Hubert Aiwanger, head of the Free Voters party, campaigns ahead of Bavarian state elections in Maisach, Germany, July 24, 2023. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

A Nazi pamphlet controversy looms large in a local German election — and could affect the national vote

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A Nazi pamphlet controversy looms large in a local German election — and could affect the national vote

Hubert Aiwanger, head of the Free Voters party, campaigns ahead of Bavarian state elections in Maisach, Germany, July 24, 2023. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The deputy premier of Bavaria, the German state where Munich is located, is ensnared in a scandal that involves a Nazi pamphlet from his high school years and could affect multiple upcoming elections.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Hubert Aiwanger, now head of the populist Free Voters party, distributed a pamphlet that mocks victims of the Holocaust when he was 17.

Aiwanger said he did not write the pamphlet, which he called “disgusting and inhumane,” but he admitted to having copies of it in his school bag at one point. The pamphlet called Auschwitz an “entertainment quarter” and proposed a quiz titled “Who is the biggest traitor to the Fatherland?”

The Süddeutsche Zeitung had cited several witnesses in its report, which claimed Aiwanger was once a “Nazi admirer.”

The episode is impacting Bavaria’s premier, Markus Söder, who leads a governing coalition that includes Aiwanger’s party. Analysts say that Söder, a brash Donald Trump-like figure who heads Bavaria’s Christian Socialist Union party — which is slightly different than but affiliated with former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party — has ambitions to become the country’s chancellor, or head of government.

Söder called his deputy’s response to the controversy insufficient and on Tuesday demanded that Aiwanger answer a series of 25 questions about the affair and his views on antisemitism.

Söder’s political rivals have pounced on the incident. Chancellor Olaf Scholz threatened “political consequences” if the issue is not “cleared up comprehensively and immediately.”

In Germany, the legacy of the Holocaust plays a central role in political discourse, and multiple reports claim Söder’s ambitions could take a strong hit if he does not drop Aiwanger from his coalition. The controversy comes ahead of a local October election in which Söder’s CSU is polling at 39% and Aiwanger’s Free Voters party, which is second behind the CSU, was polling at 12 to 14%. A national election is scheduled for 2025. 

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