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Germany marks 60th anniversary of World War II


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BERLIN, May 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Germany is holding a series of ceremonies this weekend commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The culmination of the celebrations will be German President Horst Koehler's address of remembrance for the Nazis' victims to a special assembly of both houses of parliament on Sunday. It will also be broadcast on giant screens at the Brandenburg Gate a few hundred meters away.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will travel to Moscow to mark the end of World War II in Europe.

On Saturday night, tens of thousands people took part in a candlelight vigil that stretched across Berlin, protesting againsta planned neo-nazi march on Sunday.

"May 8 was a good day for humankind. We want never again the war," a youth holding candles on the June 17 Street told Xinhua.

"May 8, 1945 was a day of liberation for Berlin, Germany and Europe from Nazi dictatorship," said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit at the start of two days of "festival for democracy" events aroundthe Brandenburg Gate.

"This is our opportunity to take a stand against racism and intolerance. We must remain vigilant," Wowereit said.

After failing to win the approval of marching around the Brandenburg Gate, the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) will stage a rally Sunday around eastern Berlin's main square Alexanderplatz.

Thousands of leftists are also expected to march around Alexanderplatz to protest and block off NPD's march, local media reported.

Some 6,000 riot police are bracing for possible confrontations between leftists and neo-nazis.

Germany's highest court on Friday dismissed an appeal by NPD tomarch around Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, hundred meters away fromthe Brandenburg Gate, on May 8.

German Interior Minister Otto Schily welcomed the decision, saying it made neo-nazis unable to dishonor the remembrance of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

May 8, which is treated in Germany as a day of liberation, marks the official end of the World War II hostilities in Europe following the signing of the German surrender in the French city of Reims the day before. Enditem

Copyright ©2003 Xinhua News Agency. All rights reserved.


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"A New Start for Germany and Europe"

As Europe commemorates VE Day, British professor Sir Ian Kershaw, one of the leading authorities on 20th century German history, talked to DW-WORLD about the end of the war as a new beginning for Germany and Europe.

DW-WORLD: What is the significance of May 8, 1945, for Germany?

Ian Kershaw: May 8, 1945 was the end of an era, which embraced the period of the two world wars. And, although no one could see it at the time, with Europe in ruins, it opened the way to a new start for Germany and a new start for Europe. It took a long time to develop, but the end of the Second World War, was the prerequisite for that, the basic thing that needed to happen in order to allow that new start to take place.

May 8 has sometimes been described as Germany's Stunde Null, the country's "zero hour." But critics of such a description point out that many Nazis continued their careers, though in a different political system. Can we really speak of a "zero hour" for Germany?

No, I don't think so. Obviously things didn't stop on May 8 and then start again on May 9; there was no Stunde Null in that sense. And social history naturally continues even where political history is broken, so there was no Stunde Null in any social sense. There were major continuities of mentality, and there were continuities of personnel in different areas -- continuities which lasted long after the immediate aftermath of the war. So the term Stunde Null is misleading.

Nevertheless, May 8 marks a caesura in European and, in particular, in German history. The end of the war was the major turning point between the two halves of the century. The second half of the 20th century was shaped by the Second World War -- and also by the Holocaust.

Is May 8, 1945, comparable in its significance to other major developments or dates in world history?

The only parallel analogy that comes to mind is the end of the Napoleonic era. 1815 was a new start for Europe. And yet, the break in 1945 was more profound than in 1815. After the war, it took several years before things started to congeal and settle down. But once they did, we see a Europe that's far more transformed in 1945 than it was in the aftermath of 1815.

Do you think the interpretation of May 8, 1945, and the war has changed in Germany over the years?

Unquestionably. In 1945 and the immediate aftermath, people couldn't be expected to think in the same way that the present generation does about the significance of 1945. Most people saw their land occupied, saw this as a major defeat. (German historian Friedrich) Meinecke's book "The German Catastrophe" (1946) hints at the notion of this as a particularly German catastrophe. People today see this as, in a way, a necessary catastrophe that had to befall Germany, a necessary ruination to destroy the continuities which had bedeviled German history going back way before the Hitler era. Now people see that as a necessary Untergang or downfall, as a liberation for Germany, as the opportunity to start again and to build a country and a society which had radically different values, gradually developing until we have a completely transformed society compared with that that existed in the Hitler era and even before.

How has the perception of the Holocaust changed in Germany over the past 60 years?

It's changed quite markedly. In the 1960s and '70s, there was remarkably little public discussion of the Holocaust. There was some scholarly work done on it, which I don't think was extensively read. There was a general readiness to accept that Germany had been involved in terrible things in the Second World War, but not a readiness to examine the position of different sectors of German society in those events -- a readiness to blame Hitler and his clique in a totalitarian state for what took place, but to distance society from it.

Since then we've had two things happening: One is in historical research generally, and penetrating through to wider sections of society. The emphasis upon Alltagsgeschichte (the history of everyday life) that began in the 1970s started to reveal the complicity of ever greater sectors of society in the policies of the Nazi regime, particularly racist and anti-Semitic policies.

But more important was a rather banal TV film, which was called "Holocaust," in 1979. The impact of it was to stir up interest more widely in Germany in the fate of the Jews under Nazi rule. It's only in the 1980s that this starts to make real headway in public consciousness.

Since the 1980s there's been a major preoccupation and an intensification of interest in the Holocaust, in Germany specifically. That's reflected in scholarly works but also in public consciousness through things like the debates about the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. There has been a real deepening of awareness and interest in the Holocaust more generally in German society.

What I'm unsure about and have no way of judging is whether this remains largely at the level of what I might call the intellectuals or intelligentsia and the media, or whether it really penetrates down to the grassroots of society.

