Germans 'filled with shame' over Holocaust, Merkel tells Israel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Israel's parliament on Tuesday that her countrymen are "filled with shame" over the Holocaust and that she bows before the victims of the Nazi genocide.
In an emotional speech delivered in German, Merkel said her country will always be committed to Israel's security, particularly in light of growing threats from Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other leaders have repeatedly appealed for Germany's help in halting Iran's nuclear program.
Merkel's address to the Knesset capped a three-day visit to Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding. Israel pulled out all the stops for Merkel, a staunch ally, raising the German flag over its parliament in a red carpet ceremony that drove home the two nations' growing alliance six decades after the Holocaust.
At the end of Merkel's 20-minute speech, delivered in German, legislators gave her a standing ovation.
Lawmakers made special allowances for Merkel to address them, even though she's not a head of state. A handful of the 120 lawmakers stayed away, including one who said he could not bear to hear the language spoken by the murderers of his grandparents.
Historic joint session
On Monday, Israeli and German cabinet ministers held a historic joint session, a first for Israel, and the two nations approved a series of co-operative projects. Germany already is Israel's second-largest trade partner, after the U.S., and since the two nations formed diplomatic relations in 1965, Germany has paid $39.4 billion US to Holocaust survivors in Israel.
Merkel opened her speech with a Hebrew sentence, thanking the parliament for giving her the "great honour" of addressing them in German. She immediately paid tribute to those killed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
"The mass murder of six million Jews, carried out in the name of Germany, has brought indescribable suffering to the Jewish people, Europe and the entire world," she said.
"The Shoah fills us Germans with shame. I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them survive," she said, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.
About 1,000 guests listened to Merkel, including Holocaust survivors, Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, former Israeli presidents and residents of Israeli towns targeted by rocket fire from Gaza. The Israeli public has largely responded with indifference to Merkel's visit.
Over the years, German leaders have avoided criticizing Israel in public, even when others took the Jewish state to task for some of its policies toward the Palestinians.