Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi Reuters

Italy’s former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, angered Germany over the weekend when he claimed that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps, AFP reported.

According to the report, officials in Berlin expressed outrage after Berlusconi made the provocative allegation during a campaign rally on behalf of his center-right party for European elections in May.

Ralf Stegner, deputy head of the Social Democrats, partners in power with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, called on the European People's Party (EPP) - the umbrella group to which Berlusconi's Forza Italia party belongs - to condemn his claim.

"The EPP must confront this intolerable slur against all German citizens with absolute decisiveness," he was quoted by the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung as saying.

"Those who silently tolerate such remarks in their own party family endanger the solidarity of democrats," added Stegner.

Manuela Schwesig, Germany's family affairs minister, fired back almost immediately on Twitter late Saturday, calling Berlusconi's comments "unspeakable" and a direct attack on the German chief of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

Schulz himself, in an interview with Der Spiegel news magazine conducted before Berlusconi made his remarks, accused Forza Italia of whipping up anti-German sentiment with its slogan "More Italy, Less Germany."

"Germany is a land that has shown a lot of solidarity and that is why such posters are outrageous," he said, according to AFP.

The German government told AFP it had no comment on the matter.

Berlusconi had been expanding on comments he made in 2003 when he jokingly offered Schulz a part in a film as a "kapo", a concentration camp inmate tasked with overseeing other prisoners.

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.