German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came under fire on Friday for grouping together Jews and members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) as victims of the Holocaust.
“Social Democrats were, like the Jews, the first victims of the Holocaust,” Gabriel, SPD’s former chairman, wrote in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. “The Social Democrats were the victims of political persecution, the others (Jews) were victims of race madness.”
The op-ed sparked fresh outrage following a diplomatic spat between Israel and Germany earlier last week, which resulted in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceling a meeting with Gabriel due to the latter’s meetings with nonprofit organizations that campaign against Israel’s military.
“It is very unfortunate that an unnecessary and historically incorrect statement found its way into the political storm,” stated Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center.
“Gabriel’s claim is a negative exploitation of the memory of the Holocaust,” said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
German historian Dr. Elvira Gruzinger told Yedioth Ahronoth, “Equating Jewish victims who were murdered for being born Jewish, and Social Democrats who were political rivals [to the Nazis] is unacceptable.”
Amid the controversy, Gabriel’s article was amended to state, “The Social Democrats, like the Jews, were the first victims of the Nazis.”
A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry reaffirmed Gabriel’s commitment to Israel’s security and acceptance of Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust. (JNS)