German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Dachau concentration camp on Tuesday, where she laid a wreath in memory of the more than 41,000 people killed at the site by the Nazis during the Holocaust. She is the first German chancellor to visit the death camp.
Dachau, which is situated near Munich, was created weeks after Adolf Hitler assumed power as chancellor in 1933. The camp was initially used as a detention center for political rivals and those opposed to the Nazi Party, according to the Christian Science Monitor
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The camp went on to become one of numerous concentrations camps used by the Nazi's during the Holocaust to systematically kill some 6 million Jews, 3 million Catholics and countless other individuals who they deemed racially inferior, including gypsies, disabled individuals and homosexuals, among others.
Poles constituted the largest ethnic group in the camp during the war, followed by Russians, French, Yugoslavs, Jews, and Czechs. Of the 2,720 clergy members who were imprisoned at Dachau, the overwhelming majority were Catholic, just under 95 percent, or 2,579 priests and nuns.
"The name Dachau is tragically famous as it serves as a model for the concentration camps," the chancellor said. "The memory of that fate fills me with deep sadness and shame."
Above the gates that greet the 800,000 annual visitors to the camp the motto "Arbeit macht frei," which translates into "Work makes you free," remains nearly seven decades after it was liberated by U.S. forces.
When the U.S. Army liberated the death camp on 29 April 1945, they found it dived into two sections – a camp area and a crematorium. It was subsequently converted into a detention center and U.S. base where SS officers awaited trial for their war atrocities between 1945 and 1948.
It was closed for official use in 1960, after which time it became the site of several memorials and was opened to visitors.
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This is the second time Merkel has visited Dachau, having first paid tribute to the victims as a minister in 1992.
In 2009, the conservative German chancellor also visited the Buchenwald camp with President Barack Obama.
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