AfD figure sparks backlash for calling failed Hitler assassin von Stauffenberg 'traitor'

An AfD state youth leader called the German officer who attempted to assassinate Hitler a "coward" and "traitor." The Facebook post has landed him in hot water within the right-wing populist party.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Thursday tried to distance itself from comments made by a regional party youth leader who labeled a German officer who tried to kill Adolf Hitler a "traitor."

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg attempted one of the best-known assassination attempts on Hitler on July 20, 1944 in a bid to take over the government and end the war. The bombing narrowly failed and Stauffenberg and other members of the plot were executed.

Read more: AfD: What you need to know about Germany's far-right party

The daily Welt reported that the head of the AfD's youth wing in Lower Saxony wrote on his private Facebook page that Stauffenberg was a "traitor."

He also wrote that the plot to assassinate Hitler was "the shameful attempt of a coward" to "save his own hide from the coming victors," a reference to the Allies bearing down on Germany from all sides at that point in the war.

According to Welt, Steinke wrote that "the war was – contrary to today's propaganda – not a war primarily against Hitler, but against Germany and the German people," and that Stauffenberg was "no hero."

Read more: Hitler 1944 assassination plot: descendants urge Europe to stand united in face populism

Steinke's comments were private and not publically visible, but Welt said it had a screenshot of the statement. The regional politician confirmed the comments to the German daily.

AfD leaders call for Steinke's removal

AfD leaders were quick to condemn the comments and call for the removal of Steinke from the party.

It's not the first time comments about Germany's Nazi past or immigrants that have opened the populist party up to criticism.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Alexander Gauland

Co-chairman Alexander Gauland said the German national soccer team's defender Jerome Boateng might be appreciated for his performance on the pitch - but people would not want "someone like Boateng as a neighbor." He also argued Germany should close its borders and said of an image showing a drowned refugee child: "We can't be blackmailed by children's eyes."

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Alice Weidel

Alice Weidel generally plays the role of "voice of reason" for the far-right populists, but she, too, is hardly immune to verbal miscues. Welt newspaper, for instance, published a 2013 memo allegedly from Weidel in which she called German politicians "pigs" and "puppets of the victorious powers in World War II. Weidel initially claimed the mail was fake, but now admits its authenticity.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Frauke Petry

German border police should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally, the former co-chair of the AfD told a regional newspaper in 2016. Officers must "use firearms if necessary" to "prevent illegal border crossings." Communist East German leader Erich Honecker was the last German politician who condoned shooting at the border.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Björn Höcke

The head of the AfD in the state of Thuringia made headlines for referring to Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a "monument of shame" and calling on the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past. The comments came just as Germany enters an important election year - leading AfD members moved to expel Höcke for his remarks.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Beatrix von Storch

Initially, the AfD campaigned against the euro and bailouts - but that quickly turned into anti-immigrant rhetoric. "People who won't accept STOP at our borders are attackers," the European lawmaker said. "And we have to defend ourselves against attackers."

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Marcus Pretzell

Pretzell, former chairman of the AfD in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and husband to Frauke Petry, wrote "These are Merkel's dead," shortly after news broke of the deadly attack on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Andre Wendt

The member of parliament in Germany's eastern state of Saxony made waves in early 2016 with an inquiry into how far the state covers the cost of sterilizing unaccompanied refugee minors. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Germany, according to the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF) - the vast majority of them young men.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Andre Poggenburg

Poggenburg, head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, has also raised eyebrows with extreme remarks. In February 2017, he urged other lawmakers in the state parliament to join measures against the extreme left-wing in order to "get rid of, once and for all, this rank growth on the German racial corpus" - the latter term clearly derived from Nazi terminology.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

Alexander Gauland - again ...

During a campaign speech in Eichsfeld in August 2017, AfD election co-candidate Alexander Gauland said that Social Democrat parliamentarian Aydan Özoguz should be "disposed of" back to Anatolia. The German term, "entsorgen," raised obvious parallels to the imprisonment and killings of Jews and prisoners of war under the Nazis.

AfD leaders and their most offensive remarks

... and again

Gauland was roundly criticized for a speech he made to the AfD's youth wing in June 2018. Acknowledging Germany's responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era, he went on to say Germany had a "glorious history and one that lasted a lot longer than those damned 12 years. Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history."

Alexander Gauland – the co-leader of the AfD landed in hot water who himself earlier this year described the Nazi regime as "just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history" called for Steinke to be ejected from the party.

Read more: Nazi 'bird shit' and the limits of free speech in Germany

"Such statements are baseless nonsense. Stauffenberg is a hero of German history. Steinke has disqualified himself from the AfD, he should be excluded," Gauland said through AfD spokesman Christian Lüth on Twitter.

Jörg Meuthen, another AfD leader, called Steinke's comments "completely unacceptable" and "show an absurd understanding of history and have absolutely no place" in the party.

The AfD in Lower Saxony described the youth leader's post as "absurd" and not reflective of the views of the party.

The leaders of the AfD are set to take up the matter next week.

The AfD won around 13 percent of the vote to become the third largest party in the German parliament last year. The party is now polling at 17 percent.

cw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)