A leading member of the nationalist party Alternative for Germany is facing fierce criticism after calling for a racially charged term once favored by the Nazis to be rehabilitated.

Party co-chairwoman Frauke Petry said in an interview published Sunday that words such as "voelkisch" should be given "a positive connotation." Frequently used by the Nazis, the term refers to people who belong to a particular race.

Petry's remarks to weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag prompted a swift backlash from politicians, commentators and historians. They warned that her party is trying to legitimize ideas that once were at the core of Adolf Hitler's Nazi ideology.

In an editorial Monday, daily Neue Westfaelische called Petry's comments "disgusting," while Green Party lawmaker Volker Beck described them as "dangerous arson."