The president of parliament resigned Friday after being bitterly attacked for saying on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht that many Germans initially found Hitler's rule "glorious."
The furor overshadowed West Germany's carefully organized ceremonies marking Kristallnacht, the night of terror against the Jews that signaled the start of the Holocaust.Parliament President Philipp Jenninger announced he was stepping down as assembly leader after meeting with other top-ranked members of the governing Christian Democratic Union.
The conservative politician's speech Thursday, which also called the early years of the Nazi's Third Reich a "triumphal procession," set off waves of outcries throughout the country and abroad.
His speech, at a special session of the Bundestag, or parliament, triggered a walkout by about 50 lawmakers and calls for his resignation from opposition Greens and Social Democratic parties.
"My speech was not understood by many listeners the way I had intended it to be," the 56-year-old politician said in a written statement. "I am deeply sorry and I am very hurt, if I have offended the feelings of others."
Jenninger said he was stepping down as Bundestag president because he wanted to avoid any damage to the office itself and because he believed he lost the trust of many colleagues.
The statement did not say whether Jenninger would remain a member of Parliament. Jenninger had been the No. 2 West German official after President Richard von Weizsaecker, under the nation's rules of diplomatic protocal.
A member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratics, Jenninger has been a lawmaker since 1969 and was one of Kohl's closest aides before he was elected Bundestag president in November 1984.
In his speech Thursday, Jenninger talked at length about the positive feelings of many ordinary Germans early in the Hitler dictatorship.
"Didn't Hitler bring to reality what (Kaiser) Wilhelm II had only promised, that is to lead the Germans to glorious times? Wasn't he chosen by Providence, a Fuehrer such as is given to a people only once in a thousand years?" Jenninger asked.
"For the fate of the Germans and European Jews, Hitler's successes were perhaps even more fateful than his crimes and misdeeds," Jenninger said. "The years from 1933 to 1938, even from a distant retrospective and in the knowledge of what followed, still are a fascinating thing today, since throughout history there was hardly a parallel to Hitler's triumphant procession during the first years."
Some listeners sobbed when Jenninger read an eyewitness account of the murder of concentration camp victims in 1942.
"Blood was running over the shoulders of almost everyone," he read. "Some of those shot were still moving, some lifted their arms and turned their heads, to show they were still alive."
Social Democratic chairman Hans-Jochen Vogel said in a letter to Jenninger that the Parliament president showed a "disturbing lack of judgment."
World Jewish Congress President Edgar M. Bronfman called Jenninger's remarks "reprehensible."
"The World Jewish Congress expresses its shock at the reported remarks," Bronfman said in a statement telexed by his New York office to The Associated Press.
But a leader of West Germany's Jewish community defended Jenninger's speech, saying he could not understand calls for his resignation.
"I welcome that the parliament president described in full clarity what was happening in Germany between 1933 and 1938," said Michael Fuerst, a deputy chairman of the Central Council of Jews in West Germany.
Die Welt, in its early edition Friday, said Kohl strongly criticized Jenninger at a private meeting late Thursday but left the resignation decision to the embattled parliament president.