German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Dachau camp

Angela Merkel said she wanted her visit to Dachau to be "a bridge from history to the present and into the future"

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Angela Merkel has laid a wreath at the former Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, in the first such visit to the site by a German chancellor.

She made a short, emotional speech saying the camp "fills me with deep sadness and shame" and said it was a warning of the dangers of indifference.

The visit took place during Mrs Merkel's election campaign and was followed by a rally in a beer tent.

Political opponents called the combination "tasteless".

Some 30,000 people died in Dachau before it was liberated by US soldiers on 29 April 1945.

Analysis

The mood was sombre as Angela Merkel gave a speech in the camp's central parade ground, surrounded by barracks and barbed wire, where the Nazis had once made prisoners stand for hours, shivering and hungry.

A handful of elderly survivors of this concentration camp, some of them accompanied by grandchildren, listened quietly as the chancellor spoke of the deep sadness and shame she felt.

This site was a warning, she said, to never again let indifference allow people who think differently to be victimised or murdered.

One of the survivors attending was an 89-year-old former member of the French resistance, Jean Samuel, who is Jewish but had been captured by the Nazis because of his political activities.

He told me he appreciated the visit despite the controversy.

"We speak about the duty to remember," he said. "Well, today, she is carrying out that duty. Maybe if she didn't have elections in Germany, she wouldn't have come but she came to Dachau. She could have not come, but she did. So, bravo."

It was the first camp to be built by the Nazis in March 1933.

Mrs Merkel, who toured the remnants of the camp, said it stood for "a horrible and unprecedented chapter of our history".

"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?"

She said the "vast majority of Germans" had closed their eyes to what was going on, and said her visit was intended "to be a bridge from history to the present and into the future that we want to continue to build".

Max Mannheimer, the 93-year-old president of the Dachau camp committee, had long lobbied for Mrs Merkel to go to the camp, near Munich in southern Germany.

He hailed her decision as "historic" and a "signal of respect for the former detainees".

But a leader of the opposition Green party, Renate Kuenast, described Mrs Merkel's programme of the camp visit followed by an election rally as a "tasteless and outrageous combination".

"If you're serious about commemoration at such a place of horrors, then you don't pay such a visit during an election campaign," she told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung.

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