Merkel voices 'deep shame' on first visit to Auschwitz




  • In World
  • 2019-12-06 14:39:22Z
  • By AFP

Oswiecim (Poland) (AFP) - Angela Merkel visited the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp on Friday for the first time as chancellor and said admitting Nazi crimes was a key part of Germany's identity that could combat growing anti-Semitism.

"Remembering the crimes... is a responsibility which never ends," Merkel said during the visit in a message aimed at calls from the German far right for a shift away from a culture of remembrance and atonement.

"To be aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity, our self-understanding as an enlightened and free society," she added.

Merkel is only the third chancellor ever to visit a place that has come to symbolise the Holocaust.

She expressed Germany's "deep shame" at what happened in Auschwitz and neighbouring Birkenau, where a million Jews lost their lives between 1940 and 1945.

"I bow my head before the victims of the Shoah," she said, speaking in front of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and a survivor of the camp, 87-year-old Bogdan Stanislaw Bartnikowski.

The 65-year-old chancellor, who was born nine years after the end of World War II, also addressed a rise of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in Germany in recent years, saying they had reached an "alarming level".

"To combat anti-Semitism, the history of extermination camps has to be shared, it has to be told," she said.

Auschwitz "demands that we keep the memory alive".

- 'Keeping the memory of the Shoah' -

Merkel began her visit by walking under the Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work will set you free) that still hangs over the gates of the camp.

She marked a minute's silence by the Death Wall where thousands of prisoners were shot dead and visited the site of a gas chamber and a crematorium.

In total, 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and anti-Nazi fighters.

Many were killed the same day they arrived at the camp.

"There is no other place of memory that demonstrates with such precision what happened during the Shoah," Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who accompanied Merkel, told AFP.

On the eve of her trip, Germany's federal state approved a new 60-million-euro ($66-million) donation for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which is marking 10 years since it was set up.

"This is an important and significant step towards keeping the memory of the Shoah," Israel's embassy to Germany said on Twitter.

- 'Break with civilisation' -

Merkel follows in the footsteps of previous German chancellors Helmut Schmidt, who came in 1977, and Helmut Kohl, who visited in 1989 and 1995.

She has already visited several former concentration and extermination camps in Germany over many years and has been to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre five times.

In 2008, she became the first German leader to address the Israeli parliament.

Merkel has called the Holocaust a "break with civilisation" and has voiced concern about the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.

Her visit comes two months after an attack aimed at a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle in which two people were killed -- part of a growing trend.

Police figures show that anti-Semitic offences rose by almost 10 percent in Germany last year from the previous year to 1,646 -- the highest level in a decade.

- '180-degree shift' in remembrance -

Germany's far-right Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party, some of whose members have been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric, has called for a rethink of the way Germany remembers its Nazi past.

Senior AfD lawmaker Bjoern Hoecke has called for a "180-degree shift" in the culture of atonement -- a cornerstone of German political life for decades.

The timing of the visit is also significant because of questions over Merkel's political future as tensions persist within the governing coalition.

German media reported that she wanted to make the trip ahead of any potential political crisis.

Merkel intends to step down at the end of her mandate in 2021 but there is a chance that the date could be brought forward if her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, pull out of the government.

COMMENTS

More Related News

EU watchdog to review Germany
EU watchdog to review Germany's financial reporting setup after Wirecard

The European Union's markets watchdog said on Wednesday that it was reviewing Germany's financial reporting setup in the wake of Wirecard's collapse. The assessment by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) will focus on Germany's financial supervisor BaFin and the accounting watchdog - the privately-owned Financial Reporting Enforcement Panel (FREP).

Germany eyes local travel bans to prevent 2nd virus wave
Germany eyes local travel bans to prevent 2nd virus wave
  • World
  • 2020-07-14 14:34:44Z

Germany's point person in the coronavirus pandemic said Tuesday that the country is on course to avoid a big second wave of infections but only if people keep practicing social distancing, wear masks and if necessary, quarantine in areas that experience spikes in new cases. Helge Braun, who as Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff is tasked with coordinating the government's pandemic response, said Germany is considering local travel bans for areas that see a sudden, unexplained surge in virus cases. "Our measures are appropriate to preventing a a second big wave," Braun told The Associated Press in an interview at the Chancellery in Berlin.

EU summit may not reach recovery fund deal: Merkel
EU summit may not reach recovery fund deal: Merkel
  • World
  • 2020-07-13 17:32:08Z

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday it is unclear whether EU leaders will reach agreement on a 750-billion-euro pandemic recovery fund at this week's summit, amid resistance from more frugal member states. "The road that we have to tread is still rocky," said Merkel ahead of Friday's EU special summit. "Because the task is enormous, the answer must also be huge," she said, after hosting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for talks.

Merkel: 2nd summit may be needed on EU stimulus package
Merkel: 2nd summit may be needed on EU stimulus package

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that "bridges still need to be built" between European Union countries at odds over a stimulus package for Europe's pandemic-stricken economies and a second meeting may be required if a summit this week doesn't result in an agreement. Merkel told reporters that the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic requires a "big answer" and that the way the EU responds has a "political dimension." The leaders of EU member nations are preparing to gather in person on Friday and Saturday to thrash out a compromise on a one-off, 500 billion euro ($569 billion) stimulus package proposed by Germany and France.

Germans buy better meat, substitutes after abattoir scandal
Germans buy better meat, substitutes after abattoir scandal
  • US
  • 2020-07-13 09:17:05Z

Concern about poor working conditions in the meat industry after repeated coronavirus outbreaks at slaughterhouses may speed up a trend among Germans to opt for higher-priced, better quality meat and vegetarian and vegan substitutes. Germany, Europe's biggest pork producer and home to 1,500 varieties of sausage, has seen meat consumption decline for years as people buy less of it driven by health reasons and concerns for animal welfare. The coronavirus pandemic may have added a further reason to the list, after outbreaks at slaughterhouses and meat packing plants drew the public's attention to the industry's use of subcontracted workers from eastern Europe who live in cramped...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: World