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Merkel criticized for concentration camp visit during election year

MUNICH, Germany, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking criticism for her decision to visit a Nazi concentration camp amid her recently opened re-election campaign.

Merkel will become the first sitting chancellor to visit Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp outside the Bavarian city of Munich. Later in the day after she leaves Dachau, Merkel is scheduled to attend a rally at a Munich beer garden, NBC News said Tuesday.

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"If you are serious about the commemoration at such a site of horror, you surely do not make such a visit during an election campaign," said Renate Kuenast of Germany's Greens party.

For her part, Merkel said it is important for German leaders to combat far-right extremist behavior and her visit to Dachau underscores the importance of that effort. In a podcast, Merkel said the visit will be conducted with a sense of "shame and dismay."

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"I know that this will not be an easy visit," she said.

Merkel was invited to tour Dachau by a committee of survivors and their families. The prison camp served as a model for other concentration camps during the Nazi reign over Europe. Some 41,500 prisoners were killed or died in captivity at Dachau before it was liberated by U.S. soldiers in 1945. Some 200,000 people were imprisoned there after it was opened in 1933, first as a political prison for German communists. It would later come to hold all manner of political prisoners, gypsies and suspected homosexuals.

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Further complicating the Dachau visit is the emotionally tense trial of a suspected present-day neo-Nazi, Beate Zschaepe, 38, leader of the group National Socialist Underground, which led a 7-year race-fueled killing spree in Germany. That trial is also taking place in Munich and has been the subject of intense media scrutiny.

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