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Prince Charles draws fire for reportedly comparing Putin to Hitler

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prince Charles reportedly compares Vladimir Putin, Hitler during Canada trip
  • The remarks were first reported by the Daily Mail newspaper
  • Office of British monarchy declines to comment
  • Some are critical, others supportive of Britain's future king

(CNN) -- British royal watchers are in a tizzy over comments reportedly made by Prince Charles comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, a woman claims Charles made the offhand comment during a tour Monday of the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He was talking with a 78-year Polish woman who escaped the Nazi Holocaust by sailing to Canada in 1939 -- just before Germany seized the city of Gdansk, the newspaper said.

"I had finished showing him the exhibit and talked with him about my own family background and how I came to Canada," the newspaper quoted Marienne Ferguson as saying.

"The prince then said, 'And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler,' " the newspaper quoted her as saying, referring to Russia's disputed annexation of Crimea.

Ferguson said she agreed with Charles.

"I must say that I agree with him and am sure a lot of people do," Ferguson said. "I was very surprised that he made the comment as I know they aren't meant to say these things but it was very heartfelt and honest."

CNN could not independently confirm the conversation early Wednesday.

Representatives for Prince Charles declined to comment.

"However, we would like to stress that the Prince of Wales would not seek to make a public political statement during a private conversation," Clarence House said in a statement.

In the British system, the queen is head of state, but foreign policy is set by the elected government. As heir to the throne, it would be considered unusual for Charles to make such a statement.

So far, there's been no response from Russia. Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported a Putin spokesman declined to comment when approached by reporters.

On Twitter, British member of Parliament Mike Gapes criticized Charles.

"In constitutional monarchy policy and diplomacy should be conducted by parliament and government," he wrote. "Monarchy should be seen and not heard."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, however, defended Charles to the BBC -- saying the conversation was clearly private.

"I have never been of this view that if you are a member of the royal family somehow you have to enter into some Trappist vow of silence," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Some view such comparisons as inflammatory given the tense state of relations in Europe over Russia's actions in Ukraine. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton garnered some criticism in March when she made a similar comparison.

For others, such comparisons may dredge up the painful history of Western Europe's unsuccessful efforts to contain Hitler in the 1930s.

In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria over meek European objections, then supervised Germany's takover of the Sudetenland under the pretext of protecting the Czechoslovakian region's large ethnic German population. Similar issues were raised before Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland.

The failures of Western European governments to stop the German advances under what was then known as the policy of "appeasement" have been endlessly debated by historians considering the impact of Hitler's early moves on the bloody and brutal years that followed.

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