Merkel’s Children: Living Legacies Called Angela, Angie and Sometimes Merkel

“She will only eat German food!” said Ms. Maai of little Angela, now 5.

The fall of 2015 was an extraordinary moment of compassion and redemption for the country that committed the Holocaust. Many Germans call it their “fall fairy tale.” But it also set off years of populist blowback, emboldening illiberal leaders like Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and catapulting a far-right party into Germany’s own Parliament for the first time since World War II.

Today, European border guards are using force against migrants. Refugee camps linger in squalor. And European leaders pay Turkey and Libya to stop those in need from attempting the journey at all. During the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, a chorus of Europeans was quick to assert that refugees would not be welcome on the continent.

“There are two stories here: One is a success story, and one is a story of terrible failure,” said Gerald Knaus, the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative, who informally advised Ms. Merkel on migration for over a decade. “Merkel did the right thing in Germany. But she lost the issue in Europe.”

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Having fled war, torture and chaos in Syria, Mhmad and Widad now live on Sunshine Street in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen. In their third-floor living room, a close-up of Ms. Merkel’s smiling face is the screen saver on the large flat-screen television, a constant presence.

“She is our guardian angel,” said Widad, a 35-year-old mother of six, who asked that she and her family members be identified only by their first names to protect relatives in Syria. “Angela Merkel did something big, something beautiful, something Arabic leaders did not do for us.”

“We have nothing to pay her back,” she added. “So we named our daughter after her.”

Angela, or Angie as her parents call her, is now 5. An animated girl with large hazel eyes and cascading curls, Angie loves to tell stories, in German, with her five siblings. Her sister Haddia, 13, wants to be a dentist. Fatima, 11, loves math.

“There is no difference between boys and girls in school here and that is good,” Widad said. “I hope Angie will grow up to be like Ms. Merkel: a strong woman with a big heart.”


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