A senior member the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has provoked outrage after appearing to attack Berlin’s Holocaust memorial while calling for the country to take a more "positive" attitude towards its history.
A speech by Björn Höcke, the AfD’s state leader in Thuringia, caused one Left party politician to report him for inciting racial hatred.
“Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital,” he told supporters in Dresden, which is the home of the anti-Islam Pegida movement.
The comment was understood to refer to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, which pays tribute to the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime using five acres covered with almost 3,000 commemorative blocks.
Hundreds of gathered supporters applauded as Mr Höcke’s described Germans as a “brutally defeated people” and called on the country to stop atoning for Nazi crimes.
He said the country needed to perform a “180-degree turnaround'' when remembering its past and likened Angela Merkel to the last Communist leader of East Germany, sparking chants of “Merkel must go”.
"This laughable policy of coming to terms with the past is crippling us,” Mr Höcke said, claiming that reduction had been imposed on Germany after 1945.
"There were no German victims any more, only German perpetrators,” he added, after referencing the firebombing of Dresden.
The speech was condemned by politicians across the spectrum, including members of the AfD who warned that the approach could “damage the acceptance of the party among citizens”.
Germany's Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said it had sent shivers down his spine.
“Never, never must we allow ourselves to let the demagogy of a Björn Höcke go unchallenged,” he added.
Josef Schuster, chairman of the Central Council of Jews, said that the AfD had “shown its true face with these anti-Semitic and utterly inhuman words.”
Diether Dehmn, of the Left party, said he was reporting Mr Höcke and believed he had been emboldened by the federal constitutional court’s decision not to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), despite finding it had an “affinity” with Nazism and used anti-Semitic language.
Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung Mr Höcke had been unmasked as a “right-wing extremist”.
“Höcke is a Nazi, I’m glad that most of the population is reacting to his statement with disgust and horror,” he added.
As the furore continued, Mr Höcke released a statement saying any suggestion he had criticised the Holocaust memorial was “a malicious and deliberately denigratory interpretation of what I actually said”.
Germany reacts to Cologne New Year's Eve attacks
Germany reacts to Cologne New Year's Eve attacks
Women protest against sexism outside Cologne Cathedral on 5 January after the assaults
Women protest against sexism in Cologne following the rash of sex attacks on New Year's Eve
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Police officers patrol in front of the main station of Cologne, Germany
German far-right supporters demonstrate at Cologne`s train station (Reuters)
Supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016.
Police used pepper spray to control supporters of Pegida, Hogesa (Hooligans against Salafists) and other right-wing populist groups as they protested against the New Year's Eve sex attacks on 9 January, 2016 in Cologne, Germany
Police use a water cannon during a protest march by supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016
Police use pepper spray against supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida, in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016.
Artist Mira Moiré protests naked in Cologne against the mass sex attacks on New Year's Eve
A demonstrator holds a sign in German that reads 'No violence against women' during a demonstration in the wake of the sexual assaults on New Year's Eve, outside the cathedeal in Cologne, Germany, 09 January 2016.
Counter demonstrators hold up a sign reading "Against sexism, against racism" as they protest against a demonstration of the islamophobic movement PEGIDA at the train station in Cologne, Germany, on January 9, 2016.
Demonstration by a women’s group on Saturday (AP)
“In my Dresden speech I wanted to ask how we Germans look at our history,” he said, adding there were other aspects to German history as well as guilt, such as poets and composers.
The AfD politician has previously been compared to Goebbels for remarks including claims that Africans are "fundamentally different" to Europeans and that the "German Volk" are being threatened by migrants.
His party has long been accused of racial discrimination and hate speech, but its members include more moderate conservatives and Eurosceptics seeking an alternative to Ms Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Its rhetoric has won support amid concern over the refugee crisis, terror attacks in Germany and mass sex assaults in Cologne.
With polls putting it on 12-15 per cent of national support, the AfD is tipped to win seats in the Bundestag for the first time in September's national election.
Additional reporting by ReutersReuse content