Europe

German vice chancellor condemns populist's Holocaust remarks

  • FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2016 file photo Bjoern Hoecke, chairman of the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) in the German state Thuringia, delivers a speech at the Political Ash Wednesday rally of of the German party Alternative fuer Deutschland, AfD, (Alternative for Germany) in Guesten, central Germany. Hoecke said Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017 that the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust is a "monument of shame." He told party supporters in the eastern city of Dresden that no other country would erect such a memorial in its capital and called instead for Germany to take a "positive" attitude toward its history. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file)

    FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2016 file photo Bjoern Hoecke, chairman of the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) in the German state Thuringia, delivers a speech at the Political Ash Wednesday rally of of the German party Alternative fuer Deutschland, AfD, (Alternative for Germany) in Guesten, central Germany. Hoecke said Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017 that the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust is a "monument of shame." He told party supporters in the eastern city of Dresden that no other country would erect such a memorial in its capital and called instead for Germany to take a "positive" attitude toward its history. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file)  (The Associated Press)

  • Snow lightly coats the stelae at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.  (Jens Kalaene/dpa via AP)

    Snow lightly coats the stelae at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jens Kalaene/dpa via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • From left, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    From left, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)  (The Associated Press)

Germany's vice chancellor on Wednesday harshly condemned remarks by a prominent member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, who suggested ending the country's decades-long tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

Sigmar Gabriel wrote on Facebook that even though he knows the AfD party thrives on provocation, the comments by Bjoern Hoecke, who leads the party in the eastern state of Thuringia, were "shocking."

"This is not just some kind of provocation," Gabriel wrote. "We must never let this kind of demagoguery be undisputed."

Hoecke had called the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust a "monument of shame." He told party supporters in the eastern city of Dresden that no other country would erect such a memorial in its capital and called instead for Germany to take a "positive" attitude toward its history. He also said Germany needs to perform a "180-degree turn" when it comes to remembering its past.

Nazi Germany was responsible for the murder of more than 6 million Jews and other minorities before and during World War II.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is situated in downtown Berlin near the city's landmark Brandenburg Gate. It's an uneven field of thousands of concrete slabs, comparable to a gigantic graveyard.

Gabriel said Hoecke had insinuated that dealing with the Nazi past belittles Germans, but opposite was correct: "Learning from our history was the premise for Germany to be respected worldwide."

Gabriel, a Social Democrat, said he entered politics decades ago partly as a protest against his own father's Nazi convictions.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany also criticized Hoecke's remarks, calling them as "deeply upsetting and totally unacceptable."

"With these anti-Semitic and inhuman words, the AfD shows its true face," Josef Schuster said. "I would not have dared to think that 70 years after the Shoah such remarks by a politician in Germany would be possible."