Europe

Extinction Rebellion: Co-founder apologises for Holocaust remarks

Roger Hallam in London, 24 November 2018 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Roger Hallam has been active in climate change protests

A co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate protest movement has apologised after sparking outrage with comments about the Holocaust.

Using an obscene term, Roger Hallam told a German newspaper that the Nazis' industrial-scale murder of Europe's Jews was "just another" genocide.

Mr Hallam said he was sorry but his remarks were taken out of context.

More than six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany and its allies because of their identity.

In pursuit of their racist goal, the Nazis built "death factories" - concentration camps like Auschwitz where mass killing was conducted through the use of gas chambers and crematoria.

Warning: story contains offensive language

Mr Hallam's comments were widely criticised. In response, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Nazi genocide was "uniquely inhumane".

Far-right politicians in Germany have recently caused controversy by belittling the magnitude of the Holocaust or criticising the country's determination to raise awareness of it.

What exactly did Hallam say?

The Holocaust was, he was quoted by the Die Zeit newspaper as saying in English, "just another fuckery in human history".

The "fact of the matter is, millions of people have been killed in vicious circumstances on a regular basis throughout history", he added.

Genocides had happened repeatedly over the past 500 years, he said, and "in fact, you might say it is like a regular event".

Mr Hallam gave the example of the Belgians who "went to the Congo in the late 19th century and decimated it". Millions died there under Belgian colonial rule.

As for Germany's extensive attempts to remember and teach about the Holocaust, Mr Hallam said: "The extremity of a trauma can create a paralysis in actually learning the lessons from it."

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Media captionBergen-Belsen survivors meet 74 years after their liberation

After facing a backlash Mr Hallam said his intention was the opposite of "downplaying the Holocaust".

"I realise that in the interview I got side-tracked into an unnecessary debate about where the Holocaust sits in terms of horrific genocides. I see now my cultural insensitivity," he wrote on Facebook.

"I understand that such a debate is obscene and offensive, in particular for all those who remain haunted by memories of what occurred and for all those who lost people they loved."

He added that he was sorry for the "crass words" he had used but did not feel the need to apologise for drawing attention to the "genocide that is happening now" - an apparent reference to climate change.

What has the response been?

"We distance ourselves from Roger Hallam's trivialising and relativising comments about the Holocaust," said XR Germany's Annemarie Botzki in a tweet.

XR UK said the climate movement "must be safe for Jews, and for all marginalised peoples and religious groups".

Separately, an XR spokesman said: "Jewish people and many others are deeply wounded by the comments...

"Internal conversations have begun with the XR Conflict team about how to manage the conflict process that will address this issue. We stand by restorative outcomes as preferable, although in some cases exclusion is necessary."

The XR movement has led large protests around the world, including sit-ins lasting several days in central London, to call on governments to declare a "climate and ecological emergency".

Green politician Volker Beck accused Mr Hallam on Twitter of "bringing the climate movement into disrepute."

The XR co-founder's German publisher, Ullstein, announced it had stopped the publication of his book on climate change, saying it was disassociating itself from his comments.

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