Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Germans they should no longer allow themselves to be held prisoner by a sense of guilt over the Holocaust and reiterated doubts that the Holocaust even happened.
In an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, Ahmadinejad said he doubted Germans were allowed to write “the truth” about the Holocaust and said he was still considering travelling to Germany for the World Cup soccer tournament.
“I believe the German people are prisoners of the Holocaust. More than 60 million were killed in World War Two … The question is: Why is it that only Jews are at the centre of attention?,” he said in the interview published on Sunday.
“How long is this going to go on?” he added. “How long will the German people be held hostage to the Zionists?… Why should you feel obligated to the Zionists? You’ve paid reparations for 60 years and will have to pay for another 100 years.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders have said his previous remarks questioning whether the Holocaust happened were unacceptable. Denying the Holocaust is a serious crime in Germany punishable with a prison term of up to five years.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their allies in concentration camps.
In the rare interview with Western media, Ahmadinejad said if the Holocaust really happened Jews should be moved from Israel back to Europe.
“We say if the Holocaust happened, then the Europeans must accept the consequences and the price should not be paid by Palestine. If it did not happen, then the Jews must return to where they came from.”
He said he was still considering going to Germany to support Iran in the World Cup despite protest stirred by a “worldwide network of Zionists”.
Iran’s first World Cup match is against Mexico in Nuremberg on June 11 two days after the tournament starts and German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says he would be welcome to come because Germany wants to be a good host.
The invitation sparked protests from other political leaders and groups who said his anti-Israeli comments were unacceptable.
“My decision (on whether to go) depends on a lot of different things,” said Ahmadinejad, a soccer fan. “Whether I have time, whether I want to and some other things.”
He said he could not understand why his possible visit had caused such debate but was not surprised by the row.
“I was not at all surprised because there is a very active worldwide network of Zionists, also in Europe,” he said in the rare interview with Western media that was published on Sunday.
Ahmadinejad’s latest comments were condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. Rabbi Marvin Hier, a founder and dean, called on Merkel to keep him out of Germany.
“On a day when the Pope is in Auschwitz to remind the world of the horrors of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad questions it again,” Hier said. “For him to be at the World Cup and sit in a VIP seat would be a desecration of the memory of the Holocaust.”
Asked by Der Spiegel, in its cover story entitled “The man the world is afraid of”, whether he stood by his earlier view the Holocaust was a myth, Ahmadinejad said: “I only accept something as the truth if I am truly convinced of it.
“In Europe there are two opinions on it. One group of researchers who are by and large politically motivated say the Holocaust happened. There is another group of researchers who have the opposite view and are by and large in prison for that.”