“I feel deep shame”

Chancellor Merkel visited the former Auschwitz concentration camp for the first time in her term in office and commemorated those murdered there. Germans' responsibility for the Holocaust will never end, the head of government stressed in her speech.

During a visit to the former concentration camp Auschwitz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) acknowledged Germany's lasting responsibility for the Holocaust. "Auschwitz was a German extermination camp run by Germans," Merkel said Friday in Auschwitz. The responsibility of the Germans will never end. "It is not negotiable. It is an integral part of our identity," the chancellor said in her speech.

Merkel visited the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in Poland for the first time during her term in office. Only two chancellors visited Auschwitz before Merkel: Helmut Schmidt (SPD) and Helmut Kohl (CDU). Before her speech, Merkel took a tour of the memorial together with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Commemoration of six million Jews killed

Together they passed through the gate with the inscription "Arbeit macht frei" and laid wreaths at the so-called death wall. Before the wall, thousands of death sentences were carried out. Official occasion for Merkel's visit was the tenth anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

Merkel said at the beginning of her speech that it was anything but easy for her to stand in this place. "I feel deep shame in the face of the barbaric crimes committed here by Germans."She recalled the six million Jews who were murdered in Europe during the Nazi era, but also other persecuted groups such as Sinti and Roma, resistance fighters or people with disabilities.

Merkel also reminded the audience that Jewish life in Germany today and the good relations with Israel cannot be taken for granted. Especially in these days, this is not rhetoric, said the German Chancellor. The fundamental values of the Basic Law, human dignity, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, must currently be protected and defended, the chancellor warned; because "we are experiencing a worrying racism, an increasing intolerance, a wave of hate crimes".

This is an "attack on the basic values of liberal democracy and a dangerous historical revisionism". Jewish life is threatened in Germany and Europe. Literally Merkel said: "We do not tolerate anti-Semitism. "All Jews, however, must feel safe in Germany and in Europe, Merkel stressed. The chancellor urged people not to close their eyes and ears when people are mobbed, humiliated or marginalized: "We must oppose those who stir up prejudice and hatred against people of other faiths or origins."

Auschwitz, he said, stands for the "greatest crime against humanity"

The ceremony was also attended by some former prisoners of the concentration camp. Merkel thanked them for recounting their painful experiences so that younger people could learn from them: "They bring the courage and strength for reconciliation. You show true human greatness."

Merkel said Auschwitz stands for the "greatest crime against humanity" like no other place and "obliges us to keep the memory alive". The name Auschwitz stands for the "millionfold murder of the Jews of Europe, for the civilization break of the Shoah, to which all human values fell victim". Merkel also mentioned the "genocide of the Sinti and Roma" as well as the suffering and murder of Poles, prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, homosexuals and people with disabilities.

In the Auschwitz camp complex alone, at least 1.1 million people were killed in a "planned and coldly systematic" manner. "Each of these people had a name, an inalienable dignity, an origin, a history," the chancellor said. "Auschwitz was a German-run extermination camp."It is important to clearly name the perpetrators. "We Germans owe this to the victims and to ourselves"."

"We are obliged to carry on this memory"

Poland's Prime Minister Morawiecki appealed in his speech to keep alive the memory of the crimes of Nazi Germany. "We are obliged to carry this memory forward," said Morawiecki. Speakers included Chancellor Merkel and the Polish head of government, as well as Auschwitz survivor Bogdan Stanislaw Bartnikowski. He told of his traumatic time in Auschwitz. When he was twelve years old at the time, he was deported to concentration camp with his mother.

Chancellor Merkel also met in Auschwitz with the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder. He thanked her for the 60 million euros that Germany pledged Thursday in support of the international fund of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The money goes into the endowment fund that finances the preservation of the remains of the former extermination and concentration camp. Chancellor Merkel is a valued and trusted ally in the fight against anti-Semitism, Lauder said.

The Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, welcomed the visit of the Chancellor. "It's a high point for the survivors, who feel this is a very deliberate act of solidarity with them," Heubner told Bavarian Radio. On 27. January 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army. Times. The 27. January has been Holocaust Remembrance Day in Germany since 1996 and worldwide since 2005. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1.1 to 1.5 million people from all over Europe were murdered, most of them Jews.

First visit since Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt

It was the first visit by a German head of government to Auschwitz in 24 years. At that time, Helmut Kohl (CDU) came to the memorial site. The Chancellor is accompanied in Auschwitz by the presidents of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Josef Schuster and Romani Rose. Helmut Schmidt (SPD) was the first German chancellor to visit the memorial site in 1977. Kohl traveled there in 1989 and 1995, but unlike Schmidt and Merkel, did not give a speech.

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