Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Holocaust a fundamental attack on the very heart of "what makes us human beings – on human dignity". At a ceremony of remembrance in Berlin she added, "Auschwitz is symbolic of the Holocaust, Germany’s betrayal of civilisation."
The International Auschwitz Committee, which brings together Holocaust survivors, their organisations and foundations, had invited the Chancellor to speak. In the Berlin education centre Urania, in front of an audience of politicians and representatives of the realms of culture and civil society, she spoke of the "barbaric turning point in history".
In the death camp in Auschwitz more than 1.1 million people were murdered, one million of them Jews. The 27th January marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp. The official ceremony one day earlier will be the launch of worldwide remembrance events.
Crimes against humanity are not time-barred
Angela Merkel paid tribute to all those who were persecuted, abused, tortured, expelled and murdered by Nazi Germany: the Sinti and Roma, the people with disabilities, the homosexuals, the forced labourers, the suffering people in Germany and in the countries invaded by Germany. For what happened at that time, "we Germans feel enormous shame," said the Chancellor.
"Tomorrow, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau we will pay tribute to the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered," said Angela Merkel. "Crimes against humanity are not time-barred. We will always have the responsibility of ensuring that the knowledge about these atrocities is passed on, and of keeping the memories alive."
The Day of Remembrance for Victims of National Socialism marks the Red Army’s liberation of the concentration and death camp in Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. Instituted by former Federal President Roman Herzog, it has been a national day of remembrance in Germany since 1996. In 2005 the United Nations declared it International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Eye witnesses report in Berlin
The remembrance ceremony on Monday marked the start of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January. The event was hosted by the Berlin-based International Auschwitz Committee, which brings together Holocaust survivors, their organisations and foundations. In its invitation to the Chancellor the International Auschwitz Committee underlined the special importance of Berlin for survivors of the Nazi extermination policy. This is the place where the decisions were made that sealed their fates and the fates of their families.
The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is particularly important, said the Committee, because it is likely to be one of the last attended by eye-witnesses. The Auschwitz survivors Marian Turski from Warsaw and Eva Fahidi from Budapest gave an impressive and moving account of their personal fates during and following their imprisonment in Auschwitz. Young guests from Poland, Israel and Germany reported on how they had attempted to come to terms with the Holocaust. Berlin school pupils too were invited to the event by the International Auschwitz Committee.
Official remembrance ceremony in the German Bundestag
On Tuesday the Chancellor will attend the annual remembrance ceremony for the victims of National Socialism in the German Bundestag. Representatives of all constitutional organs of the Federal Republic of Germany will be present. After a few words of welcome from Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Federal President Joachim Gauck will be the main speaker.
This year, as usual, the remembrance ceremonies will be accompanied by a youth encounter that will last several days. Some 80 young people from Germany and its neighbours, especially Poland and France, will demonstrate how they engage with the history of National Socialism, and how they are actively involved in combating anti-Semitism and racism.