SPD leader praised for speaking of Nazi father

Sat, Jan 12, 2013, 00:00

Germany’s Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Sigmar Gabriel, has been praised for speaking publicly about his abusive father, an unrepentant Nazi.

For most of his life Mr Gabriel was estranged from his father, Walter. He died last June aged 91 but, to the end, read a far-right newspaper and questioned the Holocaust.

“I have huge doubts about that,” he told the Berliner Kurier newspaper last year. “There are famous people, like Bishop Williamson who question everything. They couldn’t all be wrong, could they?”

Now his 53 year-old son has described to Die Zeit a childhood of physical and emotional abuse, sparked by his parents’ separation in 1961 and a seven-year custody battle for the then three-year-old.

During this time he lived with his father and grandmother. Beatings were a regular occurrence and once, when after poor grades, he remembers his furious father giving his toys to a local kindergarten.

When the custody battle ended in 1969, and Mr Gabriel was allowed move in with his nurse mother, his father forced him to call her and tell her that he wanted to remain with his father.

Walter Gabriel di not see actuive serive during the Second World war, but devoted his retirement from the civil service to pursuing his far-right obsessions.

When Mr Gabriel learned of this he said he broke off contact for 20 years, got involved in politics and spent his summers as a guide in Auschwitz.

After his father died last June, it fell to Mr Gabriel to dispose of a vast collection of books with titles like The Auschwitz Myth and pamphlets written by his father addressing issues such as “Will the Germans die out?” Asked what mark his childhood left on him, Gabriel spoke of “an almost uncontrollable rage”.

“When I perceive something as unjust, if people experience injustice, I can get really annoyed,” he said. “But I have no anger any more towards my father and I no longer feel injured.”

Mr Gabriel’s revelations prompted warm words in the German press yesterday.

“In Gabriel’s story is the core of German postwar history in which every family had to deal with its past in the Nazi period,” wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily.

The revelations come amid a collapse in support for Peer Steinbrück, SPD challenger in September’s general election.

After a series of gaffes, support has collapsed 12 points in a month and now just 36 per cent of Germans want him as chancellor.

Mr Gabriel, who stood aside to let Mr Steinbrück run, insists his motivation for speaking of his past was not political. But with almost one in two Germans – and 25 per cent of SPD voters – convinced the party needs a better challenger to Angela Merkel, watch this space.