German army chief honours Holocaust victims in Israel

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German army chief of staff General Volker Wieker on Tuesday began his first trip to Israel by visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial dedicated to six million Jewish victims of Nazism.

General Wieker was accompanied by his Israeli counterpart, General Gabi Ashkenazi, as he took part in a special ceremony to mark the occasion.

Wearing a red beret and his dress uniform, the general placed a flower wreath wrapped in the black, red and yellow colours of the German flag in the Hall of Remembrance.

General Wieker stood to attention in the dark room whose floor is engraved with the Hebrew and Latin names of Nazi death camps from World War II, including Auschwitz.

"We must remember the past and tell it, otherwise we will never find peace," he wrote in the guest book after visiting another room in the museum devoted to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed by Nazis.

Karin Dengler, the guide who accompanied the German general during the museum visit which was closed to the media, said Wieker was "fully aware of this dark period of history."

She told AFP that "each year, a class of around 30 senior officers of the German army pay a visit to Yad Vashem."

Upon arriving in Israel, General Wieker was greeted by a guard of honour at the defence ministry's headquarters in Tel Aviv.

General Ashkenazi, whose term the head of Israel's armed forces ends in February, told journalists that "a special relationship links the German and Israeli armies."

General Wieker is in Israel for talks on security and strategic issues, as well as to pay a visit to the military command of northern Israel bordering Lebanon, and an air force base.

The German military leader is also scheduled to hold a meeting with Ashkenazi's successor, Yoav Galant, during his visit.

© 2010 AFP

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