German far right AfD chief accused of echoing Hitler
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German historians Wednesday accused far-right leader Alexander Gauland of paraphrasing Adolf Hitler in a newspaper column taking aim at a "globalised class" that he claimed threatens all that is good in his "homeland".
The co-leader of the anti-immigration AfD rejected allegations of parallels with a 1933 speech by Hitler, but the latest episode is yet another controversy raising questions over his party's views on the Nazi era.
Separately, his party also came under fire for starting online portals for students to denounce teachers who allegedly flout a political neutrality rule by criticising the AfD in classes.
In a guest commentary for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), published Saturday, Gauland wrote that the "globalised class" occupies positions in mainstream organisations from international corporations to the media to universities, and are also in key political parties.
"Their members live almost exclusively in big cities, speak fluent English, and when they move from Berlin to London or Singapore for jobs, they find similar apartments, houses, restaurants, shops and private schools everywhere.
"This group socialises among itself but is culturally 'diverse'," he wrote, adding that they have no attachments to their homeland.
He argued that the AfD stands against this group which, if left unchecked, would threaten "what makes our country and our continent worth living in".
Historian Wolfgang Benz, a prominent researcher on the Nazi era, noted however that Gauland's commentary was strikingly similar to a speech made by Hitler in 1933.
"It's a paraphrase that looks like the AfD chief had the Fuehrer's speech from 1933 on his desk when he was writing his column for the FAZ," wrote Benz in Tagesspiegel daily.
Gauland had simply modernised the criticism, added Benz.
'Rootless, international clique'
Hitler, addressing workers at the Siemens Dynamo Works in Berlin in November 1933, railed against a "small, rootless, international clique".
They are "the people who are at home both nowhere and everywhere, who do not have anywhere a soil on which they have grown up, but who live in Berlin today, in Brussels tomorrow, Paris the day after that, and then again in Prague or Vienna or London, and who feel at home everywhere," he said, as a man in the audience shouts "the Jews!"
Historian Michael Wolffsohn said it was no accident Gauland had written his column in this manner.
"It is bad that Gauland is signalling to his educated followers that he knows the speech and style of Hitler's speech and that he is transferring Hitler's accusations against the Jews to the opponents of the AfD today," said Wolffsohn.
Christoph Heubner, the vice-president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said Holocaust "survivors recognise Gauland's strategy through their own life experiences during the Nazi years."
This included, he said, "stigmatising people and characterising them as alien and rootless within the homegrown society, and then mobilising popular sentiment against them".
Leading members of the AfD have come under fire repeatedly for comments that appear to play down the Holocaust.
Gauland in June described the Nazi period as a mere "speck of bird poo in over 1,000 years of successful German history".
Another leading AfD politician, Bjoern Hoecke, has criticised the sprawling Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a "monument of shame".
Meanwhile, the AfD raised heckles for its plans to launch online platforms allowing students to file complaints against teachers who speak out against the party in class.
For Saxony state's education minister Christian Piwarz, that is "disgusting snooping on people's ideologies, like during the time of the Nazi dictatorship or from the Stasi".
The AfD won more than 90 seats in parliament in last year's general election as it capitalised on popular anger against Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal refugee policy that resulted in a record refugee influx in 2015.