Germans tolerated Hitler's rise - Merkel


Chancellor Angela Merkel has reminded Germans that Nazi crimes were possible only because ordinary people allowed them take place.

Exactly 80 years after Adolf Hitler rose to power, Dr Merkel opened a new exhibition yesterday addressing the Nazi take-over and the regime’s subsequent persecution of Jews, homosexuals, Sinti-Roma and political rivals.

“The rise of National Socialism was possible because the elites and parts of German society participated but, above all, because most in Germany tolerated this rise,” said Dr Merkel.

“Thus the . . . stripping of rights that ended in the second World War and the Shoah were only possible because a broad majority simply looked away, because it was immaterial to them.”

Touring the new exhibition Berlin 1933 – Path to Dictatorship, she noted how it took the Nazis just six months after taking office to dismantle the Weimar Republic’s democratic structures.

That was just four months longer than Hitler’s first deputy chancellor, Franz von Papen, thought it would take for the Nazi leader to stumble and fall out of office again.

‘Respect and responsibility’

The exhibition at Berlin’s “Topography of Terror Museum”, built on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters, tells the stories of 36 people who fell victim to the Nazis during a first year in power marked by boycotts of Jewish doctors, lawyers and shops.

“Human rights and freedom don’t defend themselves,” said Dr Merkel. “A society with a humane face needs people who have respect and responsibility for each other and who are ready to accept criticism.”

At a ceremony in the Reichstag building, set alight on February 27th, 1933, Bundestag president Norbert Lammert recalled that the “path to Auschwitz began with the destruction of democracy”.

The Nazi takeover was, he said, “not an accident of history, nor was it a coincidence or inevitable”.

That view was not always a given in Germany, according to the 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Inge Deutschkron. She reminded a special Bundestag sitting yesterday how West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer once told the Bonn parliament that the majority of Germans were opponents of the crimes against Jews.

“He said many of them helped Jews escape their murderers,” she said. “If only that was the truth.”

Morsi visit

Later, Chancellor Merkel received Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi on his inaugural visit to the German capital and said it was “important for Germany that human rights and religious freedom are adhered to”.

“The talks with various democratic forces have to be present,” she said, urging talks with opposition figures.

Mr Morsi insisted the current transitionary phase in Egypt was necessary to “secure democracy” and would end as soon as protests receded.

Parliamentary elections would take place within three or four months, he said.

“Egypt will not be a theocratic state but a democratic state that permits opinion and contrasting opinion,” he said.

His visit was cut short after a week of violence in Egypt in which 50 people died.