Oswiecim, Poland, 6 December 2019 (dpa/MIA) – The memory of the atrocities committed at the Nazi concentration camp must never be forgotten, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during her speech at the Holocaust memorial site in Auschwitz.
Merkel was visiting the camp on Friday, her first visit in 14 years as chancellor of Germany and at a time when Europe grapples with a new wave of anti-Semitism.
“This place obligates us to maintain the memory of what happened here. We must remember the crimes that happened and clearly define them,” Merkel said.
The head of the German government expressed “deep shame” at the “barbaric” and “unimaginable” German atrocities committed in Auschwitz.
“It is important to clearly identify the perpetrators. We owe it to the victims and to ourselves,” Merkel said.
“Auschwitz also teaches us that we cannot turn a blind eye to those who are persecuted today, at a time of rising anti-Semitism and increased attacks on liberal democracy,” Merkel said, adding that there will be no tolerance of anti-Semitism.
Key values such as human dignity, democracy and the rule of law can be easily hurt, which makes it important to defend them in everyday life, but also in political discourse, Merkel said.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also underlined the need to uphold the memory of what happened in Auschwitz.
“If the memory goes away, it’s like we harmed for the second time the people who went through hell here, who went through unimaginable suffering,” Morawiecki said.
The leaders had first heard the testimony of an Auschwitz survivor.
The politicians paid tribute to Auschwitz victims with a moment of silence, then placed wreaths of roses in the national colours of Germany and Poland at the Death Wall, where thousands of Auschwitz prisoners were shot.
They also met camp survivors and together lit grave lanterns at the monument to Auschwitz victims.
Merkel visited Oswiecim, called Auschwitz by its wartime German occupiers, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which has taken on the preservation of the site. Germany is the foundation’s largest donor.
Merkel is the third German chancellor to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz after Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, who visited the site twice.
The chancellor’s visit comes at a time when Germany and Europe face a rising number of anti-Semitic incidents.
Last October, two people were killed when a man tried to carry out a massacre at a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle where around 50 people were gathered for Yom Kippur. The perpetrator confessed that he was motivated by right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is regarded as an important international reminder of the Holocaust. According to estimates, more than 1 million people, most of whom were Jews, died there before the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp in 1945.
The Nazis and their accomplices murdered a total of around 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
As part of a joint resolution discussed at a conference with Germany’s 16 state premiers last week, the German federal government and states plan to provide an additional 60 million euros (66 million dollars) to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation for the preservation of the memorial.