BERLIN (JTA) — Germany’s rising right-wing populist party voted to begin proceedings to oust a prominent member for calling Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame.”
Bjoern Hoecke, leader of the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, in the former East German state of Thuringia aroused ire nationwide with remarks in January denigrating the memorial and suggesting that more attention be paid to German victims of World War II.
Frauke Petry, who heads the 3-year-old AfD, said Monday that the expulsion procedure could take quite a while, but that she was convinced most party members would support the move.
Critics within the AfD said Hoecke’s remarks threatened to destabilize the party, which hopes to become the third largest in the Bundestag in national elections in September.
The party’s decision followed a legal and political evaluation of Hoecke’s remarks.
He had told young supporters in Dresden on Jan. 17 that “We Germans — that is, our people — are the only people worldwide that has planted a memorial to shame in the heart of our capital.”
Ten days later, the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial barred Hoecke from entering for a memorial ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Hoecke has enjoyed some support from party leaders in his own state, as well as those in the former East German state of Brandenburg. Alexander Gauland, chair of the Brandenburg faction, told German radio rbb that no one should be thrown out after making one mistake. He also said he feared people would leave the party in protest.
In Thuringen, party leaders suggested the decision was politically motivated to force certain people and opinions out of the party.
Petry’s co-chair, Jörg Meuthen, reportedly also opposed her on the matter, saying he did not believe the expulsion procedure was likely to succeed, “even though his speech was really very bad.”
AfD President Georg Pazderski told the daily newspaper Tagesspiegel in Berlin that he thought Hoecke’s speech had the potential to frighten off voters. Pazderski said Hoecke had endangered the party’s goal of representing mainstream conservative Germans.
Following Monday’s vote, Hoecke told reporters he was worried for the unity of the party. But he expressed confidence that the arbitration panel would not find him guilty of transgressing the party’s legal statutes or principles. If he is found guilty, he can appeal.
The anti-immigrant party has been struggling with its extreme right-wing flank. Last July, it began proceedings to expel politician Wolfgang Gedeon over anti-Semitic writings. He remains a member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament, though was forced to step down from the AfD’s bloc.
One year ago, a court in Brandenburg rejected accusations that AfD party member Jan-Ulrich Weiss had published an anti-Semitic caricature.
Elena Roon — an AfD candidate for the Bundestag from Nuremberg — recently shared a photograph of Adolf Hitler online with the caption, “Missing since 1945: Adolf, please call home! Germany needs you! The German nation!”
The German media reported that Roon also shared an image of Hitler tearing his hair out in frustration, with the caption “Islamists … I forgot about them!”
The party chair in Bavaria has launched an investigation.