Merkel joins US vets & Jewish survivors marking 70th anniversary of Dachau liberation
WATCH: German Chancellor Merkel says marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, “There were unfathomable horrors everywhere. They all admonish us to never forget. No, we will never forget.”
By News Agencies & Israel Hayom Staff
Germans will never forget the “unfathomable horrors” that the Nazis inflicted at the death camps, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and camp survivor Max Mannheimer (in wheelchair) prepare to lay a wreath at Dachau, Sunday – Photo: AP
In a moving speech to 120 elderly survivors from 20 nations and six U.S. soldiers who helped liberate the camp, Merkel said Dachau and other death camps freed near the end of World War II stand as eternal reminders of the Nazi regime’s brutality. Dachau is now a memorial with 800,000 annual visitors.
“These former concentration camps have come into public focus in recent weeks with the passing of the 70th anniversaries of the liberation of one camp after another,” Merkel, who in 2013 became the first German leader to visit Dachau, said in a somber ceremony at the camp.
“There were unfathomable horrors everywhere,” she said. “They all admonish us to never forget. No, we will never forget. We’ll not forget for the sake of the victims, for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations.”
The Nazis set up Dachau in March 1933, weeks after Adolf Hitler took power, to detain political rivals. It became the prototype for a network of camps where six million Jews were murdered, as well as Roma (Gypsies), Russians, Poles and homosexuals.
More than 200,000 people were being held in the camp when U.S. troops liberated it on April 29, 1945. Film footage from Dachau showing starved inmates and piles of bodies was among the first images the world saw of the Holocaust.
“It was a terrible shock, but we will never forget your excitement as you hugged us and brought out a hand-sewn American flag you hid for the occasion,” said a former U.S. soldier, Alan Lukens. “The Nazis could not crush your spirit.”
Jean Samuel, a French resistance fighter, said he felt human again on the day the Americans arrived.
“It was the best day of my life,” he said. “The nightmare was finally over.”
Returning to France at age 21, Samuel said he wanted to forget his experience and get on with his life.
“I put Dachau in a corner of my memory,” he said.
After retiring, however, he decided to speak out as “a witness of the unspeakable” and fulfill a duty to keep the memories of what happened at Dachau alive.
The main gate with its cynical “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) sign was rebuilt by a local blacksmith after the original was stolen last year. Merkel said it was alarming that the gate was never found. She also lamented that Jewish institutions need round-the clock police protection in Germany.
“These camps keep our memories alive, despite all the adversity out there,” Merkel said. “There are unfortunately incidents again and again such as the theft of the Dachau gate last year that are disturbing.”
All in Germany must “make unmistakably clear that Jewish life is part of our identity; that discrimination, marginalization and anti-Semitism can have no place here, that they must be fought with determination and the full force of legal means,” she said.
Abba Naor, a Lithuanian-born former Dachau prisoner who now lives in Israel, was flanked by two of his great-grandchildren as he spoke at Sunday’s ceremony.
“I hope that they and all the children in this world never have to experience such crimes,” Naor said.
He recalled an SS guard ordering the killing of a newborn Jewish boy in December 1944 and reports that some SS commanders were “loving fathers who played with their children after they had driven thousands into the gas chambers.”
“If you think the Nazis were inhuman, then you’re wrong,” he said. “They were humans like you and me. And that is what is so terrible.”
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