German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid her visit to 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, “deep shame”.
During a ceremony attended by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Merkel said,”This site obliges us to keep the memory alive. We must remember the crimes that were committed here and name them clearly”.
Merkel further said, “To be aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity, our self-understanding as an enlightened and free society”.
Before her speech, Merkel and Morawiecki toured the camp’s crematorium where victims’ bodies were burned.
They walked through the camp’s iron gate bearing the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work sets you free) and visited the barracks.
Merkel is only the third chancellor ever to visit a place that has come to symbolise the Holocaust.
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.
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.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau complex was created by Nazi Germany in 1940. By the time of its liberation in 1945, the Auschwitz gas chambers had claimed over a million lives.
(With inputs from agency)