German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited for the first time the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, pledging an extra $66 million in funding to its memorial museum.
Merkel entered the camp through the infamous gate under the sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei”. An accompanying group of survivors and dignitaries kept their distance as she and her guides made their way slowly along the path that led to death for so many.
Her visit on this cold, sunny Friday included a moment of silence at the so-called “Black Wall,” where some 20,000 people were shot to death. Together with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder, Merkel walked through the former death camp where over a million people were murdered.
The last sitting German chancellor to visit the site was the late Helmut Kohl in 1995.
Lauder walked with Merkel through the 16-year-old conservation laboratories at the memorial, which preserve the museum’s artifacts and structures. Lauder has raised tens of millions of dollars internationally to fund these conservation efforts.
The camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945. This year, ceremonies will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation.
The funds will help the 10-year-old Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation towards its goal of raising 120 million euro, or $133 million.