Merkel at Dachau: German Chancellor Visits Hitler's First Concentration Camp

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By Umberto Bacchi | August 21, 2013 3:35 AM EST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to lay a wreath at the former concentration camp in Dachau (Reuters)

German chancellor Angela Merkel has made an historic visit to the former Nazi concentration camp of Dachau.

In the first such visit to the site by a German chancellor, she warned against the continuing threat of anti-Semitism and racism, almost 70 years after the end of World War II.

She was due to make a speech warning of the continuing threat from the far right before she toured the camp, where tens of thousands of prisoners were murdered.

Dachau opened in 1933 shortly after Hitler seized power and was the first such site in Germany. It was the prototype for the network of death camps that the Nazis set up across Europe

More than 200,000 Jews, gays, Roma, political opponents, the disabled and prisoners of war were imprisoned in Dachau during the war.

More than 41,000 people were murdered, starved to death or died of disease before US troops liberated the camp in April 1945.

The memorial now attracts some 800,000 visitors each year.

The visit was part of Merkel's election campaign and was to be followed by a rally in a beer tent.

While Merkel was hailed by survivors for the visit, political opponents called the visit in the run-up to the election "tasteless".

Max Mannheimer, the 93-year-old president of the Dachau camp committee, has long lobbied for Merkel to go to the camp, which is near Munich in southern Germany.

He called her decision historic and a "signal of respect for the former detainees".

But a leader of the opposition Greens party, Renate Kuenast, told the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung: "If you're serious about commemoration at such a place of horrors, then you don't pay such a visit during an election campaign."

In 1989 then chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Kohl, ending a visit designed to heal wartime emnity between Poles and Germans visited the Auschwitz death camp.

Merkel visited Buchenwald camp with US president Barack Obama in April 2010.

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