A survivor of the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp praised Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open her country’s doors to asylum seekers in 2015, telling lawmakers Wednesday at a special parliamentary session commemorating the victims of the Holocaust that it was a sign of Germany’s “exemplary” conduct following the war.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a 92-year-old German-born Jew who survived Auschwitz with her sister but lost her parents in the Holocaust, said that after the war they emerged as refugees in a world of closed borders.
“Now they are opened, thanks to an incredibly generous and courageous gesture made here,” she said to wide applause, with Merkel sitting not far away.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day fell this year on Saturday, 73 years after the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.
Germany’s parliament holds a special session annually to mark the day, commemorating not only the victims of the Holocaust but also those who helped the persecuted and others who resisted Adolf Hitler’s tyranny.
The event this year was the first at which lawmakers from the anti-migrant nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party were present after they won seats in parliament for the first time in September’s election.
They didn’t join the applause for Lasker-Wallfisch’s comments about Merkel’s migrant policy, but did when she spoke out against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, as well as a standing ovation after the speech.
“What happened, happened; and it cannot be expunged,” Lasker-Wallfisch said. “Now it is about making certain it can never, ever, happen again.”
After a minute of silence starting the commemoration, parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble noted to lawmakers that it was only a day after the 85th anniversary of when Hitler had become chancellor, noting that he had too easily turned “racial ideology into public policy.”
“It was all about us and the others, and the others did not belong, were not allowed to belong,” he said, adding that the lesson is there must be “consistent opposition to any form of exclusion before it is too late.”
Anti-Semitism in Germany today is “intolerable,” Schaeuble said, and that also applies to new migrants from Arab nations that have an anti-Israel stance.
“Migration brings obligations, and whoever wishes to live here must accept them; we insist upon that,” he said.
But, in criticism of the nationalism that helped the AfD win votes, he said migrants were also part of Germany.
“Whoever speaks of the people but only means certain parts of the population threatens our democratic order,” said Schaeuble, a member of Merkel’s party.
Lasker-Wallfisch, who moved to Britain after the war, urged Germany and other nations to remain vigilant in fighting anti-Semitism, saying that people needed to see one another as individuals and overcome hatred.
“Hate is toxic, and ultimately those who hate poison themselves,” she said.