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German Lawmaker’s Remarks on World War II Prompt Criticism

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Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- German politicians attacked remarks by a lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who stirred debate on the country’s responsibility for starting World War II, saying Polish forces mobilized before the 1939 invasion.

The Christian Democratic lawmaker, Erika Steinbach, 67, said her remarks were never intended to deny that Nazi Germany started the war. Still, she stood by her statement that the Polish military mobilization six months before the invasion was a “fact,” opening her to critics who said she had trivialized Nazi Germany’s war role, Deutsche Presse-Agentur said.

“Ambiguous statements that place Germany’s grave responsibility in the outbreak of World War II in question are unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in an e-mailed statement today. He said such statements can harm Germany’s standing in Poland as well as internationally.

Steinbach, who leads a lobby group representing Germans who were banished from territory that became part of Poland and the Czech Republic after World War II, made the remarks yesterday in a party meeting attended by Merkel, according to the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. She was defending two members of the lobby group who had made similar statements.

Steinbach, 67, withdrew from the CDU’s board, saying she wouldn’t run for the position again at a party congress later this year, Die Welt reported today. Steinbach’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. She has represented a district in Frankfurt since 1990.

The CDU’s parliamentary caucus chief, Volker Kauder, sought to squelch any debate about the Nazis, saying that Poles “had every good reason to mobilize in self defense” in 1939. Any other interpretation is “ridiculous,” he told reporters today.

The head of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary caucus, Thomas Oppermann, called Steinbach’s comments “unbearable” and demanded the CDU distance itself from them.

Steinbach has been viewed critically in Poland, where officials have accused her of overly emphasizing German losses in the war and not focusing on Polish suffering under the Nazis.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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