Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader to ever take part in D-Day observances, has acknowledged that his country was responsible for World War II. But he says those who died on the beaches of Normandy 60 years ago did not do so in vain because, thanks to them, Europe today enjoys freedom and peace.
Mr. Schroeder told an audience at Caen's War Memorial that, although France and Germany have different memories of D-Day, the historic allied landings highlighted the need for both countries to work for peace.
He said "Germans know that their country unleashed a heinous war." He said "they are aware of their responsibility and take it seriously." Recalling the Normandy landings, he said "thousands of allied soldiers died in a single gruesome day and paid the ultimate price for freedom." "German soldiers died," he said, "because they were sent on a murderous campaign to subjugate Europe."
But Mr. Schroeder, who lost his own father in the war, says that, in death, all soldiers, whatever their uniform, are united by the grieving of their families.
Mr. Chirac invited the German chancellor to this year's 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasions, which hastened the fall of the Nazi regime, to symbolize the two countries' successful quest for peace and reconciliation. Mr. Schroeder himself has been telling interviewers over the past few weeks that not only France, but Germany too, was liberated by the allied victory.
For Mr. Chirac, Sunday's Franco-German ceremony of remembrance and reconciliation is an example of what can happen when two long-standing enemies are determined to make peace.
He said "the ceremony shows the world that there is no conflict, however deep and painful, that cannot one day give way to dialogue and understanding and that the road to peace is always possible to find."
Mr. Schroeder, the first German leader to have no recollection of World War II, earlier visited a cemetery where 300 German soldiers are buried alongside more than 2,000 allied troops.
He told the audience at the war memorial that those who died 60 years ago were robbed of what he described as a happy life. "Their death was not in vain," he said. "We live in peace and freedom, and for that, we thank them. Our promise, he said, is that we will not forget the victims."
Mr. Schroeder says his presence at the D-Day ceremonies means that the post-war period is definitely over and that Germany has once again taken its place among the world's civilized nations.