whether to kick Hohmann out of the party. According to news reports, Guenzel wrote to Hohmann to thank him for his "excellent" Oct. 3 speech, in which Hohmann suggested that Jews were a "nation of perpetrators" because of their involvement in the Russian Revolution. Hohmann also defended anti-Semitic tracts by Henry Ford and others. The speech was posted to a neo-Nazi Web site but attracted little notice until last week. "If I may allow myself this opinion," Guenzel wrote in a letter reprinted by German news organizations, the speech reflected "a courageous honesty and clarity that one seldom hears and reads anymore in our land." Struck, a member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder´s Social Democratic Party, said Guenzel´s letter damaged the army´s image. He immediately dismissed Guenzel with a dishonorable discharge. This was "a case of one confused general who linked himself to the even more confused opinion of a single member of Parliament," Struck said in a news conference. Struck said Guenzel´s views did not reflect those of the more than 200 generals in the army. Struck´s swift action led to calls for the CDU to do the same with Hohmann. Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, lauded Struck´s action and said he considered it "an example for how one should handle such cases." Spiegel announced in an interview Tuesday that the Central Council had filed suit against Hohmann for inciting hatred. Spiegel said he could not understand how a party could keep within its ranks someone who had made statements contracting the party´s basic convictions. He challenged the head of the CDU, Angela Merkel, to follow Struck´s example. He also said it appears that anti-Semitic expression has become socially acceptable in Germany. He noted that no one had complained about Hohmann´s speech when it was delivered a month ago. Some in the CDU have suggested that Hohmann´s apology on Nov. 1 made it unnecessary to eject him from the party. On Sunday, the CDU removed Hohmann from the parliamentary committee that deals with issues related to slave labor. But critics say it´s not enough. "We are certain that the CDU will take the necessary measures to deal with these issues," Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, told JTA. She called Struck´s action "extremely encouraging." "It shows a strong commitment to pluralism and democracy when comments that are clearly hateful in their nature are not tolerated," Berger said. Nine years ago, the AJCommittee initiated a program of information sharing with the German military on security issues and American Jewish life as part of a general outreach effort to German society and institutions. Apparently, the message did not reach Guenzel. He wrote to Hohmann that even if all those who agree with Hohmann´s views "or who express this loudly and clearly are placed immediately in a right-wing corner, you can be sure that, with your ideas, you speak for the souls of a majority of our people." "I hope that you are not put off by the attacks from the largely left wing and courageously hold your course," Guenzel concluded.
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Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.