Merkel expresses 'deep shame' during visit to Auschwitz

Oswiecim's residents try to lead normal lives despite knowing their town will always be associated with the Holocaust

Merkel expresses 'deep shame' during visit to Auschwitz

Merkel was accompanied on the visit to the notorious concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation leader Piotr Cywinski as well as former prisoners and members of several Jewish organizations.

She said Germany remains committed to remembering the crimes that it committed against Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals and others.

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

Merkel's visit on Friday was the first by a German Chancellor in 24 years and follows a deadly attack on a synagogue in the central city of Halle on Yom Kippur.

She expressed Germany's "deep shame" at what happened in Auschwitz and neighbouring Birkenau, where a million Jews lost their lives between 1940 and 1945.

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Together with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a somber Merkel toured the camp's crematorium where victims' bodies were burned, before walking through the camp's iron gate bearing the motto "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) and visiting the camp's brick barracks.

Merkel has referred to as the Holocaust a "break with civilisation" and has voiced concern in regards to the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.

"We are witnessing worrisome racism, growing intolerance, a wave of hate crimes", she said. Auschwitz "demands that we keep the memory alive".

About 1.1 million people of Jewish descent were murdered at the Auschwitz concentration camp in shocking atrocities that were committed by the Hitler-led Nazi regime.

Many had been killed the identical day they arrived on the camp. Observers say Merkel appears to have made the visit to draw attention to the history of Nazi Germany.

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During her visit, Merkel announced that Germany is giving 60 million euros (about $66 million) to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which marked its 10th anniversary on Friday.

It will be Angela Merkel's first visit to the Memorial Site after her 14 years in office and the third visit of an incumbent head of government.

She has already visited a number of of the previous camps in Germany over a few years and has been to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre 5 instances.

Merkel also warned against right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism.

Germany had donated an equal amount 10 years ago when the fund was created.

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The timing of the visit is also significant because of questions over Merkel's political future as tensions persist within the governing coalition. "But with this resolution, we give the coalition a realistic chance of continuing - not more, not less", she told SPD delegates.

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