VIENNA - Austria's Jewish community accused the country's leading far-right politician on Monday of a "monstrous provocation" for what a newspaper said were comments likening anti-fascist protests to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.
Rival politicians also attacked Heinz-Christian Strache, who hopes to be Austria's next chancellor, after the report in Der Standard, which said its reporter overheard Strache make the remarks at a Vienna ball on Friday night.
Guests at the WKR ball had to run the gauntlet of protesters who say the student fraternity event draws extreme-right activists from across Europe, a charge its organizers deny.
"We are the new Jews", Standard quoted Strache, the head of the Freedom Party, Austria's biggest opposition party, as telling fellow ball guests, apparently not realizing a journalist was within earshot.
The paper also quoted Strache as saying demonstrators' attacks on arriving guests "were like the Reichskristallnacht", or Night of Broken Glass, Nazi thugs' violent anti-Jewish pogroms in November 1938.
Nazi Germany annexed Austria that year, and a debate continues to smolder over whether the country was Hitler's first victim or a willing accomplice.
Strache could not be reached immediately for comment, but the general secretary of his party, Harald Vilimsky, dismissed the "artificial and ridiculous outrage" that the report had triggered.
"A Standard journalist eavesdropped on this private conversation like a Stasi spy and portrayed the comment in a completely exaggerated and skewed way in his report," his statement said, referring to East Germany's secret police.
Austria's main Jewish community organization said it was outraged by the reported comments that it said would normally trigger a criminal probe into people who, unlike Strache as a member of parliament, did not have immunity from prosecution.
It called the comments a "monstrous provocation" made on the international remembrance day for the Holocaust.
Officials from other parties leapt on the reported comments to criticise Strache, whose party is running neck and neck with Social Democrats for first place ahead of a parliamentary election that must be held by September 2013.
"Freedom Party chief Strache is not acceptable for any office in this republic," Vienna Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou of the environmentalist Greens party said. (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alison Williams)