Angela Merkel makes historic Dachau visit
Merkel expresses her ‘deep sorrow and shame’ during historic Dachau visit
Angela Merkel has become the first German chancellor to visit the former concentration camp at Dachau where she expressed “shame” at the crimes of the Nazi regime but faced criticism over the timing of her trip.
By Jeevan Vasagar, Berlin8:19PM BST 20 Aug 2013CommentsComments
Ahead of an evening election rally in Dachau, the nearby Bavarian town, she toured the memorial site at the camp and spoke with Holocaust survivors. Max Mannheimer, a camp survivor who invited the German leader to visit, described the gesture as “historic”.
Describing the Nazi era as “a horrible and unprecedented chapter of our history”, Chancellor Merkel linked her act of remembrance to concerns over the rise of new far-Right extremism in Europe.
“For me this is a special moment. The memory of these fates fills me with deep sorrow and shame,” she said.
“At the same time, this place is a constant warning: how did Germany reach the point of taking away the right of people to live because of their origin, their religion … or their sexual orientation?.”
No German head of government has attended the camp before, although German president Horst Köhler, attended 65th anniversary commemorations in 2010.
Renate Künast, chairwoman of the opposition Greens’ parliamentary party, criticised the Chancellor’s decision to visit the camp ahead of an election rally at a beer tent in the town of Dachau as a “tasteless and outrageous combination”.
“If you’re serious about commemoration at such a place of horror, then you don’t pay such a visit during an election campaign,” she told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung.
However Mrs Merkel was defended by Charlotte Knobloch, a leader of the Jewish community in Munich, who described her actions as “praiseworthy”. Mr Mannheimer, 93, president of the Dachau camp committee, said the German leader’s visit was a “signal of respect for the former detainees”.
Harold Marcuse, professor of modern German history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Legacies of Dachau, told the Daily Telegraph that previous chancellors had “deliberately avoided” Dachau.
Mr Marcuse said: “The site has been considered toxic for most German politicians, especially on the right, until recently.”
The historian argued that German politicians have shown reluctance to visit Dachau because it is better preserved than other camps such as Belsen, which was burned to the ground after liberation.
“Also because its name is in Germany most synonymous with the terror system of Nazism,” Mr Marcuse added.
Dachau was opened on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory in 1933, shortly after Hitler took power, and liberated by US troops in April 1945. Originally used to intern political opponents of the Nazi regime, Dachau was also used as a training centre for SS concentration camp guards. Over 188,000 prisoners were held at Dachau during the 13 years the Nazis ruled Germany. Between 1940 and 1945, at least 28,000 prisoners died.
In her latest weekly podcast, Mrs Merkel warned of the need for vigilance against Holocaust deniers and right-wing extremists.
“We must never allow such ideas to have a place in our democratic Europe,” she said, adding that she would travel to Dachau with “feelings of shame and dismay”.
The director of Bavaria’s historic memorials, Karl Freller, said the number of visitors to the former concentration camp had grown since the start of a neo-Nazi murder trial in Munich this year.
“Obviously the trial has meant that people have become more intensely engaged with the subject of National Socialism,” he told the newspaper Die Welt.
Beate Zschaepe, the sole surviving member of a far-right group known as the National Socialist Underground went on trial in May accused of complicity in ten murders, mostly of immigrant shopkeepers.