By Joseph Nasr
BERLIN (Reuters) – The director of the memorial at the largest Nazi concentration camp on German soil barred the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) from attending a commemoration on Friday for the 56,000 people who perished there in the Holocaust.
Volkhard Knigge, director of the Buchenwald Memorials Foundation, told AfD politicians in the state of Thuringia where the camp is located he was responding to anti-democratic, racist and anti-Semitic tendencies in the party.
“The Buchenwald Memorials believes that representatives of the AfD must not take part in the ceremony on its premises while they haven’t credibly distanced themselves from their party’s anti-democratic, anti-human rights and revisionist positions,” Knigge wrote in a letter.
The AfD, which rejects charges of racism, expressed regret at the decision to ban it from taking part in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Buchenwald concentration camp near the city of Weimar ahead of Sunday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Mr. Knigge is such a prisoner of his friend-enemy dichotomy that he is unable to build bridges on an important memorial day like today,” said Stefan Moeller, an AfD lawmaker in the Thuringia state parliament.
Knigge’s decision reflects wider unease about the rise of the AfD among a large section of Germans who fret at the party’s crude nationalism, including its declaration that Islam is incompatible with the German constitution.
The rise of the AfD, which has representatives in all of Germany’s 16 regional assemblies, has alarmed Jewish leaders who accuse it of contributing to a rise in anti-Semitism.
The AfD also entered the lower house of the federal parliament in Berlin, the Bundestag, for the first time in a 2017 national election, drawing support from an array of voters angry with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome almost a million, mainly Muslim, asylum seekers.
Buchenwald director Knigge specifically took issue with Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD’s leader in Thuringia, who told supporters two years ago that Berlin’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was a “memorial of shame” and that history books should be rewritten to focus more on German victims.
Germany’s domestic spy agency said this month it would investigate the AfD to see whether its policies breached constitutional safeguards against extremism.
The agency said it would pay closer attention to the AfD’s youth wing and elements close to Hoecke. The AfD leadership has condemned the investigation and said it would take legal action.
This week, AfD lawmakers in the Bavarian parliament staged a walkout during a speech by a Jewish community leader and Holocaust survivor after she accused the party of playing down Nazi crimes.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Alison Williams)