German anti-discrimination official under fire for omitting Jews on Holocaust Remembrance

Ferda Ataman, the anti-discrimination commissioner for the German federal government, only acknowledged LGBT+ victims of the holocaust.

 A CANDLE is lit and a flower is placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, last year. (photo credit: Agencja
A CANDLE is lit and a flower is placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, last year.
(photo credit: Agencja

A controversial German official assigned to combat discrimination is facing criticism for failing to mention the six million Jews who were murdered by Germany’s National Socialist regime on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Ferda Ataman

Ferda Ataman, the anti-discrimination commissioner for the German federal government, issued a press release  on Thursday praising that “Germany finally shows respect to the queer victims of National Socialism" with respect to International Holocaust Remembrance on Friday.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday,  that “Today is January, 27  the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest killing grounds of Jews in history. It is incomprehensible that an official in a democracy making a statement about the importance of the international holocaust remembrance day would choose to omit reference first and foremost to the 6 million Jewish victims of the final solution. For such a statement to be made by a German official is beyond the pale.”

Ataman is also under fire from Henryk M. Broder, a German Jewish commentary writer for the daily broadsheet Die Welt. Broder wrote on the website Die Achse des Guten  (The Axis of Good) that “Ataman says not a word about the approximately one million Jews (and of course also female Jews) who were transported from life to death in Auschwitz. She aryanizes commemoration. And practices historical misrepresentation.”

Broder, a leading German expert on modern antisemitism who has testified in the Bundestag on the topic, added in his biting style that “The Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis, whose number is estimated at 200,000 to 500,000, are also not worth a word by Ms. Ataman. Aren't they queer enough?.”

 Colorized image of gay prisoners standing for role-call at Buchenwald Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Colorized image of gay prisoners standing for role-call at Buchenwald Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The German historian Alexander Zinn, who researches the history of the persecution of homosexuals under National Socialism, told Die Welt that speaking of "queer victims of National Socialism" is "nonsense" and warns against "bending history in order to get hold of the prestige that comes with belonging to a persecuted group." The Post sent a press query to the German federal commissioner assigned to combat antisemitism and ensure Jewish security, Felix Klein.

The German author and academic  Sylke Kirschnick. published an article on her website on Friday, arguing why Ataman is unfit to be the anti-discrimination commissioner for Germany.

She wrote that “making an official statement on this day without mentioning a word about the murdered Jews is a mistake. Especially if you do this like Ferda Ataman in an official capacity as federal commissioner for anti-discrimination.”

Ataman was born in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart to parents of Turkish origin. She claimed that the term "Kartoffel" (potato), which is used at times by some immigrants as an insult to Germans, is not discriminatory, sparking outrage from her critics. She said the term "is an internationally beloved vegetable” is "harmless" and "cute.”

Ann Kathrin Sost, a spokeswoman for Ataman, told the Post that " On January 27, Ataman commemorated the victims of the Holocaust by laying a wreath at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and by attending the remembrance ceremony at the Bundestag. She also paid personal tribute at the Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma of Europe, at the Memorial to the Victims of 'Euthanasia'Killings and at the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals Under National Socialism. As every year, we accompanied the remembrance ceremonies with commemorative messages on our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn). The singularity of the murder of the Jews of Europe is beyond question for the Commissioner."

She added "The press statement which you reference was not a commemorative message on January 27th. It was released on the day before acknowledging the fact that for the first time, the German parliament was going to focus its annual remembrance on the queer victims of National Socialism - a victim group that had not previously received any recognition in this form."

The prominent German-Israeli psychologist Ahmad Mansour and critic of Islamism told the Swiss paper Basler Zeitung that Ataman is “is a divider, a believer in identity politics. An example: if police officers kill a young man who attacked them with a knife, it is immediately police violence.

For Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed by an Islamist: nothing, a roar of silence, not even the usual outrage tweet.”Ataman deleted roughly 12,000 tweets before her nomination as commissioner because many involved insults and attacks on human rights activists and authors like Mansour and the German-Turkish public intellectual Necla Kelek, who seek to stop honor killings within Muslim families in Germany and fight Islamic-animated antisemitism. 

German commissioners tasked with fighting discrimination and antisemitism have been embroiled in antisemitism scandals over the years. The Post reported this month on the allegedly anti-Israel civil servant Michael Blume, who is assigned to fight antisemitism in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. A German court in Hamburg ruled that Blume can be deemed antisemitic due to his anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments.

Blume compared the German Jewish anti-BDS activist Malca Goldstein-Wolf with the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann and called Orde Wingate, one of the founders of the IDF, a “war criminal.” Blume also labeled German Jews “right-wing extremists” without evidence. The IDF criticized Blume's attack on Orde Wingate last year.  There have been calls for Blume to resign or be fired since 2019, including from Wiesenthal Center's top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, who told the Post in 2019 that Blume should resign.

A second case of antisemitism allegations leveled against a German commissioner who is supposed to fight Jew-hatred involves the former German Protestant Bishop Gerhard Ulrich in the northern German state Schleswig-Holstein who preached antisemitic sermons, according to the Wiesenthal Center.

The cleric slammed Israel for conducting war against Palestinian terrorism in the name of God, saying: “Therefore we cannot accept it when a modern state invokes this God and his promises when war is waged.” 

Ulrich compared Israel’s security barrier, which has greatly reduced Palestinian terrorist attacks, to the now-defunct Berlin Wall built by the East German communist state.“Here we see a wall that is significantly higher than the Berlin Wall, and we know that walls never bring peace. In Hebron, we got the impression that terror is produced there rather than overcome."

Ulrich said in 2017:  “On a meeting trip with members of the Lutheran World Federation to Israel-Palestine in November, we were able to experience how the time of occupation weighs on people, deforms souls, restricts freedom; how border controls degrade people and how this all breeds new violence.”

Ulrich blamed the responsibility for the Middle East conflict on Israel, claiming, “The name ‘Israel’ is burdened with the horror and misery of this Middle East war.” The Wiesenthal Center urged Ulrich to resign due to his contribution to stoking Jew hatred over the years in Germany.

Ulrich has refused to resign. The Jewish communities in Schleswig-Holstein issued statements in his support but pro-Israel Germans have blasted Ulrich as unfit to be a commissioner tasked with combating antisemitism.