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Iranian president's comment on Holocaust stirs anger in Germany

BERLIN—Germans in government and out Thursday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a Western myth as the world continued to denounce the Iranian leader and warn that his statements could have broader consequences.

"I thought, my God, he's a Nazi," said Thilo Meyn, 43, as he stood in a bitter wind whistling through the tall, gray tombstonelike pillars that make up Germany's Holocaust-inspired Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. "I couldn't believe that again the world was faced with a Nazi as a head of state. It's beyond comprehension."

Denunciations came from other quarters, too. China rejected Ahmadinejad's remarks, saying they threatened stability and peace. A senior Vatican cardinal called the comments "shocking" and "unacceptable." The Russian Foreign Ministry blasted Ahmadinejad for attempting "to revise generally known historical facts about the Second World War."

Speaking on national television in Iran, Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Western leaders "have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets." He went on to restate his belief that Israel is an illegal nation and should be obliterated, or at least moved to the United States or Canada.

It was the second time in as many months that Ahmadinejad had made such comments. In October, he said the Jewish country should be "wiped off the map."

The reaction was particularly swift and strong in Germany, where it's a crime to deny that the Holocaust happened.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called the statement "incomprehensible." Members of the Bundestag, the German parliament, called for an official condemnation. Jewish leaders called for economic sanctions, and sports leaders discussed banning the Iranian soccer team from next summer's World Cup here.

Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier warned that the comments "would burden" Iran's negotiations with Germany, France and the United Kingdom about producing nuclear power. He said Iran needed "to understand that the EU patience is not endless."

Germans have dedicated years of education, media attention and public discourse to the Holocaust to make sure that the kind of ethnic hatred that allowed Adolf Hitler to order the murder of 6 million European Jews doesn't ever take hold again.

German schoolchildren first study the Holocaust as fifth-graders, and Germans still live with it daily, surrounded by reminders, from the preservation of the Wansee Conference estate, where Hitler's ministers planned the "final solution" in idyllic surroundings, to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where Nazis tested poison showers down the hall from a crematorium. Plaques along German streets recall the names of people who were killed.

"We teach a lot about families and how children suffered, trying to make it seem as personal as possible," said Erika Logemann, who's 65. "In seventh grade, and then again in high school, students are taught more about the bigger picture."

Logemann spoke as she visited Berlin's Holocaust memorial, which opened this year on ground near the bunker where Hitler committed suicide in 1945.

In the memorial's information center, photos and plans line the walls, next to diary entries such as this one by Szlojme Fajne, who wrote from a Nazi death camp in Poland: "After lunch corpses from five vehicles were buried. From one vehicle, a young woman was thrown out with a baby at her breast. It suckled its mother's milk and died."

Hannelore Kaiser, 72, who was walking through the central memorial, said she was especially appalled that a national leader would question what so obviously had been proved.

"Maybe because I saw it as a child, I don't have a need to question that it happened," she said. "Every German should come here, then, to remind them. Everyone should remember the horrible results of such hatred. If not, it will happen again."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): GERMANY-IRAN

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