German Chancellor Merkel Makes Historic Visit to Dachau Concentration Camp

Wednesday, 21 Aug 2013 01:53 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first German leader to walk through the imposing steel gates marking the entrance to Germany’s original concentration camp in Dachau on Tuesday.

"For me this is a very special moment," she said while visiting the camp. Merkel added that the memory of the atrocities committed at Dachau “fills me with deep sorrow and shame," the British Guardian newspaper reported.

The German leader laid a wreath at the camp in memory of more than 41,000 people, mostly Jews, who died at at Dachau between 1933 and 1945. She met with survivors including 93-year-old Max Mannheimer, who was imprisoned at Dachau in 1944.

Merkel’s visit was attacked by Green Party parliamentary leader Renate K√ľnast, who termed the visit "tasteless."

"If you are serious about commemorating such a place of horror, you would definitely not make such a visit during an election campaign," Kunast said.

But Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, said the visit was a "very strong and important symbol."

"There are several concentration camps, like Auschwitz, abroad, and for decades chancellors and German presidents have been travelling to these places of horrible German crimes and taking historical responsibility," she said.

"But the fact that she's visiting a location within Germany where these unimaginable crimes took place, that doesn't happen so often … it shows her determination and will to learn the right lessons from history," Knobloch added.

Dachau concentration camp first opened on March 22, 1933, just weeks after Adolf Hitler became chancellor, as a camp for political prisoners. It was situated close to Munich on the site of what had been a World War I war munitions factory and served as a model for later concentration camps placed all over Europe.

More than 200,000 prisoners were interned at the camp before it was liberated in 1945 by American troops.

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