Angela Merkel spoke of her “deep shame” on a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, the first by a German chancellor in 24 years.
She said Germany was committed to remembering the crimes it committed during the Second World War against Jews, as well as other minorities including Poles, Roma and homosexuals.
“Auschwitz was a German death camp, run by Germans,” she said during Friday’s visit, which included a meeting with former inmates at the camp.
“We Germans owe it to the victims and we owe it to ourselves to keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner.
“This is not open to negotiation. It is an integral part and will forever be an integral part of our identity.”
Accompanied by Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Ronald Lauder, the president of World Jewish Congress, Ms Merkel walked under the gate bearing the notorious slogan Arbeit Macht Frei — “Work will set you free” — and laid a wreath at the site of the executions.
The German chancellor said she felt “deep shame in the face of the barbaric crimes committed by Germans here.”
“Nothing can bring back the people who were murdered here. Nothing can reverse the unprecedented crimes committed here. These crimes are and will remain part of German history and this history must be told over and over again.”
She also announced a €60 million (£50.5 million) donation to a fund that will conserve physical remnants of the site, including barracks and watchtowers, as well as the personal possessions of those who were killed.
In an acknowledgement of the German nation’s responsibility for the crimes, half of the donation came from Germany’s federal government while the remainder came from Germany’s individual states. An earlier €60 million donation was divided in similar fashion.
Although this was Ms Merkel’s first visit to Auschwitz since she took office in 2005, she has paid respects at other Nazi concentration camps during her chancellery and made five visits to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The last sitting German chancellor to visit the site was Helmut Kohl in 1995.
An estimated 1.1 million people — the vast majority being Jewish — were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp was liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945.