Angela Merkel on Friday launched a rare attack against a senior Christian Democrat ally over a disgraced Nazi-era judge, raising questions about whether the chancellor’s party had fully come to terms with Germany’s wartime past.
Ms Merkel said Günther Oettinger, premier of the deeply conservative southern state of Baden-Württemberg, had ignored “critical questions” about Germany’s historical responsibilities when he this week claimed Hans Filbinger – the ex-judge and former top CDU politician – had been an “opponent”, not a “supporter” of the Nazis.
Mr Oettinger made the comments on Wednesday at Filbinger’s funeral, despite the fact that the former judge had resigned as Baden-Württemberg premier in 1978 after evidence came to light that he had worked for the Nazi regime.
Pressure was on Friday night growing on Mr Oettinger to apologise or resign, as Germany’s Jewish community called the funeral comments “disgraceful, dangerous and absurd”. Mr Oettinger’s regional coalition allies in Baden-Württemberg, the liberal Free Democrats, also last night distanced themselves from the premier.
Opposition parties said the comments would boost Germany’s far-right parties, while the Social Democrats – Ms Merkel’s coalition allies – expressed concern over the CDU’s lack of historical awareness. Hubertus Heil, SPD general secretary, said Mr Oettinger’s comments were “morally wrong” and worrying as they “were aimed tactically” at mobilising rightwing support in the CDU and elsewhere.
In a sign of the seriousness of the unfolding scandal, Ms Merkel – who is also CDU chairwoman – interrupted her holiday to ring Mr Oettinger to complain. She said afterwards that she “would have preferred that [in Mr Oettinger’s speech] in addition to appreciating the achievements of Hans Filbinger as premier, the critical questions in connection with the National Socialist period had also been mentioned”.
Mr Oettinger refused to comment yesterday but on Thursday defended his funeral comments. He told worshippers at the service in Freiburg, southern Germany, that Filbinger – state premier from 1966 to 1978 – was “an opponent of the National Socialists”. He added that there had been no court sentences passed by Filbinger in the second world war “as a result of which a person had lost their life”.
Despite Filbinger’s resignation the regional CDU maintained close ties with him until his death, but Mr Oettinger’s attempt to rehabilitate him fully were met with astonishment by historians and political analysts.
Historians pointed to evidence that Filbinger was a member of the Nazi party, and had passed death sentences against German military deserters, which were subsequently not carried out. He had been involved as a prosecutor in the death sentence and later execution of a deserter in March 1945, they added.
Karl-Rudolf Korte, politics professor at Duisburg university, said Mr Oettinger’s comments marked the “breaking of a taboo”. He said Ms Merkel’s comments were significant as they reflected her “strong stance against the far-right in Germany”.