While calling the Holocaust a “singular crime,” Gauland also raised questions about Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security and defended the record of German soldiers during World War II. He noted that only a small percentage of German troops committed war crimes and that the German armed forces, in contrast to the SS, was not deemed a “criminal organization” during the Nuremberg trials, even though German military leaders were tried as war criminals. (The U.S. Holocaust Museum dismisses this argument as the “myth of the ‘clean Wehrmacht.’”)
“A lot of political discussions that have nothing to do with history often end in the remembrance of Auschwitz,” Gauland told me. “That is a problem in Germany.”
Below is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.
Uri Friedman: Since the German election, the AfD has often been described as one of the first far-right parties to enter the German parliament since the end of World War II. What people are suggesting in saying this is that the extreme right, with all its associations with Nazis and neo-Nazis, is on the rise again in Germany. What would you say to those who worry about this development?
Alexander Gauland: I can’t see any connections with far-right wing policy. We have been a liberal-conservative party and we are a bit right of [Angela Merkel’s] Christian Democratic party. But the reason is that the Christian Democratic party [or CDU] has moved to the left.
You may remember the famous saying of [the late conservative German politician] Franz Josef Strauss, “There should be no party right of the CDU.” But because of Angela Merkel’s refugee “welcome” policy, which was opposed by a lot of people who voted for us, there is enough room now right of the CDU.
Friedman: Would your party have been as successful if the refugee crisis hadn’t happened?
Gauland: We have a lot of other [causes]—direct democracy, referendums, we don’t like Islamic invasion. But I think the refugee “welcome” policy of Angela Merkel was the main reason for our success.
Friedman: Now that you’re the third-largest party in parliament, you’ve promised to “hunt” Angela Merkel. What do you mean by that?
Gauland: I did not mean “hunt” Angela Merkel as a person. But I like British parliamentary policy, and the opposition has the task to make many difficulties for the government party. This is what I meant by “hunting.” It had nothing to do with force or gunpowder. It was a symbolic expression that we are the only real opposition party in parliament.
Friedman: You say you want to put Germany “first.” You campaigned on populist-nationalist policies of hardening Germany’s borders and restricting immigration, particularly Muslim immigration. Many people therefore compare your agenda to Donald Trump’s. Is that a fair comparison?
Gauland: I am very careful about trying to compare different, as you call it, “populist” parties in Europe and America. Trump was brought in [to power] by economic problems—by what you call the “Rust Belt” and the high jobless figure of the white workforce. We have a cultural problem, not an economic problem, because Germany is very successful [economically].