A co-founder of Extinction Rebellion has sparked anger in Germany after referring to the Holocaust as “just another fuckery in human history”.
Roger Hallam has been accused of downplaying the Nazis’ genocide of 6 million Jews by arguing in an interview that the significance of the Holocaust has been overplayed.
In the interview with the weekly Die Zeit, in which he referred to the Holocaust several times, Hallam said: “The fact of the matter is, millions of people have been killed in vicious circumstances on a regular basis throughout history.”
He listed other mass killings in the past 500 years, including the Belgians’ slaughter in the Congo. “They went to the Congo in the late 19th century and decimated it.” He said that seen in this context, the Holocaust was “almost a normal event … just another fuckery in human history.”
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was among those to condemn Hallam’s remarks, saying the systematic state-sponsored killing that wiped out two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population between 1939 and 1945 could not be referred to as “just another fuckery”.
Maas tweeted: “The Holocaust is more than millions of dead and horrific torture methods. To want to murder and exterminate Jewish women and men is uniquely inhumane. We must always be aware of that so we can be certain: never again!”
The German publisher Ullstein announced on Wednesday it was pulling out of publishing Hallam’s book Common Sense for the 21st Century, which had been due to appear in German bookshops on 26 November.
In the interview, due to be published in full on Thursday, Hallam said Germans were being constrained by what he referred to as their obsession with the Holocaust, describing it as a national trauma the extremity of which “can create a paralysis in actually learning the lessons from it”.
Hallam’s remarks drew the ire of fellow climate campaigners, historians and politicians across Germany.
The German branch of Extinction Rebellion tweeted: “We explicitly distant ourselves from Roger Hallam’s belittling and relativising statements about the Holocaust. In so doing he contravenes the principles of XR, which does not tolerate antisemitism, and he is no longer welcome in XR Germany.”
The group accused Hallam of “often paralysing” Extinction Rebellion’s work through other controversial statements on sexism, racism and democracy, several of them made in interviews with German media.
It said it had “definitely not been hindered by remembrance of the systematic mass murder of millions of Jewish people in our country”.
Tino Pfaff, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Germany, told German media he was in favour of excluding Hallam from the movement.
Hallam claimed his comments had been taken out of context. “I want to fully acknowledge the unimaginable suffering caused by the Nazi Holocaust that led to all of Europe saying ‘never again’,” he said.
“But it is happening again, on a far greater scale and in plain sight. The global north is pumping lethal levels of CO2 into the atmosphere and simultaneously erecting ever greater barriers to immigration, turning whole regions of the world into death zones. That is the grim reality.”
He added: “We are allowing our governments to willingly, and in full knowledge of the science, engage in genocide of our young people and those in the global south by refusing to take emergency action to reduce carbon emissions.”
Other German commentators said Hallam’s remarks were reminiscent of comments made by the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland, which has sought to downplay the crimes of the Nazi era. In 2016, AfD’s co-leader Alexander Gauland drew widespread criticism after referring to the 12-year Nazi era in Germany as a “mere birdshit” in 1,000 years of “otherwise successful German history”. He later called his statement “misconstruable” and “politically unwise”.
Benjamin Wolf, a Vienna-based cultural commentator, tweeted:
Armin Laschet, a leading member of the Christian Democratic Union and leader of North Rhine-Westphalia state, called Hallam’s remarks “unacceptable”. He tweeted: “What’s with this antisemitic and extreme rightwing framing, when he was supposedly talking about climate protection?”
The veteran Green politician Volker Beck wrote on Twitter: “This type of person and he in particular bring the climate movement into disrepute.”
Robert Habeck, a co-head of the Green party, urged environment campaigners to “very clearly distance” themselves from Hallam, saying he had “disqualified” himself with comments that were “unworthy of discussion”.
Die Zeit interviewed Hallam in a “renovated country house” in south Wales before the planned publication of his book in Germany. On bail after his involvement in an attempt to disrupt Heathrow airport in September, he said he was having to report at the local police station on a daily basis and was sleeping in a barn.
In the interview he repeated calls he has made in the past for the climate crisis to be treated with as much emotion as Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp, where 1.1 million people died. “Emotionality is the only way you can get people to do something,” he said.
When the reporter, Hannah Knuth, suggested to him that the Holocaust stood alone in history in terms of its implementation and scale, Hallam responded: “There are various debates as to whether the Holocaust is unique or not. I know that that’s the conviction in Germany. But with all respect I don’t agree with it.”
In a statement, Extinction Rebellion UK “unreservedly denounced” Hallam’s comments, which it said were “made in a personal capacity in relation to the recent launch of his book”.
The statement said: “Jewish people and many others are deeply wounded by the comments today. 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 … We stand in solidarity with XR Germany, with Jewish communities, and with all those affected by the Holocaust, both in the past and in our times.”