Angela Merkel became the first German chancellor to visit the World War II Nazi death camp Dachau on Tuesday, as part of her campaign to warn about the threat posed by the extreme right in Europe.
She placed a wreath at the camp’s memorial before visiting its museum and meeting with survivors.
“This is a significant moment for me,” Merkel said. “The memory of these events fill me with deep sadness and shame.”
She was accompanied by 93-year-old Max Mannheimer, a survivor of Dachau and president of the committee of former prisoners who had invited her to tour the site located about 10 miles from the southern city of Munich.
Merkel’s visit to Dachau comes as she campaigns for a third term in office ahead of Sept. 22 elections.
The German leader earlier said that Europe must remain ever vigilant to the threat posed by the extreme right and urged people to show more courage in the fight against neo-Nazi movements.
“It is and remains incomprehensible, what happened at the concentration camps,” said Merkel, the country’s first chancellor born after World War II, ahead of the visit. “We must never allow such ideas to have a place in our democratic Europe.”
Mannheimer, meanwhile, said: “It is a great honor and an historic event for us survivors.” Six of his relatives perished in the Holocaust.
Dachau was opened in March 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power, to house opponents of the Third Reich and later those it wanted to rid Germany of, such as Jews and gypsies.
More than 200,000 people from across Europe were imprisoned at Dachau, which became a model for other concentration camps built by the Nazis during their 12 years in power.
An estimated 41,500 people died in Dachau, before it was liberated by U.S. troops in April 1945.
Green Party parliamentary leader Renate Kuenast criticized Merkel for making the visit to Dachau during the election campaign.
The trip to the camp was “a tasteless and impossible combination,” Kuenast told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung.