PARIS - Vienna's Jewish community is demanding an investigation into comments made by the head of Austria's far-right party, who reportedly compared protests against a right-wing dance ball to the Nazis' persecution of Jews.
"We are the new Jews," Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was overheard saying Friday by a reporter from the daily Der Standard. Strache reportedly made the comment as guests were arriving at the annual Vienna ball at the imperial Hofburg Palace. The guests were being heckled by protesters, who were furious that the controversial event - attended by far-right extremists and alleged neo-Nazis - was being held this year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
According to Der Standard, Strache said the turmoil outside the event was "like Kristallnacht," a reference to the 1938 incident in which Germans destroyed Jewish shops and houses, accelerating the systematic persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.
The Freedom Party said the conversation had been distorted by Der Standard, and that Strache had not intended to minimize the Jews' suffering. Rather, the Freedom Party said, Strache was noting that the "attacks" on the ball's guests by nearly 3,000 demonstrators reminded him of "horrible reports about the disastrous Nazi era."
Strache's remarks were not the only controversial ones of the evening. The honorary president of France's National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who infamously said once that the Nazi gas chambers were but a "detail" of history, also managed to offend.
Asked about the Vienna ball - which was attended by his daughter, National Front leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen - the elder politician joked that the event was a sort of "Strauss without the "Kahn," a play on words referring to Austrian composer Johann Strauss and French Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn. While Johann Strauss is famous for his waltzes, Strauss-Kahn, the shamed former head of the International Monetary Fund, is Jewish.
Marine Le Pen dismissed criticism of the remark. "It's a joke," she said. "Humor, you know?"
France's anti-racist group SOS Racisme slammed the gala as a "scandalous ball for people nostalgic for the Third Reich." Austria's Jewish community, meanwhile, is demanding an investigation into Strache's comments.