German right-wing lawmaker barred from Holocaust event

Berlin (AFP) - A German right-wing populist politician was barred Friday from a Holocaust memorial event after he sparked outrage by arguing his country should focus less on its guilt over the Nazi past.

Bjoern Hoecke of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) had labelled Berlin's central Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame in the heart of the capital".

Hoecke, AfD chairman in Thuringia state, also called in his January 17 speech for "a 180-degree shift in the politics of remembrance", arguing Germany should focus less on its shame over World War II and the Holocaust.

When Hoecke showed up Friday at the Thuringia state assembly, the speaker barred him from attending a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day and honouring those killed at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The speaker of the regional parliament, Christian Carius, said he had told Hoecke that "his presence would be seen as a provocation" and barred him from the chamber, reported news agency DPA.

Another row was brewing after Hoecke said Thursday he planned to attend a Holocaust memorial event at the Buchenwald memorial site, despite a request by organisers there that he stay away.

"After this speech... Mr Hoecke's participation in the wreath laying in the former Buchenwald concentration camp is not acceptable," wrote Rikola-Gunnar Luettgenau, the deputy head of the foundation which manages the memorial site.

Hoecke immediately replied in a letter that was quoted by German media as saying: "It is simply not up to you to decide who can participate... in this official commemoration and who cannot," adding that he was "obviously" sticking to his plan to attend the event later on Friday.

French Holocaust survivor Bertrand Herz, 86, spoke out against any "attempts to trivialise the commemoration" of the victims.

"The survivors of Nazi barbarism and the relatives of those murdered cannot allow the importance of the Holocaust to be relativised and the memory of the victims to be degraded," wrote Herz.

The remarks by Hoecke, a former history teacher who is considered to be on the right-wing fringe of the party, caused debate within the AfD but it ultimately decided against expelling him.

The AfD, which started as a eurosceptic party in 2013, has since shifted to mainly railing against multiculturalism, Islam and the over one million asylum seekers who arrived since 2015 under Chancellor Angela Merkel, its declared enemy.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the January 27, 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, to honour the memory of the six million European Jews and the millions of other victims of the Nazi genocide.

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