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Italy

Berlusconi gaffe: For Germans, concentration camps 'never existed'

According to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Germans don't think concentration camps actually existed during World War II. His comments came during campaigning for European Parliament elections.

Silvio Berlusconi is no stranger to controversy relating to Germany's Nazi history; in fact, he brought up a scandal from 2003 during an election rally in Milan on Saturday. The former Italian prime minister referred to a 2003 incident where he suggested to Martin Schulz - currently the president of European Parliament - that he could get a part in a movie as a concentration camp guard.

"I didn't want to insult him;" Berlusconi said Saturday, referring to the outcry over his comments in 2003. "But, heavens above, according to the Germans, there never were concentration camps."

Berlusconi was campaigning on behalf of the European People's Party (EPP), an umbrella group that includes Berlusconi's Forza Italia, ahead of next month's elections. The former prime minister is allowed to participate in campaign events despite a tax-fraud conviction. He is scheduled to begin community service in a retirement home to serve his sentence.

"There is a man, called Schulz, who does not like Berlusconi, or Italy. Voting for the left means voting for him," said Berlusconi, referring to Schulz's Party of European Socialists (PES).

The PES called on the EPP to condemn Berlusconi's statement.

"These comments by Berlusconi are an insult to the entire German people and not only an insult to Martin Schulz," said Sergei Stanishev, president of the PES. "Moreover, they are a cynical attempt to distract from the real issues in this election like the need for more jobs and growth in Europe."

German Families Minister Manuela Schwesig took to Twitter to blast the comments, writing: "The attacks from Berlusconi against @MartinShulz and all Germans are UNSPEAKABLE! The fight against right-wing populism in Europe is important!"

Six million Jews were killed in concentration camps run by Germany during World War II, and more than 10 million people total, ranging from the Nazis' political opponents to ethnic groups such as Roma and Slavs. Germany regularly acknowledges this period in its history and participates in commemorations and ceremonies honoring those killed by the Nazis.

mz/mkg (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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