(photo credit: AP)
Formula One racing boss Bernie Ecclestone's description of Adolf Hitler as a person who could "get things done" came under scathing criticism here on Sunday.
Ecclestone, no stranger to colorful and controversial sound bites, told The London Times he admired how the Nazi leader could "get things done." He also said the dictator "got lost" toward the end of his rule, which he said led to Hitler's demise.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the comments were disappointing considering Ecclestone's worldwide notoriety.
"The comments themselves are totally idiotic and reveal a staggering ignorance of the events of World War II and the Holocaust," Zuroff said. "This is unfortunate because he's a public figure and we expect that public figures would have a certain minimum knowledge of world history and certainly not make comments that not only show their ignorance but are extremely insulting to all the victims of Nazism, their families and all people of moral conscience."
Yad Vashem spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg joined those criticizing Ecclestone.
"It is an unfortunate and lamentable statement, unworthy of comment," she said in an e-mailed statement.
Zuroff said while Ecclestone is far from the first person to offer misguided commentary about the Holocaust, such statements might become less frequent with future generations. He said people Ecclestone's age, as well as those a generation younger than him, never learned about the Holocaust as children and in school, which could help explain some misinformation.
The advancement of information technology also will aid people in discovering the facts about World War II and the Holocaust, as more information is available through the Internet than at any time in history, Zuroff said.
"I have to say that I don't think there will ever come a time where there won't be a comment of this sort," he said. "It's possible in the next generation we will see a lot less of this."
The 78-year-old billionaire also supported a position in the interview that totalitarian governments are more effective than democracies, as Ecclestone said, "We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was the only one who could control that country. It was the same (with the Taliban)."
Ecclestone has a history of making insensitive comments.
Several anti-racism groups flooded Formula One's phones in November 2008 regarding statements made about the circuit's world champion, Lewis Hamilton. During a race in Barcelona, fans dressed in black face and wigs to mock Hamilton, who is black. Ecclestone said the fans' behavior was "a bit of a joke," which invited backlash.
Ecclestone later denied that his remarks were racist and said they were blown out of proportion.
The pro-Hitler remarks are especially troubling, though, considering Ecclestone lives in England, which has a respectable Jewish population, Zuroff said.
"There are always people out there who don't know and don't care and have all these weird ideas and are just looking for that stage," Zuroff said. "And unfortunately because he is the head of Formula One he has that stage."
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