Schroeder observes 60thWarsaw Uprising anniversary
2 August 2004 , WARSAW - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Sunday hailed about 3,000 veterans of the doomed 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest partisan revolt against the Nazis while also one of the least known battles of World War II. Paying homage to the 200,000 insurgents and civilians slaughtered in 63 days of fighting, the leaders placed flickering candles at the foot of a huge Memorial Torch in Warsaw's central I
2 August 2004
WARSAW - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Sunday hailed about 3,000 veterans of the doomed 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest partisan revolt against the Nazis while also one of the least known battles of World War II.
Paying homage to the 200,000 insurgents and civilians slaughtered in 63 days of fighting, the leaders placed flickering candles at the foot of a huge Memorial Torch in Warsaw's central Insurgents Square. Thousands gathered there Sunday night under starry skies for a gala concert and official ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the 1 August 1944, outbreak of the bloody revolt.
Speaking at the ceremonies, Schroeder admitted "German shame" over Nazi crimes during the battle.
"At this place of Polish pride and German shame, we hope for reconciliation and peace," Schroeder said.
The chancellor also voiced his government's clear opposition to plans by Germans expelled during World War II to launch property compensation claims against Poland and build a Berlin centre detailing the fate of German war refugees.
Worried that the victims of World War II might be cast as its perpetrators, Poles have vehemently opposed both plans.
"We Germans know very well who began the war and who were its first victims," Schroeder said to the rousing applause of Polish veterans and politicians. "Therefore, today there must not be any room for restitution claims from Germany that turn history on its head."
"Neither the German federal government nor any serious political power supports individual property claims as far as they are made," he added. "This is a position the federal government will take in the courts."
Warsaw Uprising veteran and Auschwitz survivor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski praised Schroeder's declarations as significant steps in reconciliation.
"Reconciliation is only possible with the truth, the full truth of history," the key figure in Poland's post-war reconciliation with Germany said. "That truth was told today by the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in the presence of our old allies, the Americans and the British. This has great meaning for us."
"Maybe we are naive, but sometimes it is worth risking it," Bartoszewski added.
Deputy British Prime Minister John Prescott hailed the Warsaw Uprising as the "greatest act of resistance" against Nazi forces during World War II. He also admitted his country's "debt of gratitude" to Poles for their contribution to the Allied victory.
About 200,000 Poles fought the Nazis alongside the Allies outside Poland, Polish intelligence was decisive in cracking Germany's secret "Enigma" code and Polish pilots were integral in winning the Battle of Britain, he said.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the fighters of the uprising as heroes and vowed Poland would "never be left alone" again after the insurgents in what was the largest and longest anti-Nazi revolt in occupied Europe were effectively abandoned by Poland's allies and so condemned to defeat when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin denied his army's support and blocked Britain and the United States from providing aid.
"I'm a military man, not a diplomat," Powell said. "I am a soldier. I have served in war. I have been in combat. I have lost close friends in combat. Therefore, I do not use the word hero lightly, but I say here today that everyone who fought during those dark 63 days was a hero - a hero for Poland a hero for freedom."
"America's ally, America's friend, Poland will never be alone again," Powell vowed.
At Sunday's memorial concert, uprising veteran Alicja Palysinska- Natusiewicz, 80, was overjoyed by the recognition she and her fellow fighters have finally received after 60 years.
"It has surpassed my greatest hopes and dreams," she said. "Now I can die in peace."
The rebellion was launched by 40,000 poorly armed Polish Home Army (AK) insurgents loyal to Poland's government-in-exile in Britain in a bid to repel the Nazis from Warsaw ahead of the arrival of the advancing Soviets.
Without Allied help, however, it was crushed by the Nazis.
A total 18,000 insurgents and 180,000 civilians were slaughtered. On orders of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, Warsaw was then systematically bombed into a smouldering heap of ruins.
The uprising's collapse is, therefore, also viewed as having paved the way to the postwar Soviet takeover of Poland and, ultimately, the beginning of the Cold War.
With Poland's postwar communist authorities bent on trivializing the Home Army's wartime drive for Polish sovereignty, the battle was relegated to the margins of history until the demise of communism in 1989.
For more than 40 years, the regime branded it a hopeless suicide mission for anti-Nazi resistance fighters, "irresponsibly" ordered by Poland's wartime government-in-exile in Britain.
Sunday evening's gala concert came as the culmination of three days of 60th-anniversary ceremonies.
Earlier, the Polish capital came to a grinding standstill for one minute at 5 pm as sirens and car horns throughout the city wailed to mark the very hour the uprising was launched 60 years ago.
On Saturday, the first museum dedicated to documenting and exploring the battle was opened. Called the Warsaw Uprising Museum, it features artefacts from the revolt kept safe by veterans for 60 years.
Its atmospheric centrepiece is a 12-metre-high rust-coloured iron pillar pulsing loudly with the sound of a human heartbeat.
A sprawling grey slate memorial wall inscribed with the names of about 6,000 uprising dead was also unveiled Saturday at ceremonies held in Freedom Park, surrounding the new museum. A bell fixed in the centre of the monument tolled in honour of the dead.
Subject: German news