Merkel Joins Holocaust Survivors to Mark Dachau Liberation

70 years after US soldiers broke down the gates of Nazi concentration camp, survivors and vets return; Jewish representatives warn of resurgence of racism.

AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp along with survivors and some of the U.S. soldiers who were there at the time.

Merkel thanked the camp's survivors for their work in telling their eyewitness stories of the horrors they experienced.

"It is a great fortune that people like you are prepared to tell us your life stories, the unending suffering that Germany inflicted on you during the Nazi period," Merkel said.

Merkel was directly thanking the very elderly survivors who had come to the commemoration and who had related their memories in moving accounts.

She said it was only once people could hear these stories that they could put faces to the naked statistics.

Alan Lukens, one of the soldiers who liberated Dachau, recalled Sunday that "it was a terrible shock" to see how badly the surviving prisoners had suffered from disease, malnutrition and ill-treatment. He also remembered the excitement of the inmates as they greeted the liberators with a hand-sewn American flag they had hidden.

At a memorial event, Jewish representatives warned of a resurgence of racism and anti-Semitism in Germany.

"When I look at how some citizens stir up feelings against refugees or how disparagingly Jews are talked about, then I ask myself: how well anchored in people's heads is the great good of human dignity," said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Merkel was present at the event and was due to speak later.

The president of the Dachau Camp Community, Max Mannheimer, also expressed concerns.

"From the historical commemoration there must also emerge a consciousness of responsibility," Mannheimer said.

Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Munich and Upper Bavarian Jewish Community, warned Germans not to draw a line under their Nazi history.

"I urgently plead for our people of today not to see our history as a burden but as an opportunity for greater understanding - as a motivation to maturity, truth and humanity," she said.

Dachau, near Munich, was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. More than 200,000 people from across Europe were held there and over 40,000 prisoners died there.

Dachau was liberated by U.S. troops on April 29, 1945.