German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman on Wednesday said contemporary comparisons with Nazi atrocities were generally ill-advised, after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized for an “insensitive” analogy to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“Any comparison of current situations with the crimes of National Socialism leads to nothing good,” the spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters when asked about Spicer’s remarks.
On Tuesday, Spicer stunned the Washington press corps by incorrectly telling reporters that Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II.
His words were an attempt to illustrate the magnitude of assessments that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad used sarin gas in an assault last week on Khan Sheikhoun, a town in Syria’s Idlib province.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said. “You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
Prompted to explain his initial comments, Spicer then issued a number of clarifications, saying he knew millions of Jews and other victims of the Nazis were killed in what he called “Holocaust centers” in Nazi-occupied Europe, many in gas chambers, but that “when it comes to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his people the same way that Ashad [sic] is doing.”
In a subsequent statement to reporters meant to clarify his remarks once again, he said, “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
Spicer apologized for his remarks later Tuesday.
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week, using chemical weapons and gas, and frankly I mistakenly used an inappropriate, insensitive reference to the Holocaust — for which, frankly, there is no comparison,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“For that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
Spicer took pains to distance his boss, US President Donald Trump, from his comments.
“My comments today did not reflect the president’s, were a distraction from him and frankly were misstated, insensitive and wrong.” He added, “Obviously it was my blunder.”
Spicer’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from both US Jewish groups and politicians, including calls for his resignation from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
Also on Wednesday, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum said that Spicer’s comments “strengthen the hands of those whose goal is to distort history.”
“His statements imply a profound lack of knowledge of events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust,” the Jerusalem based memorial center said, while also expressing its “deep concern regarding the inaccurate and insensitive use of terms related to the Holocaust by the White House Press Secretary.”
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis experimented with poison gas in late 1939 with the killing of mental patients, which was termed “euthanasia.” Both mobile and stationary gas chambers were later used, with up to 6,000 Jews gassed each day at Auschwitz alone.
It’s not the first time the Trump administration has been criticized for comments related to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The White House released a statement on international Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this year that did not make any reference to Jews, and some have taken issue with the slow speed with which Trump has condemned anti-Semitic attacks, including threats against Jewish community centers.