Angela Merkel warned of a rising new wave of hatred and anti-Semitism across Germany and Europe as she visited Auschwitz to honour the victims of the Holocaust on Friday.
Speaking at the concentration camp where 1.1m people were murdered by the Nazis, the overwhelming majority of them Jewish, Mrs Merkel pledged that Germany would never forget its historical responsibility for the Holocaust.
“Remembering the crimes, naming the perpetrators, and giving the victims a dignified commemoration, that is a responsibility that does not end,” she said.
“It is not negotiable; and it is inseparable from our country. Being aware of this responsibility is an integral part of our national identity.”
Mrs Merkel used her first official visit to Auschwitz, which lies in modern Poland, to send a clear warning about rising anti-Semitism.
“These days it is necessary to say this clearly. Because we are experiencing worrying racism, increasing intolerance, a wave of hate crime,” she said. “We pay particular attention to anti-Semitism, which threatens Jewish life in Germany, in Europe and beyond.”
Mrs Merkel is only the third postwar German chancellor to visit Auschwitz, and followed in the steps of Helmut Schmidt and her mentor, Helmut Kohl.
Dressed in black and accompanied by Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, she visited the gas chambers and held a minute’s silence at the Death Wall, where thousands of prisoners were executed.
She spoke movingly of how it felt to stand on the ramp, where Jewish prisoners arriving by train were selected for the gas chambers.
“Being here today and speaking to you as German Chancellor is anything but easy for me. I am deeply ashamed of the barbaric crimes perpetrated here by Germans – crimes that transcend the limits of all things,” she said.
“In horror at what has been done to women, men and children in this place, you have to be silent…And yet silence must not be our only answer. This place obliges us to keep the memory alive. We need to remember the crimes that were committed here and to make them clear.”
Mrs Merkel was speaking at ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and pledged a donation of €60m (£51m) towards its works to preserve the camp as a memorial and warning to future generations.
The timing of her visit was clearly prompted by the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Germany. A bloodbath was narrowly averted in October when a lone far-Right gunman failed to gain entry to a synagogue packed with people marking Yom Kippur in the eastern German city of Halle.
Violent anti-Semitic crimes rose by 60 per cent in Germany last year, with 62 offences leaving 43 people injured.
Solemn events are planned next month to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops at the end of the war.
There has been speculation in Germany that Mrs Merkel chose to attend Friday’s lower-key ceremony in case she is forced from power before then.
Her coalition is looking increasingly fragile after her partners in the Social Democrats (SPD) elected two left-wing candidates to be its new leaders.
Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, who were officially confirmed as joint leaders by the SPD party conference on Friday, have threatened to pull the party out of Mrs Merkel’s coalition.
But they appeared to back away from the threat at Friday’s party conference, calling instead for negotiations on new government spending.
“With this propsal, the coalition will have a realistic chance of continuing – no more and no less,” Ms Esken told delegates.