German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged the country to be vigilant against a ‘return of evil in a new guise’ as the nation marks the 75th anniversary of the fall of the Third Reich.
The German head of state, accompanied by Chancellor Angela Merkel, stuck to social distancing guidelines at they laid down their wreaths yesterday at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin.
In his speech, Steinmeier noted that a ‘new brand of nationalism’ was on the rise in Germany and that his countrymen had a duty to ‘liberate’ themselves from the shadow of Nazi rule.
The 64-year-old said: ‘Our country, from which evil once emanated, has over the years changed from being a threat to the international order to being its champion.
A projection reading ‘Thank You’ in Russian, English, French and German is projected on Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate yesterday, on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks after the wreath laying ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin, Germany yesterday
Merkel and other prominent politicians lay wreaths in front of an enlarged replica of Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son at the monument to the victims of war and dictatorship in Berlin, Germany, on VE-Day
‘And so we must not allow this peaceful order to disintegrate before our eyes.’
Germany does not usually mark the anniversary of the Nazis’ unconditional surrender to the Allies with much fanfare.
This year however the city of Berlin declared a one-off public holiday on Friday.
President Steinmeier urged Germans to see 8 May as ‘a day of gratitude’ because it freed Germany from the terror of the Nazis and brought peace to Europe.
‘For us Germans, ‘never again’ means ‘never again alone’,’ he said.
‘We want more, not less cooperation in the world – also in the fight against the pandemic.’
POLAND: A Polish veteran attends a wreath-laying ceremony to mark victory over Nazi Germany at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Lublin, eastern Poland
Two people walk among the headstones of some 8,000 American troops who died fighting in Europe at Belgium’s Henri Chapelle World War II cemetery on VE Day
RUSSIA: Officials take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument to Field Marshal Gregory Zhukov, who led the Red Army during the Second World War, in the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia
His words recalled a watershed speech by former president Richard von Weizsaecker who in 1985 urged Germans to view 8 May not as a day of defeat, but of liberation from the Nazi terror.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also expressed ‘immense gratitude’ to the countries that ‘accepted Germany back into the family of peaceful nations’ despite its responsibility for the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed.
But not everyone agreed with the tone of the commemorations in Germany.
Alexander Gauland, a top figure in the far-right AfD party, slammed a suggestion to make 8 May a permanent public holiday, describing it as a ‘day of complete defeat’ for Germany.
FRANCE: Emmanuel Macron led a toned-down ceremony marking VE-Day in Paris on Friday, first by laying a wreath at a statue of General Charles de Gaulle and then another at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at the Arc du Triomphe (pictured)
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, said Gauland’s view of the anniversary was typical of ‘neo-Nazis’.
‘The intention is to portray the Germans primarily as victims. I find this distortion of history and relativisation of Nazi crimes irresponsible,’ he said.
Other European countries joined Germany in marking the victory over the Nazis yesterday.
Parades and public celebrations were scaled back or cancelled altogether on a continent that has borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, with 1.6million cases and more than 150,000 deaths reported there.
French President Emmanuel Macron led the celebrations in Paris by laying a wreath in front of a statue of General Charles de Gaulle before making his way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc du Triomphe.
Accompanied by former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, alongside military leaders and other politicians who kept their distance from each-other, he listened to an acapella version of La Marseillaise before laying a tricolore wreath.
Veterans hold the French national flag as they take part in the ceremony for the 75th anniversary of World War II victory in Europe at the Monument to the Dead in the French Riviera city of Nice
Macron had earlier urged the French public not to attend public celebrations but instead to put up flags and decorate their windows and balconies in tribute instead.
Large-scale parades across Europe were scrapped, drastically downsized or moved online, as the continent grapples with its biggest crisis since World War II – this time an invisible enemy that has sickened more than 3.7 million worldwide.
With veterans already at an advanced age, organisers of marches had deemed it too risky for them to attend events even in countries which have begun to ease lockdown measures.
Russia had originally planned a huge military display on its May 9 Victory Day, with world leaders including France’s President Emmanuel Macron on the guest list.
But now only a flypast will take place over the Red Square, as the country becomes Europe’s new hotspot of coronavirus infections.
President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial, before making a TV address which will not only touch on the war.
In the US, President Donald Trump and his wife Melania joined a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II memorial in Washington, DC.
The US Department of Defense held an online commemoration thank WWII veterans that was streamed on Facebook and Twitter.
In the Czech Republic, where a lockdown has been completely lifted, politicians arrived at 10-minute intervals to lay wreaths on Prague’s Vitkov Hill, to minimise contact.