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Around the Jewish World German Party Tries Damage Control As Anti-semitic Speech Roils Nation

November 3, 2003
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A politician’s anti-Semitic speech has erupted into a scandal in Germany as his party scrambles to contain the damage and Jewish leaders consider a lawsuit.

At the center of the storm is a speech in which Parliament member Martin Hohmann, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, called Jews a “nation of perpetrators” comparable to the Nazis and defended Henry Ford’s notorious anti-Semitic tract, “The International Jew.”

Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, called it a “unique case” in the post-war era because it was “not merely a slip of the tongue or a slogan. No, it is a complete argument, a whole anti-Semitic speech using old stereotypes,” he told JTA.

While the stunned CDU leadership struggled to control the damage to the party, observers found themselves asking yet again whether taboos against old anti-Semitic canards were weakening in Germany.

Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that Hohmann’s words threatened to undermine the fragile relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Germany.

The council is considering suing Hohmann for inciting hatred. Within hours of being informed about the speech last week, CDU party head Angela Merkel sharply criticized Hohmann, calling his words “intolerable” and distancing the party from him.

Sources close to Merkel said she had called Hohmann and found that he “did not understand what all the fuss was about.”

Hohmann, 55, known for fervently conservative views on everything from gay rights to reparations for Nazi victims, delivered the speech on Oct. 3, German Unity Day, to constituents in the city of Neuhof, in the western German state of Hessen.

The speech later appeared on Hohmann’s website, but it went largely unnoticed until neo-Nazis picked it up, according to observers of the extreme right-wing scene.

Among other statements, Hohmann said Jews had influenced the Communist revolution in Russia and that, “because of the millions of people killed in the first phase of the revolution, one might be justified in calling the Jews ‘perpetrators.’ “

He also said Jews were leaders of the Russian secret service and were involved in executions, and therefore “one could be justified in describing Jews as a ‘nation of perpetrators.’ “

“That might sound shocking,” he continued. “But it follows the same logic according to which Germans are described as a ‘nation of perpetrators.’ “

He said that “those Jews who were committed to Bolshevism and to the revolution had already cut themselves off from religion. They were Jews according to background and upbringing, but their outlook was that of burning hatred against all religion. It was similar with the National Socialists.”

Hours after the speech became the subject of a TV news show on Oct. 30, CDU General Secretary Laurenz Meyer publicly demanded an apology from Hohmann.

Hohmann said in a press statement the next day that “it was and is not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings,” saying he “called neither Jews nor Germans a ‘nation of perpetrators.’ “

But a member of the board of Frankfurt’s Jewish community said Hohmann’s clarification was not enough.

“What he said was racist and anti-Semitic, and a man holding views like this doesn’t really belong in the German Parliament,” Dieter Graumann said in an interview.

The first to take notice of Hohmann’s speech were neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers, said Alfred Schobert, a researcher at the Duisburg Institute for the Study of Linguistics and Society. Until Oct. 27, almost nobody had seen the speech, he said.

On Oct. 27, German neo-Nazi Horst Mahler sent a mailing with the speech to a network of Holocaust deniers.

Observers of the right-wing scene also received the mailing and were “astonished,” Schobert said. “They could not believe this was the authentic speech by a member of the CDU. We looked at the homepage of the CDU in Neuhof and we saw that this text was exactly what Hohmann said. So Horst Mahler reproduced it, and that is where it belongs, in the camp of neo-Nazis.”

“The speech is further evidence of a trend in Germany in which old taboos against anti-Semitic speech are breaking down,” Graumann said.

He cited the examples of German author Martin Walser, who in 1998 accused Jews of using Auschwitz as a “moral cudgel” against Germany, and Juergen Mollemann, the late politician from the Free Democratic Party who in 2001 accused German Jewish leader Michel Friedman of provoking anti-Semitism.

“I am sure Hohmann is reflecting a mood,” Graumann said.

But Benz said he did not think a direct line could be drawn from Mollemann to Hohmann.

Hohmann “is stupid and crazy, he is a real right-wing guy, but this is a unique case in recent history, maybe even since 1945,” he said.

Benz said he hoped the CDU would kick Hohmann out of the party, adding that he was unlikely to leave on his own.

“He is stupid enough to think he would be a hero,” Benz said.

“Hohmann cannot say, ‘I am extremely sorry about this,’ ” Benz added. “The speech was well-prepared and he gave his sources. And the reaction of the German media is quite clear: Everyone is upset about this guy.”

Perhaps most upset is the CDU leadership. Arne Delfs, the party’s deputy speaker, described Hohmann’s remarks as “unbelievable,” and told JTA that Hohmann “was absolutely speaking for himself alone. There is absolutely no support in the CDU for such viewpoints.”

Furthermore, Delfs said, the failure of Mollemann’s controversial statements to gain votes for the FDP in 2002 elections showed that Germans are not susceptible to such propaganda.

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