BERLIN (JTA) — The chief of Formula 1 racing apologized for remarks he made praising Adolf Hitler.
"Those who don’t know me think I support Hitler’s atrocities; those who do know me have told me how unwise I was to articulate my points so badly that it should have been so widely misunderstood," Bernie Ecclestone told the Times of London and the Jewish Chronicle Tuesday.
"I’m just sorry I was an idiot. I sincerely, genuinely apologize," he told the Chronicle.
The World Jewish Congress over the weekend called for Ecclestone’s resignation after he praised Hitler for having "gotten things done."
Ecclestone also said Saddam Hussein, the executed former dictator of Iraq, "was the only one who could control that country." He made the remarks in an interview published Saturday in the British newspaper the Times.
In response, WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement issued Sunday that Ecclestone was "question[ing] the basic principles of modern democracy." Lauder urged racing teams and host countries to "suspend their cooperation with Mr. Ecclestone and call for his resignation."
The British-born Ecclestone, 78, insists he was misunderstood. He told the German daily Bild Zeitung Monday that he had merely said Hitler "had effectively tackled unemployment and the economic crisis before committing his horrendous crimes."
Ecclestone added that he had many Jewish friends who would know that he would never deliberately hurt a member of a minority group.
In the Times interview, Ecclestone said that "Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not … [but at least] he could command a lot of people able to get things done.” He also said that Hitler "wasn’t a dictator," and reserved a few choice words for democracy, which he felt "hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries — including [England]. I like people who make up their minds."
In the wake of the controversy, the governor of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Günther Oettinger, announced Monday that he had canceled a planned business meeting with Ecclestone.
Dieter Graumann, a deputy head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the daily newspaper Handelsblatt that no team should work with Ecclestone.