(JTA) — The head of Germany’s right-populist Alternative for Germany party has said it is high time Germany stopped feeling guilty about its Nazi past.
Alexander Gauland, speaking earlier this month with members of the party’s national-conservative branch in the former east German state of Thuringia, said Germans “don’t have to be held accountable any more for those 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They don’t affect our identity today any longer. And we’re not afraid to say so.”
Gauland added that if the French and British were “rightly proud” of their 20th century military history, “we have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”
The party, which Gauland had a hand in founding four years ago, now has legislators in 13 out of Germany’s 16 states, and is trying for seats in the national Bundestag in German’s Sept 24 elections. With its anti-immigrant, anti-Europe platform the party has racked up more electoral successes than any other right-wing party in recent memory.
First reported by Buzzfeed, Gauland’s remarks — and the applause they garnered — can be seen on video.
The comments unleashed a storm of criticism from mainstream parties, on the eve of Germany’s national election.
“I can’t possibly imagine how one can be even the slightest bit proud of millions of dead, barbaric war crimes and the destruction of Europe,” Thomas Oppermann, head of the Bundestag faction of the Social Democratic Party, told the Zeit newspaper online. He called Gauland’s comments a “tasteless historical revisionism.”
Green Party legislator Volker Beck told the newspaper he thought Gauland’s statements were becoming “increasingly disgusting.” Particularly given that German soldiers took part in the mass shootings of Jews on the eastern front, “there is nothing to be proud of,” he added.
Charges have already been filed against Gauland for suggesting that Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Integration, Aydan Özoğuz, could be “disposed of” in Turkey.
Observers say Gauland’s comments about German Wehrmacht soldiers were aimed at receptive ears: The controversial local politician Björn Höcke, a member of the Thuringen AfD wing that organized the recent meeting, has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin “a monument to shame” and urged Germans to focus first and foremost on the “great accomplishments of our ancestors.”