'A Bad Character' Expellee Leader Steinbach Insults Veteran Polish Politician

Politician Erika Steinbach, who represents Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after the war, has insulted former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. In a interview, she said the Auschwitz survivor, who is also Poland's commissioner for German-Polish relations, has a "bad character."

Erika Steinbach said Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and former Polish foreign minister, had a "bad character."

Erika Steinbach said Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and former Polish foreign minister, had a "bad character."

Conservative German politician Erika Steinbach, the head of a group that represents Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II, has a long history of making controversial statements, most of which appeared to be deliberately intended to enrage Germany's Polish neighbors. But she seems to have surpassed even her own impressive track record with her latest comments, in which she attacked an Auschwitz survivor who is one of Poland's most respected politicians.

Steinbach sharply attacked Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a member of the Polish government who is responsible for Polish-German relations, on Thursday morning. "Bartoszewski has a bad character," Steinbach, who is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, told the German public television station ARD. "I say that without any ifs or buts." She justified her statement by referring to her "personal experience" and said that she "held back" with her views for "a very long time."

Steinbach, 67, said she had great sympathy for the emotions that Poles felt -- and that she had deep compassion for all the victims of the German occupation -- but she had a low opinion of certain individuals. "I greatly admired Bartoszewski," she said. She had written him "heartfelt letters" years ago, she said, but had never gotten a reply. Instead, she said, she had received a public reaction. "One can conclude certain things from that."

In recent years, Bartoszewski, an 88-year-old former Polish foreign minister, had sharply criticized Steinbach on a number of occasions, and reportedly recently compared Steinbach to the British Holocaust denier Richard Williamson. As a young man, Bartoszewski was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Nazis, but he was released in April 1941 after becoming seriously ill.

'Don't Read What the Woman Says'

In response to Steinbach's comments, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who has made it his aim to improve German-Polish relations, expressed his support for Bartoszewski. The former foreign minister was "an honorable individual who had done great work over his lifetime to promote German-Polish reconciliation," a spokesman for Westerwelle said.

Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir also criticized Steinbach, saying she had crossed a line. "I no longer take her seriously," Özdemir said. "I tell all my political friends: Ignore it, don't read what the woman says."

Bartoszewski himself gave a relaxed response to Steinbach's comments. He greatly appreciates the opinions of 41 million German women, but he is indifferent to Steinbach's views, he said in Warsaw.

Steinbach is the president of the League of Expellees, which represents the interests of ethnic Germans expelled from parts of Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Eastern Europe after World War II. The politician has been deeply unpopular in Poland since 1991, when, as a member of the German parliament, she voted against the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's western border. She also later voiced reservations about the country's accession to the European Union.

Only last week, she came in for heavy criticism from within her own party, for remarks she made about Poland's role in World War II. During a meeting of the management committee of the CDU's parliamentary group, she claimed that Poland had mobilized its forces in March 1939 -- in other words, months before Germany invaded in September 1939. She was subsequently accused of implying that Poland shared responsibility for starting the war, a charge she later denied. Reacting to the criticism, she announced she would no longer run as a candidate for her party's national executive committee, after serving 10 years on the board.

dgs - with wire reports


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