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WORLD WAR II

‘Our responsibility will never end’: Germany pledges €120 million to Auschwitz fund

Germany has doubled its share of a fund to preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to €120 million euros, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday.

'Our responsibility will never end': Germany pledges €120 million to Auschwitz fund
Maas visiting the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 2018. Photo: DPA

The death camp, which is located in Poland, was where Nazi officials murdered 1.1 million people, a million of whom were European Jews, from 1940 to 1945.

Around 80,000 Poles, 25,000 Roma and 20,000 Soviet soldiers also perished there before the Red Army arrived in January 1945.

More than a decade ago, Poland sought contributions to establish a permanent fund to preserve the site.

Maas was quoted in a statement issued by the Auschwitz museum as saying that Germany would keep doing what “it has done for years within the context of its historical responsibility.

“We want to support this work and preserve the memory because German responsibility for the Holocaust will never end,” he added.

Each year, more than two million people visit the site, which covers more than 200 hectares (500 acres). In 2018, there were a record number of visitors to the memorial site.

In December, Angela Merkel visited the site for the first as Chancellor ahead of the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation.

READ ALSO: Merkel set to visit Auschwitz as Germany battles resurgence of anti-Semitism

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ANTI-SEMITISM

‘We will fight for our Germany’: Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right

Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch on Wednesday called for a stronger defence of the country's "fragile" democracy and issued a searing rebuke to the far right: "We will fight for our Germany".

'We will fight for our Germany': Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right
Knobloch addressing the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

In an emotional speech to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Knobloch told the Bundestag lower house of parliament that extremists and conspiracy theorists were exploiting fears around the pandemic and a diversifying society.

“We must not forget for a single day how fragile the precious achievements of the last 76 years are” since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on January 27th, 1945.

“Anti-Semitic thought and words draw votes again, are socially acceptable again — from schools to corona protests and of course the internet, that catalyst for hatred and incitement of all kinds.”

Knobloch, 88, a former leader of Germany's 200,000-strong Jewish community who survived the Holocaust in hiding as a child in Bavaria, warned that the enemies of democracy are stronger than many think”.

“I call on you: take care of our country,” she said, describing right-wing extremism as “the greatest danger for all” in Germany.

'You lost your fight'

Addressing deputies of the hard-right Alternative for Germany, the largest opposition group in parliament with nearly 100 seats, Knobloch accused many of its followers of “picking up the tradition” of the Nazis.

“I tell you: you lost your fight 76 years ago,” Knobloch said. “You will continue to fight for your Germany and we will keep fighting for our Germany.”

Knobloch fought back tears as she recounted the terror of the Nazis' rise and the deportation of her grandmother, Albertine Neuland, to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where she starved to death in 1944.

READ ALSO: 'Fight against forgetting': Germany marks Holocaust anniversary in shadow of coronavirus

“I stand before you as a proud German, against all odds and although much still makes it unlikely. Sadness, pain, desperation and loneliness accompany me.”

The window of a new synagogue which opened in Konstanz in November 2019. Photo: DPA

But she said Germany's enduring commitment to reckon with its history made her hopeful.

“I am proud of the young people in our country. They are free of guilt for the past but they assume responsibility for today and tomorrow: interested,
passionate and courageous.”

However Bundestag speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, a respected elder statesman,
warned that the German consensus around atonement for the Nazis' crimes, long
seen as part of the bedrock of the post-war order, was showing signs of vulnerability.

He told the chamber it was “devastating” to admit that “our remembrance culture does not protect us from a brazen reinterpretation or even a denial of history”.

“And it doesn't protect us from new forms of racism and anti-Semitism,” said Schaeuble, 78.

Jewish journalist and activist Marina Weisband, 33, also urged continued vigilance.

“To be Jewish in Germany is to know it happened and can happen again,” she said.

“Anti-Semitism doesn't begin when shots are fired at a synagogue,” she said, referring to an extremist attack in the eastern city of Halle in October 2019.

READ ALSO: 'It doesn't change my feeling about Germany': Jewish community fearful but defiant after Halle attack

“The Shoah did not begin with gas chambers… It is not extinct, this conviction that there are people whose dignity is worth more than others'.”

Germany has officially marked Holocaust Remembrance Day every January 27th
since 1996 with a solemn ceremony at the Bundestag featuring a speech by a survivor and commemorations across the country.

Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, more than one million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, most in its notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others including homosexuals, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

This year's anniversary is marked by growing concerns about extremist violence and incitement in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of her “shame” over rising anti-Semitism, as the Jewish community has warned that coronavirus conspiracy theories are being used to stir hatred.

In a speech recorded for Remembrance Day, Merkel thanked the elderly survivors “who muster the strength to tell the story of their lives”.

“Their first-hand accounts show us just how vulnerable human dignity is and
how easily the values that underpin peaceful coexistence can be violated,” she
said.

Anti-Jewish crimes have risen steadily, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year, according to the latest official figures.

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