Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi insisted he is a friend of Jewish people and Germany on Monday, in a bid to quell international outrage sparked by his controversial remarks about the Holocaust, AFP reported.
Berlusconi said he was "a historic friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel" and it was "surreal to attribute to me anti-German sentiment or a presumed hostility towards the German people, to whom I am a friend."
The 77-year-old's statement, posted on the website of his Forza Italy party, came after an international outcry over his claim on Saturday that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps.
The media mogul, who is campaigning for the European elections on behalf of his party despite a tax-fraud conviction, made the comment while lashing out at European Parliament chief Martin Schulz, the center-left candidate in the race to lead the EU Commission.
The affront came as he was defending comments made in 2003, when he offered Schulz a part in a film as a "kapo", a camp inmate overseeing prisoners.
His comments sparked fresh outrage, with Jean-Claude Juncker, Schulz's main opponent and a member of the same umbrella party as Berlusconi, saying the statements "sickened me".
"I call on Mr. Berlusconi to withdraw his statements immediately and to apologize to the survivors of the Holocaust and to the citizens of Germany," he said in a statement quoted by AFP.
The German government had dismissed the remarks outright as "absurd", declining to comment on them.
Several months ago, Berlusconi provoked outrage after claiming his children "feel like the Jews under Hitler" due to his mounting political and legal woes.
"My children tell me they feel like the families of Jews in Germany must have felt under Hitler's regime. The whole world is against us," he said.
In response, the head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gettegna, said Berlusconi’s comments were "not only inappropriate and incomprehensible but also offensive to the memory of those deprived of every right and, after atrocities and unutterable suffering, their lives".
Last year, the former Italian premier praised Benito Mussolini, despite the fact that he persecuted Jews and allowed thousands to be deported to Auschwitz.
"The racial laws were the worst mistake of a leader, Mussolini, who however did good things in so many other areas," said Berlusconi, on the sidelines of a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan.
Italy "does not have the same responsibilities as Germany," he added.