German general sacked for praising MP's anti-semitism

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The Independent Online

The head of Germany's elite special forces was summarily dismissed from his post yesterday for praising a flagrantly anti-Semitic speech by a right-wing conservative MP which described the Jews as a "race of perpetrators".

Brigadier-General Reinhard Guenzel, commander of Germany's crack KSK special forces and a 40-year veteran of the armed forces, was fired with immediate effect. His dismissal was coupled with a Defence Ministry recommendation that he be retired from all army duties at once. Peter Struck, the German Defence Minister, said: "I have decided to relieve him of his command and to dismiss him. With that, the case is closed for me.

"This is not an honourable discharge. It is the case of one confused general agreeing with an even more confused MP. His remarks were intolerable and have damaged the reputation of the German army."

General Guenzel's unprecedented sacking followed a German television report which revealed that the 59-year-old commander of the equivalent of Britain's SAS had praised a recent anti-Semitic speech by the opposition Christian Democrat MP Martin Hohmann in glowing terms. "It was an excellent speech, of a courage, truth and clarity, which one seldom hears or reads in our country," General Guenzel wrote in a letter that was leaked yesterday.

Mr Hohmann, in an address to his constituency in west Germany last month, claimed that the Jews had acted like a "race of perpetrators" during the Russian revolution of 1917 and that large numbers of them were involved in Communist secret police massacres. He said their actions were comparable to those of the Nazis.

Mr Hohmann, who apologised for his remarks last week, was rebuked by the Christian Democrat leadership, but not asked to resign as an MP. However, German Jewish leaders said his comments "reached into the lowest drawer of disgusting anti-Semitism" and historians dismissed his claims as "amateur rubbish".

General Guenzel wrote to Mr Hohmann to congratulate him on his remarks. An excerpt from his letter read: "You can be sure that with your opinions, you are speaking from the soul for a majority of our people. I hope you will not be put off by criticism from the left and that you will hold your course with courage."

Germany's special forces, the Kommando Spezialkraefte, were created in the 1990s after German reunification. They recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where they were at the forefront of Germany's first combat operation outside Europe since the Second World War. German troops under the command of General Guenzel took part in last year's US-led Operation Anaconda on suspected Taliban and al-Qai'da hold-outs in the mountains of Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province. The special forces have been in the forefront of Germany's attempts to take on more of a role in helping to contain international flashpoints.

Germany's Central Council of Jews yesterday said it had begun legal proceedings in an attempt to prosecute Mr Hohmann for incitement to racial hatred. Paul Spiegel, the council's chairman, told German radio he could not understand why the Christian Democrats had allowed him to continue as an MP. "Hohmann has caught a particular mood in Germany," he said. "Hundreds of people heard his speech. Nobody got annoyed. They applauded. It is a scandal that so many people simply accepted it. How can a German government, how can a German political party accept that such statements are made from their ranks? People abroad can't understand it."