German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for the first time and pledged £51 million to help preserve it.
Merkel, 65, who will soon step down after 14 years in the job, met a camp survivor and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, six weeks before the 75-year anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet troops on 27 January.
She said the money would go to the foundation that runs the site, to help preserve the physical remnants such as the barracks, the guard towers and personal items.
The Chancellor has already visited Dachau and Buchenwald, camps located in present-day Germany, as well as Israel’s Yad Vashem, which she has visited five times. Auschwitz is in present-day Poland, which was occupied by Nazi forces in the period when 1.1 million people were killed there.
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. A 27-year old neo-Nazi has admitted to killing two people.
The International Auschwitz Committee called Merkel’s visit “especially important” as a sign of solidarity with Holocaust survivors, while Poland’s foreign ministry said her visit was “historic”.
An evangelical Christian, Merkel has been praised by Jewish groups for her support for the Jewish people. She was awarded the Leo Baeck Medal in 2010 and the Elie Wiesel Award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017.
Famously, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was deeply affected by his visit to Auschwitz in 1989, which prompted him to give one of recent history’s most stirring speeches in Berlin upon his return. He went back to the camp in 1995, after a month in Jerusalem.
Before she set off, Merkel said her Government was “prioritising the fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” adding that people could expect her “determination” to help Jewish life in Germany flourish.