Speech by German Federal Chancellor Merkel
At the commemorative ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp on 3 May 2015
Minister-President Horst Seehofer,
President of the Landtag,
ladies and Gentlemen,
in particular, I would like to welcome those who were liberated by American soldiers 70 years ago and survived this concentration camp, those who now – together with their relatives – have returned here so that we can remember together the terrible things they experienced and suffered in this place. We have, today, heard moving accounts of this suffering. I would also like to welcome those who liberated this camp. I'm very grateful that some of you could be here today. I am filled with a deep gratitude and it is a great honour for me to speak to you today.
The memorial year of 2015 marks 70 years since the end of World War II and our liberation from National Socialism. At the beginning of the year, on 27 January, we remembered the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp by Soviet soldiers 70 years ago. Auschwitz is a synonym for the disenfranchisement and persecution of millions of people, and for the rupture of civilisation by Germany, the Shoah.
On 27 January each year, we remember all the people who were disenfranchised, persecuted, tortured and killed by Germany. Over 200,000 of these persecuted and tortured people were imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp or one of its many satellite camps between 1933 and 1945. They were persecuted and imprisoned because they thought differently, believed differently and lived differently to the ideology upheld by National Socialism – or simply because they existed. They were men, women and children. And they came from all over Europe. They also came from many other places around the world, including Asia and – though this is still little known to the public – parts of Africa, namely the Congo, Senegal and Eritrea. Today, we remember the approximately 41,500 people who did not survive this place.
We also think of the survivors who had to live through this terror and unimaginable horror, and who were and are marked by it for life. I'm deeply moved that so many of you have made the journey to be here with us today. On behalf of you all, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Mr Samuel, Mr Naor, Mr Feierabend and Mr Mannheimer.
It is a matter of our great fortune that people like you are willing to tell us about your lives. The tremendous suffering caused to you by Germany in the time of National Socialism is wholly beyond our comprehension today. And this makes stories from the survivors all the more important, because they at least give us a sense of these historical events. Your impressive and touching descriptions help young people to connect hard facts and figures with individual names, faces and lives. It is the voices and reports of the survivors that allow us all, even younger generations, to answer the question of why it is so necessary and important to remember the horrors of National Socialism both now and in the future – and why this must not end in commemorative speeches, but continue on into the future.
Studies regularly show how widespread anti-Semitic views are, both in this country and abroad. But we don't need studies to show us this; we need only watch and listen. Because none of us can turn a blind eye to the fact that synagogues, Jewish schools, businesses and other institutions can only exist with considerable police protection, for instance; nor can we turn a blind eye to the anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks that take place at demonstrations against Israel; or to the fact that rabbis continue to be attacked in Germany's cities.
Now more than ever, we cannot turn a blind eye to appalling terrorist attacks such as the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year, or the attacks on the editors of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the customers of a kosher supermarket in Paris in January of this year. These attacks demonstrate two of the great evils of our time: murderous, Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism, hatred for the Jews.
These attacks affect individual people and institutions – and at the same time, they affect the inalienable, inviolable dignity of man and thus the very foundation of our free and democratic order. And this is why we must never turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to those today who abuse, threaten and attack people who can be identified as Jews or supporters of the state of Israel. We must make unmistakably clear that Jewish life is part of our identity; that discrimination, marginalisation and anti-Semitism can have no place here, and that they must be fought with determination and the full force of legal means. That is our national and civic duty. We owe it to all the victims of National Socialism, including the victims of this former concentration camp in Dachau, to remain forever conscious of this national and civic duty. We owe that to the survivors. And we owe that to ourselves.
That's why memorials like this are so important. They are places where, even 70 years after their liberation, the suffering of the victims can still be felt. They are places of information, research and collection. They offer events and exhibitions, and present and contextualise these authentic architectural remnants. Memorials are places for the living to confront history. The value of the extensive and varied education and mediation work done by the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site cannot be overstated. Thank you to all those involved. As a place of learning for future generations, they will ensure that our knowledge about what happened here will be kept alive and passed on – particularly when, one day, there are no more living witnesses or survivors of National Socialism among us. Memorials make an important contribution to nurturing democracy.
At this point, I would like to once again thank the employees of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site for their incredible work beyond the memorial days, because their work is ongoing. I do this in the certainty that they will, against all odds, continue to keep alive and pass on the memory of what happened here every day. Because incidents such as last November's theft of the former gate of the Dachau concentration camp – the central symbol of the prisoners' suffering – unfortunately dismay us time and again. To this day, the gate has not been found. The gate we see today is a mere reproduction. Incidents like this show clearly how important it is to work every day for a better future, in awareness of Germany's everlasting responsibility for the horrors of the past.
We must work together to ensure that our young people are never again seduced by the Pied Pipers of extremism. This is why the German Government supports a number of activities and projects that promote tolerance and strengthen social competence and an understanding of democracy in work with young people and their parents. We must eradicate all forms of extremist discrimination and violence in families.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this memorial year of 2015, the former concentration and extermination camps have been at the forefront of the public's mind in recent weeks. Seventy years ago, the camps were liberated one by one. And at each one, a picture emerged of unimaginable horror. All of them remind us not to forget. No, we won't forget. We will remember – for the sake of the victims, for our sake, and for the sake of future generations. Thank you for listening.