Germany: AfD Undecided on Punishment for Leader Who Criticized Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Bjoern Hoecke, spokesperson of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party
Bjoern Hoecke, spokesperson of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party of Thuringia attends the party congress in Hannover, November 28, 2015. Mr Hoecke faces exclusion from the AfD after calling Berlin's Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame." Axel Schmidt/REUTERS

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has not yet decided whether to expel one of its state leaders for criticizing Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, its co-leader said on Tuesday.

Bjoern Hoecke, AfD head in the eastern state of Thuringia, described the memorial as a "monument of shame" in a speech in Dresden last week. The comment stirred anger across Germany but was cheered by some far-right AfD supporters.

Hoecke said on Monday the party had dropped plans to throw him out, but co-leader Frauke Petry told German broadcaster MDR on Tuesday that was not the case, adding the comment had damaged the party's reputation.

The AfD's anti-immigrant rhetoric has won support among Germans worried about the influx of more than a million migrants in the past two years, though other major parties have rejected it as a potential coalition partner.

It is expected to win seats in national elections on September 2, and a poll released Tuesday by Insa for the Bild newspaper gave it 14.5 percent support, up one percentage point from a survey conducted last week.

Petry told MDR the party's executive committee viewed disciplinary action against Hoecke as necessary, but officials were still assessing his speech and how it compared to the party's views.

"We are simply taking the time to do a thorough assessment in such a serious case," Petry said.

Petry said that, while the AfD wanted to see a more "differentiated approach to history", nothing in its program called for a radical change in Germany's approach to commemorating the genocide of Jews and others during the Nazi era.

Hoecke said the party's debate about his remarks reflected a power struggle.

In the Insa poll, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats dropped one percentage point to 32.5 percent while the Social Democrats, junior partner in the ruling coalition, remained unchanged at 21 percent.

The Holocaust Memorial, located near the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, comprises 2,711 tombstone-like slabs of granite of varying heights, arranged in a grid pattern.