Merkel: I bow my head before the victims of the Shoah

German Chancellor expresses "deep shame" at what happened in Auschwitz and Birkenau as she visits the former Nazi death camp.

Elad Benari, Canada,

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at Auschwitz-Birkenau
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday expressed Germany's "deep shame" at what happened in Auschwitz and Birkenau as she visited the former Nazi death camp for the first time as chancellor.

Merkel, who brought a 60 million euro donation from the German government to help conserve the site, said admitting Nazi crimes was a key part of Germany's identity that could combat growing anti-Semitism.

"Remembering the crimes... is a responsibility which never ends," Merkel said during the visit, according to AFP, in a message aimed at calls from the German far right for a shift away from a culture of remembrance and atonement.

"To be aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity, our self-understanding as an enlightened and free society," she added.

Merkel became only the third chancellor ever to visit the site which has come to symbolize the Holocaust.

"I bow my head before the victims of the Shoah," she said, speaking in front of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and a survivor of the camp, 87-year-old Bogdan Stanislaw Bartnikowski.

A million Jews lost their lives in Auschwitz and neighboring Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.

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.

Auschwitz "demands that we keep the memory alive".

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.

She marked a minute's silence by the Death Wall where thousands of prisoners were shot dead and visited the site of a gas chamber and a crematorium.

Her visit comes two months after the attack aimed at a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle of Yom Kippur in which two people were killed.

Anti-Semitic crimes rose by 20 percent in Germany last year, according to interior ministry data which blamed nine out of 10 cases on the extreme right.

A report released last summer found that Germany had seen an increased number of attacks on Jews during the first half of 2018.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)