MUNICH, Germany — A powerful German state leader ordered a probe Tuesday into an antisemitism scandal within his ruling coalition just weeks ahead of a key regional election.
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder, who has ambitions to also lead Germany, had earlier called crisis talks between his conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and his junior partners, the populist Free Voters, over an affair that emerged at the weekend.
Free Voters leader Hubert Aiwanger, who is also Soeder’s deputy in the state government, allegedly produced a flyer as a teenager mocking Holocaust victims.
Witnesses told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Aiwanger had been disciplined by his school three decades ago for the leaflet, which proposed a satirical quiz on “the biggest fatherland traitor” and offered as a prize “a free trip through the chimney in Auschwitz.”
Aiwanger has denied being behind the leaflet and over the weekend his brother assumed responsibility for the text, which Soeder on Tuesday described as “disgusting, revolting and the most ghastly Nazi jargon.”
He told reporters after the emergency coalition talks that he was not satisfied with Aiwanger’s explanation and demanded he reply in writing to 25 questions about the affair.
“This isn’t just a foolish youth prank,” he said, adding that “even the suspicion” that Aiwanger was behind the flyer “damages the image of Bavaria.”
“There is no place for antisemitism in the Bavarian state government,” he added.
The report of the flyer sparked widespread outrage in Germany, which is still atoning for the slaughter of six million European Jews in the Holocaust.
The Free Voters, which describes its platform as rooted in “conservative values,” have served in the Bavarian government since 2018. They have seats in the European Parliament but are not represented in Germany’s Bundestag.
Soeder said he hoped to continue the alliance after the Bavarian state poll on October 8 but, in a clear warning to Aiwanger, noted that “coalitions are not dependent on a single person.”
The brash Bavarian premier has a national profile, having made a bid to lead the conservatives into the last general election in 2021. After a bitter power struggle, he ceded the candidacy to Armin Laschet, who ultimately lost to Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats.