BERLIN — The deputy governor of Germany’s Bavaria state defended himself Thursday against mounting allegations that he was responsible for an antisemitic flyer, gave the Hitler salute, and imitated the Nazi dictator as a high school student — claims that have caused an uproar weeks before a state election.
Pressure has been growing on Hubert Aiwanger, who is also Bavaria's economy minister, to explain himself, as German media have been confronting him with more allegations since the first report about the antisemitic flyer was published last week.
Aiwanger told reporters in Munich that “I emphasize again I did not write the pamphlet.”
“I don’t remember ever giving a Hitler salute. I did not rehearse Hitler’s speeches in front of the mirror," Aiwanger said. "Further accusations, like demeaning jokes, I can neither completely deny nor confirm from my memory. If this has happened, I apologize for it.”
Aiwanger did previously admit that several copies of the flyer had been found in his school bag when he was 17, but his brother later came forward claiming he had written it.
The printed flyer calling for entries to a competition titled “Who is the biggest traitor to the fatherland?” It listed, among other things, a “1st prize: a free flight through the chimney at Auschwitz.”
On Tuesday, Bavarian Governor Markus Soeder responded to the growing outrage over the allegations, by telling his deputy that he had not done enough to prove he wasn’t responsible for the antisemitic flyer. He ordered him to answer a detailed questionnaire to clear himself of any possible involvement in the scandal.
Aiwanger has not yet answered the questions, but said he would do so.
Among several issues, Aiwanger has so far not explained why he was carrying the flyers in his school bag.
On Tuesday, he apologized for the first time saying that "I deeply regret if I have hurt feelings by my behavior in relation to the pamphlet in question or further accusations against me from my youth. My sincere apologies go first and foremost to all the victims of the (Nazi) regime.”
At his press statement on Tuesday, Aiwanger also tried depicting himself as the victim of a smear campaign.
“I have the impression that I’m to be beaten up politically and personally,” he said defiantly.
The head of the country's leading Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the apology but dismissed Aiwanger's efforts to present himself as the actual victim.
Josef Schuster, told daily Bild that "Aiwanger’s apology to the victims and survivors of the Shoah was a good, if long overdue, step,” using the Hebrew name for the Holocaust. “Regrettably, he combines this with a complaint about a political motivation for the accusations and continues to lack the will for open clarification," Schuster added.
In the Holocaust, the Germans and their henchmen murdered 6 million European Jews.
Aiwanger, now 52, leads the Free Voters, a party that is a conservative force in Bavaria but has no seats in Germany’s national parliament. He has served as the state’s deputy governor and economy minister since 2018, when his party became the junior partner in a regional government under Bavaria’s long-dominant center-right Christian Social Union.
The scandal comes at an especially inconvenient time for Soeder, who is also the CSU leader. Bavaria has a state election scheduled for Oct. 8., and Soeder is hoping to continue leading Germany’s southernmost state in a coalition with Aiwanger and his Free Voters.
Soeder has also been cited as a possible conservative candidate for chancellor in Germany's next election though he's always denied any ambitions and said his place is in Bavaria.