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1ST LEAD Merkel, at Stasi memorial, calls on Germans to be 'force for freedom' By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to learn from the country‘s history as she visited a memorial for the victims of the communist East Germany‘s secret police.

Merkel‘s visit to the former Stasi prison in the Berlin district of Hohenschoenhausen on Friday was reminder of Germany‘s east-west division after World War II and the injustices committed by the former communist regime in East Germany.

"It seems a long time ago, but it reminds us today that we have to remain a strong force for freedom and democracy," Merkel said.

During her visit, the chancellor laid a wreath at the prison in memory of those who perished from abuse, malnutrition and the apalling conditions at the facility.

The tour of the complex was Merkel‘s first public appearance since returning from more two weeks of vacation, kicking off a series of campaign events ahead of the national election on September 24.

Her visit was designed to send a message to voters in Germany‘s eastern states of her conservative political bloc‘s recognition of the oppression undertaken by the communist regime.

"We can only shape a good future if we accept the past," Merkel said.

The prison‘s history dates back to the Soviet occupation of the region following the end of World War II.

Merkel‘s tour of the complex also came against the backdrop of 56th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, which lead to Germany‘s post-war division and which Merkel described as an event of "special significance."

Hohenschoenhausen prison finally closed after fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of communism nearly 30 years ago.

The chancellor‘s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) have promised to retain the Stasi Records Agency (BStU), which preserves documents relating to the Stasi and investigates the actions of the secret police during the 41 years of communist East German rule.

Merkel‘s government has also earmarked 8.8 million euros for the renovation of the Hohenschoenhausen prison complex over the next two years.

Opened in 1951, the prison provided the setting for the 2006 Academy-award winning drama "The Lives of Others" that documented the Stasi‘s power and its callous intrusion into people‘s lives.

More than 11,000 prisoners were incarcerated at Hohenschoenhausen during its more than 40 years of operations. Those held at the prison faced physical torture and psychological abuse.

Many were dissidents, while others were sent to the prison for the simple crime of trying to leave the communist country.

Some of those who ended up in Hohenschoenhausen were critics of the communist regime who were kidnapped on the streets of West Berlin by East German secret service operatives.

The memorial to the prison was founded by former inmates in the early 1990s shortly after the breaching of the Berlin Wall and the end of the East German communist state. The complex is now a listed historical site, which also houses a museum.


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