Schroeder honours Allies, German troopsas victims of 'murderous' Nazi drive

7th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

CAEN, France, June 6 (AFP) - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowed Sunday that Germany bore the responsibility to ensure history does not repeat itself and thanked the Allies for ending the Nazi dictatorship and assisting his country's more recent reunification.

CAEN, France, June 6 (AFP) - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowed Sunday that Germany bore the responsibility to ensure history does not repeat itself and thanked the Allies for ending the Nazi dictatorship and assisting his country's more recent reunification.

Schroeder, a symbol of Germany's post-war generation, was the first German leader ever to attend the D-Day celebrations here, a move which stirred controversy among some veterans of World War II.

He sought to allay such concerns, saying those killed in World War II had not died in vain and pledging to help safeguard peace and freedom in Europe.

"We in Germany know who caused the war. We know our responsibility for history and we take it seriously," he said at the first ever joint French-German commemoration of the storming of the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

"Thousands of Allied soldiers died on a single, cruel day. They paid the highest price for freedom. German soldiers were killed because they were sent on a murderous drive to oppress Europe," he told French President Jacques Chirac at the ceremony.

At the ceremony at the Peace Memorial in Caen where the two leaders unveiled a plaque, Chirac told Schroeder it was a "moment of great emotion."

"On this day of remembrance and hope, French men and women welcome you more than ever as a friend. They welcome you as a brother," he added, giving Schroeder a warm embrace.

More than 135,000 Allied troops landed on five beaches along a 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch of coastline in a single day in a courageous and adaucious push to break the German grip on France.

But they met stiff resistance from Nazi artillery loyal to Adolf Hitler, and the battle for Normandy was to last another two long months and cost some 55,000 Allied lives.

Scores of villages across the region were razed to the ground.

Yet the atmosphere over the D-Day commemorations here has been one of reconciliation, of turning the page on history.

Earlier as the German leader arrived at the village of Ranville to pay his respects before the grave of an unknown German soldier buried at an Allied cemetery, he was met by applause from local residents.

"Finally we are at peace," said 69-year-old Marcelle Richard, who remembers the SS rumbling past her family shop.

Polish teacher Ilona Wtosinska, who came with her class from Poland said:
"Yes we suffered, but what use it is to suffer any longer. Life goes on."

Schroeder, who lost his father in the war, argued Sunday: "Europe has learned its history, and we Germans are not going to supress it. Europe's citizens and politicians are responsible for ensuring that war-making, war crimes and terrorism have no chance."

"The fall of the Hitler dictatorship was the work of the Allies in the West and the East," he added.

And he vowed to the victims: "Your death was not in vain. We live in peace and freedom. And for that we thank you."

Chirac added that reconciliation was the best tribute to those who had died.

"Such suffering and destruction could not have been endured in vain. We owe it to our dead to give a sense to their sacrifice by committing ourselves with one voice to the only path which can ensure peace in Europe - that of the reconciliation between our two countries and between our two great peoples," he said.

Schroeder in return thanked France and Chirac personally for extending the hand of friendship to his country.

"My country has found its way back into the circle of civilised communities. It was a long path to a successful and stable democracy," he added.

"Without the hand, which France in its generosity and political wisdom stretched out to us, we would not have found been able to complete the path which led us to reunification."

© AFP

Subject: French news


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