BERLIN — The leader of a German organization against the perceived "Islamization" of Europe stepped down Wednesday after a picture surfaced showing him with a Hitler mustache and hair combed over like the Fuehrer.
Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, announced his departure in a statement on Facebook after top-selling tabloid Bild published the photo.
Bachmann didn't comment directly on the picture, but apologized for online comments that have surfaced where he called refugees "cattle" and "filthy."
He called them "ill-considered comments that I wouldn't make in this way today" and apologized for harming the movement, which has taken pains to distance itself from neo-Nazi groups.
The group has staged weekly demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden that reached their peak last week, drawing 25,000 people. This week's planned rally was canceled after police said authorities had monitored a Tweet calling for one of the organizers to be killed.
PEGIDA's spokeswoman, Kathrin Oertel said the Hitler picture had been satire, but Bachmann's comments about refugees and German politicians hadn't "contributed to the trustworthiness" of the group.
Bild quoted Bachmann as saying he had posted the Hitler picture on his Facebook page, apparently some time ago, as a joke.
"One has to be able sometimes to make fun of oneself," he said.
If it was a joke, nobody was laughing.
"Anyone in politics who poses as Hitler is either a total idiot or a Nazi," Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Bild, taking the opportunity to reiterate the government's call for people to stay away from PEGIDA's weekly demonstrations in Dresden.
PEGIDA organizer Rene Jahn earlier Wednesday said the "incident must have consequences."
"That's unacceptable. I won't have anything to do with such a thing," Jahn said.
Frank Jordans contributed to this story.