Following the cancelation of the German edition of his book, the controversial British climate activist Roger Hallam has apologized for remarks that were criticized for making light of the Holocaust.
In excerpts from an interview with German daily Der Zeit that appeared Wednesday, Hallam, a co-founder of the London-based climate group Extinction Rebellion — also known as XR — called the Holocaust “almost another normal event” and “just another fu—kery in human history.”
Shortly after excerpts went online November 20, Ullstein, the German publisher of Hallam’s book “Common Sense for the 21st Century,” announced that it was pulling the plug on the German edition, which was due on shelves November 27.
In a statement, the publisher said it “distances itself from all forms of current comments by Roger Hallam. For this reason, the book will not be published.” The book was initially published in the United Kingdom in September.
The leadership of the German branch of Extinction Rebellion, an international group that uses non-violent civil disobedience to draw attention to climate change, were quick to denounce Hallam’s statements, which placed the Holocaust in the context of other genocides, like the Belgian murder of the Congolese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“We explicitly distant [sic] ourselves from Roger Hallam’s belittling and relativising statements about the Holocaust,” the group tweeted, according to a translation by The Guardian. “In so doing he contravenes the principles of XR, which does not tolerate anti-Semitism, and he is no longer welcome in XR Germany.”
In the interview, Hallam, who is British, said that Germans are obsessed with the Holocaust and argued that their fixation “can create a paralysis in actually learning the lessons from it.” Groups in Germany, notably the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, have made similar points, claiming that too much emphasis is placed on the crimes of the Nazis in the scheme of German history.
But the German arm of XR argued that Hallam himself is responsible for“often paralyzing” the organization’s work through objectionable statements to the press on the topics of sexism, racism and democracy. XR Germany said that Hallam is not a spokesman for their chapter, adding that the group’s mission had “definitely not been hindered by remembrance of the systematic mass murder of millions of Jewish people in our country.”
A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Germany told the German media that he supported excluding Hallam from their activities, The Guardian reported. And the German group is not alone in their criticisms.
The New York Times reports that XR Jews, a Jewish branch of Extinction Rebellion with a base in London, wrote in a statement, “The words that we use are important. No one should talk about a people’s traumatic history in a throwaway manner, even if the point is to raise awareness about a deadly serious issue. In doing so, they may embolden those who already threaten that community.”
Other climate activists, unaffiliated with XR, members of the German government and the German Jewish community likewise condemned Hallam’s remarks.
On Thursday, ahead of the release of the full interview, Hallam issued a mea culpa.
“I am sorry for the crass words that I used,” Hallam said in a statement posted to Facebook. “My intention was the exact opposite of ‘downplaying the Holocaust.’ It’s because of the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust that in talking to the German press, I was referring to it as the way to communicate the unimaginable tragedy of what is happening now today with climate change and ecological collapse around the world.”
Hallam also makes an analogies to the Holocaust in his book. The Times reports that Hallam wrote of the “slow and agonizing suffering and death of billions of people” from global warming, adding that the number of deaths would be “12 times worse than the horror of Nazism and Fascism in the 20th century.”
“Despite my poorly phrased statement, I still strongly demand action on the preventable genocide that so many are ignoring across the world,” Hallam wrote on Facebook.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org