BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned on Friday that liberal democracy must be protected against “a very dangerous historical revisionism” as she honored the memories of the one million Jews and thousands of political prisoners killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp.
On what was Ms. Merkel’s first visit as Germany’s chancellor to the camp, in southern Poland, she entered beneath the wrought-iron gateway with its cynical promise, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Sets You Free,” on a frosty, gray morning. She was accompanied by her Polish counterpart, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Officially, her visit marked a decade since the founding of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to preserve the memorial site for future generations. But at a time when anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism are straining societies across Europe, and when more and more Germans are questioning their country’s post-World War II culture of remembrance and atonement for Nazi crimes, the symbolism of her presence at the site resonated beyond the anniversary.
After touring a laboratory that preserves artifacts at the memorial, such as the piles of shoes, suitcases and human hair that she viewed in the camp’s museum, the chancellor stressed Germany’s “enduring responsibility” to preserve evidence of Nazi crimes as a warning to future generations of the danger that hate and xenophobia pose to democratic societies.
“We Germans owe it to the victims and we owe it to ourselves to keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner,” Ms. Merkel said. “This is not open to negotiation. It is an integral part and will forever be an integral part of our identity.”
In the past year, there has been a repeated chipping away at Germany’s pledge to “never again” repeat the crimes of the Nazis, who systematically deported and killed six million European Jews and drove hundreds of thousands of others into exile.
German officials said hate crimes targeting Jews rose 10 percent last year, to 1,646, while physical attacks increased by more than a third, to 62, in the same time period.
Ms. Merkel called on government leaders and politicians to remain committed to defending and strengthening the values of human dignity and the right to freedom and democracy, which she called “very vulnerable and fragile, indeed.”
“These days, this is more than just rhetoric,” she said. “These days, it is important that we state this in an unequivocal manner, because what we are experiencing of late is an alarming level of racism, increasing intolerance, a wave of hate crimes.”
“We are witnessing and experiencing an attack on the fundamental values of liberal democracy,” Ms. Merkel said, “and a very dangerous historical revisionism that serves a hostility that is directed against specific groups.”