In the end, Günther Oettinger, governor of the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, finally decided to apologize for his controversial eulogy last week for former German politician and ex-Nazi Hans Filbinger. In the tabloid Bild newspaper on Monday, Oettinger said he was sorry if his speech hurt Nazi victims and their families.
"The public interpreted my speech differently than I meant it ...," he said in the interview. "I regret that and today I would say it differently."
But given the amount of attention Oettinger's speech last Wednesday has so far received -- and the delayed apology -- the governor's repentance may have come too late. Worse, some are even accusing the prominent Christian Democrat (CDU) of dealing a major blow to Germany's ongoing quest to confront its Nazi past. Even fellow CDU member Chancellor Angela Merkel saw fit to criticize Oettinger's speech last Friday, saying it completely ignored the victims of Nazi violence.
In his speech, Oettinger claimed that Filbinger, who died earlier this month at the age of 93, "was not a National Socialist. On the contrary, he was opposed to the Nazi regime." He also said no one had lost their life as a result of a verdict from Filbinger, who was a military judge for the German navy as the war came to a close.
A convinced Nazi
Both claims, unfortunately for Oettinger, are untrue. Historian Rolf Hochhuth demonstrated in 1978 -- the year that Filbinger was forced to resign as governor of Baden-Württemberg as a result of his Nazi past -- that Filbinger had sentenced one Walter Gröger to death for desertion in the closing days of World War II. Gröger, 22, was shot on March 16, 1945. He also sentenced two other deserters to death in abstentia -- penalties which were never carried out. Likewise, Filbinger's writings from 1935 -- replete with references to the value of a pure German race -- seem to indicate that he was a convinced Nazi.
Still, it was Filbinger's refusal to show regret for his Nazi past that ultimately resulted in the sudden end to his political career in 1978. Similarly, Oettinger's own clumsy handling of the outrage triggered by his Wednesday speech has only made matters worse. His first attempt to apologize for his remarks, made over the weekend, merely voiced regret at the response to his comments.
And there have been many. Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck has called for his resignation and accused him of trying to attract voters from the extreme right wing. Prominent German historian Hans Mommsen charged Oettinger with being cowardly for not talking more openly about Filbinger's World War II career. And Stephan Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, likewise demanded that Oettinger step down.
Kramer on Monday likewise argued that Oettinger's apology in Bild was not enough. "The apology is, of course, just the first step," Kramer told German radio. "In the meantime, the back-and-forth and the governor's repeated affirmation of his own comments have resulted in damage -- especially, through his revisionist comments, to the confrontation with Nazi history -- that cannot be fixed by a simple apology."