BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said anti-Semitism and racism remain a threat to democracy in Europe almost 70 years after the end of World War II.
Merkel cited the ongoing trial of five alleged neo-Nazis over the killing of 10 people between 2000 and 2007, and the fact that Jewish schools and synagogues still require police protection, as evidence of the problem in Germany.
She said Germany and the rest of Europe need to be vigilant against far-right extremists who seek to spread a distorted account of history.
Merkel’s comments came Saturday in a weekly online address three days before a planned visit to the remains of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in southern Germany.
Almost six million European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust orchestrated by Germany’s Nazi party.
Merkel’s scheduled visit to Dachau Tuesday will make her Berlin’s first leader to travel to the former Nazi concentration camp.
Merkel will lay a wreath at the site’s memorial, make a short speech, and will tour the camp.
Merkel will be joined on her visit by Holocaust survivor Max Mannheimer, director of the site, and by Bavaria’s education minister.
In 1992, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl turned down a request to visit the concentration camp, angering Jewish and Israeli groups. Seven years earlier, US President Ronald Reagan also refused to visit, saying that he and Kohl both agreed that it was unnecessary.
“They have a feeling, a guilt feeling that’s been imposed upon them, and I just think it’s unnecessary,” Reagan said then, according to a 1985 LA Times article. Reagan added that there are “very few alive that remember even the war, and certainly none of them who were adults and participating in any way.”
About 16 km from the Bavarian city of Munich, Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp to open in Germany itself. In operation from 1933-1945, Dachau served as a template for other concentration camps operated by the Third Reich. It primarily housed various political prisoners, criminals, Catholics and Jews.
While not a death camp like Auschwitz, the mostly prisoners were worked mercilessly and many died there. Nazi records show some 31,000 official deaths during the years that the work camp was operational, but the total number of prisoner deaths are unknown. About one third of the prisoners were Jews.
Jewish former French Prime Minister Leon Blum was briefly imprisoned at Dachau, as were former Bank of Israel Governor Moshe Sanbar and noted psychologist Viktor Frankl.
The US Army liberated Dachau on April 29, 1945, after prisoners had taken control of the camp.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.