At Dachau, a lesson for AbeGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich on Tuesday and laid a wreath in mourning for the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Her visit to a Nazi death camp is historic, and not just because it is the first time an incumbent German leader visited a Holocaust site.
Germany, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its reunification last year, remains Europe’s strongest country and wields enormous influence on the global stage. Despite its past atrocities, Germany has earned respect and recognition from the international community because it has demonstrated that it is a changed country. That change was underscored by Merkel’s expression of deep regret at the former concentration camp. Lamenting the “horrible and unprecedented chapter of our history,” she said her visit was intended to “be a bridge from history to the present and into the future that we want to continue to build.” With her words, Germany again atoned for its past and pledged its commitment to peace before the eyes of the world.
Merkel toured the site with 93-year-old Dachau survivor Max Mannheimer. She stayed only 15 minutes between campaign stops. Nevertheless, her gesture of genuflection may be remembered as symbolic as the famous “kniefall” by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt before a monument to the Nazi-era Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in a show of deep penance in 1970. Along with his political efforts to ease West?East tensions during the Cold War, Brandt bridged the gaps between Germans living on both sides of the split, both of which helped him receive the Noble Peace Prize in 1971.
Being filled with “deep sadness and shame” from the memory of the prisoners’ fates, Merkel expressed hope that her visit would serve as a bridge and warning to Germans. It is no doubt a future-looking comment from a responsible leader.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Japan continues to anger its regional neighbors with outright denials of and justifications for past aggressions. In his speech to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers at the end of World War II, which is also commemorated by Koreans as their liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intentionally left out the words expressing remorse or apologizing for the suffering inflicted on other Asian people and countries - a tradition that was maintained by Japan’s prime ministers every year since 1993.
Abe should learn from his German counterpart how an indebted country can be reborn, and how its leader can earn respect at home and abroad.