Oswiecim (dpa) - Auschwitz - a place of immeasurable suffering, unleashed barbarism, systematic murder.
Can the sun ever shine again in this place of darkness? It appears when Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife Elke Büdenbender step through the gate with the cynical phrase "Work makes you free". But the pale winter light makes the iron gate, the barbed wire fences, the brick barracks seem even more unreal than they already are.
The Federal President and his wife are in Auschwitz for the first time. You have come to attend the 75th anniversary of the liberation. They go through the camp beforehand. Steinmeier lays down a bouquet of red and yellow roses on the death wall. He straightens the bow and stands in front of it with his head bowed. "Auschwitz is a place of horror and a place of German guilt," he writes in the guest book. It can be felt that these moments are close to him. His voice sounds attacked when he later says: "Auschwitz is the sum of ethnic thinking, racial hatred and national frenzy."
The day begins for Steinmeier in Bellevue Palace with a meeting with three Holocaust survivors. They then accompany him to Poland. One of them is Mano Hell Cleaner. He grew up in Munich-Giesing, the child of a Sinti family who had been there for generations. In March 1943, when he was nine years old, the Nazis deported the family to the so-called Auschwitz gypsy camp. The following year the boy came to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, later to Sachsenhausen.
The 86-year-old bears his left arm unasked, shows prisoner number Z-3526, which was tattooed on him in Auschwitz. He still remembers how his father was half beaten to death by an SS officer. How he had to pile up mountains of corpses and clean the shoes of the notorious camp doctor Josef Mengele. How 36 of his relatives were driven into the gas chamber. How the flames burst from the chimney of the crematorium when the bodies were burned. "Sometimes it stank of human flesh."
Returning to the place with the Federal President was "an honor", says Höllenreiner before departure. He has been here 14 times and knows: "If you come in now, it will be terrible again. Then you think again." When he walks through the camp with Steinmeier in the afternoon, Höllenreiner in Block 4 suddenly points to a large black and white photo of a boy with a cap. "I was about that age," he says. "Preparation for selection" is written in English under the photo.
Auschwitz - that has become synonymous worldwide with the Holocaust and the epitome of evil. The Germans set up the main camp outside the city of Oswiecim in mid-1940 in the part of Poland occupied by the Wehrmacht. They quickly expanded it. The largest extermination camp in Europe was built here and in Brzezinka (Birkenau), three kilometers away. Mass transports of Jews there began in 1942. At least 1.1 million people were gassed, beaten to death, shot, died of disease and starvation.
When soldiers of the Red Army arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945, they released some 7,500 prisoners who were still alive. They found the bodies of those whom the SS had killed shortly before they left. They found the ashes of the murdered in the ruins. And they found around 110,000 shoes, 3800 suitcases, 40 kilos of glasses and two tons of hair that the German deported women had cut off. "The gates of hell were opened on January 27, 1945," said Israel's President Reuven Rivlin. Steinmeier and his wife also stand in front of the mountain of hair on Monday.
It is eight days full of symbolism that the friendly heads of state of Israel and Germany are spending together. After Steinmeier's speech last Thursday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the Israeli spontaneously hugged the German. Now commemoration in Auschwitz. Rivlin very much appreciated the fact that Steinmeier invited him to fly to Berlin with his air force machine.
A speech by Steinmeier is not planned in Auschwitz, unlike last week at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. But the words of the German in Jerusalem, his commitment to German guilt, his struggle against every line in his memory and his declaration of war against new anti-Semitism - all of this was registered exactly in Poland.
And there is also a memory of what Steinmeier said on the 80th anniversary of the German attack on Poland last year in Warsaw: "Today I stand barefoot in front of the Polish people, as a person, as a German, laden with great historical guilt." Words that sound as if they had already been formulated for this anniversary in Auschwitz.
There, the Polish President Andrzej Duda warned in front of around 3000 guests, including many Holocaust survivors, on Monday that the memory of Auschwitz and the Holocaust should never go away. That is an obligation towards the victims, the survivors and future generations.
Like Duda, Steinmeier does not want to just remember. On the contrary, one should understand Auschwitz "as a permanent responsibility to fight back the beginnings, also in our country". The Federal President speaks hell cleaner from the soul. He complains that "there are already so many Nazis", which is "a shame for Germany". For the Holocaust survivor, the lesson from the horror of Auschwitz is: "Something like this must never come again."
Visitor information on Auschwitz-Birkenau (German)
Federal President Steinmeier's program