Angela Merkel will visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland for the first time in her 14 years as chancellor, as Germany grapples with a resurgence of antisemitism.
Merkel will become only the third German chancellor to visit, with her highly symbolic trip coming ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
The visit “is a particularly important signal of attention and solidarity at a time when Auschwitz survivors are victims of antisemitic insults and hate-filled emails,” said Christoph Heubner, deputy chairman of the Auschwitz International Committee.
Ahead of the trip, Germany’s federal states are expected to approve a 60 million euro donation for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which is marking 10 years since it was set up.
The 65-year-old Merkel, who was born nine years after the end of World War II, will be accompanied by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and a survivor of the camp.
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s EJC affiliate, will also be taking part in the visit.
Merkel will begin the visit by walking through the camp’s infamous gate, which bears the chilling Nazi message “Arbeit macht frei” (Work will set you free).
She will hold a minute’s silence by the Death Wall where thousands of prisoners were shot dead.
Merkel will also give a speech during the visit, as well as laying a wreath at the nearby Birkenau camp.
Merkel follows in the footsteps of previous German chancellors Helmut Schmidt, who came in 1977, and Helmut Kohl, who visited in 1989 and 1995.
She has, however, visited several of the former camps in Germany over many years and has been to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre five times.