Are there any major differences in the interpretation of the Third Reich and World War II between German and non-German experts?

They share common ground. German history between 1871 and 1945, and the Nazi era quite especially, is in a very real sense world history. We have a world community of scholars who work on this and are in contact with each other. There are no serious differences or divergences in interpretation between German scholars and those scholars outside Germany.

Some fear that interest in World War II may wane as more and more eyewitnesses die. Do you share this fear?

Sixty years since the end of the war may well be the last time that one can reflect on these events with eyewitnesses still around. It may be that a peak of interest has been reached now and that there will be some decline. If you look at Britain, the television channels, for example, have in a sense reached saturation point on the Second World War, and they're no longer getting the same viewer figures that they did some years ago. That's a fairly natural development.

However, if one thinks from that that there is going to be a serious revision or reevaluation of the significance of the Second World War, of the Holocaust, of Hitler and the Nazi era, that would be mistaken. As long as we hold on to the liberal, humane values which still permeate Western society, the Hitler era will be seen as the most dramatic attempt to upturn those values and completely restructure society along totally different, inhumane lines. As long as that underlying essence of humanity remains in European society, there won't be a fundamental alteration in the interpretation of Hitler and the Second World War.

Author Martin Schrader interviewed Sir Ian Kershaw (ncy)

http://www.dw-world.de © Deutsche Welle

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"We Must Jointly Talk About Our History"

As ceremonies in honor of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II near their climax, DW-WORLD spoke to Germany's culture secretary about German tributes and the necessity of a pan-European perspective.

DW-WORLD: The head of the German-Russian Museum in his opening speech jokingly complained that in an interview recently you failed to mention the museum as a prominent place commemorating 1945. Now you've seen their exhibition "Triumph and Trauma -- Soviet and post-Soviet Remembrance of the War." Will you remember to mention the museum the next time?

State Secretary for Culture Christina Weiss: I never for a moment doubted that the exhibition is important. After all, I did come to the opening. In interviews you always think about what is closest to you. And the German Historical Museum that I brought up in that one was for me always the word for the two exhibitions, which really belong together. This exhibition is very impressive because it shows images that manipulate reflection, debate and opinions of history. I don't mean that negatively: They manipulate that which one knows about history, what one perceives, and how one positions oneself within it.

We are reaching the highpoint of the year of remembrance of 1945. Looking at the German historical construct that is being conveyed in the 2005 commemorations of the war's end, what do you approve of and what don't you like?

I find it especially good and important that right now, in the first year of the unification of large parts of Europe through new EU entries, there are many events. We must jointly think about how we can jointly talk about our history -- something we haven't yet done. Every country does so through its own national perspective with differing valuation. I hope that we will now -- inspired by the commemoration of 1945 -- collectively debate a collective view of our collective history. To that extent, I appreciated everything that took this thought seriously. The exhibitions in the German Historical Museum were very impressive -- especially the exhibition that preceded this one, "Myths of the Nations." It always makes my blood run cold when I see how little "historical truth" there is. There's that which was experienced, the emotions -- and the manipulation, too.

In your speech at the exhibition's opening, you talked about a "new complexity of national historical perception" of World War II, but at the same time you hope for a pan-European perspective. Have we come a step closer to this in 2005?

Massively. We have come closer to a collective view, because the openness has returned through the unification of Europe. We take note of what the others omit, what the others find difficult. In the discussion -- that we ourselves find difficult -- we in Germany are already quite far. But we haven't done it with each other yet. Of course, we are not coming closer through this anniversary; we're coming closer through the unification of Europe.

What signals does German remembrance send to the world and how are they received?

I know that German remembrance sends important signals everywhere in the world. It starts with our archives and continues with the BSTU (the agency that handles the East German secret police files). We receive many enquiries: How do you manage this, how is this legally regulated, how do you deal with this? German remembrance is very broadly spread and, in the meantime, marked by a very honorable mindset. It impresses people everywhere. I don't mean to say that all other countries need the same honorable mindset. After all, we also have the larger burden to work through.

Still, in central and eastern European countries this discussion is also going on right now: How did we behave then? How did we deal with Nazi rule? What did we do? All over there are joint historical commissions like between Germany and Poland or Germany and the Czech Republic. We have also created a "Network Forced Migration and Expulsion" in 20th century Europe, which will start its work in May. The headquarters will be in Warsaw. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany will each send an employee there. In addition, there will be a coordinator in each individual country, and we are establishing a board of "elder statesmen" who will promote the idea that there must be a collective examination of history.

The exhibition in the German-Russian Museum in Berlin is meant to be an explicit counterweight to an increasingly German perspective when it comes to the perception of history. Do you also see a trend towards German navel-gazing?

There is German navel-gazing, that's true -- but there are also many counterbalances. One merely needs to open one's eyes. That's not the problem. The problem is that it must be clear to the Germans -- as to all the others, too -- that, 60 years after the war's end, there should no longer be a purely national approach, especially in emotional terms. One may express and describe it, but at the same time one should make clear there's always another perspective.

Oliver Samson interviewed Christina Weiss (ncy)

http://www.dw-world.de © Deutsche Welle

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Germany and Russia Honor WWII Losses

Sixty years after World War II, Russia and Germany have joined hands to honor the victims. The countries' leaders said in a joint interview that Germany was responsible for the war, adding that it also suffered greatly.

"Even if our generation is not in itself guilty (for WWII) we bear the responsibility for all our history," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in the joint interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which appeared in the German daily Bild on Friday.

"Germany caused and started one of the worst wars in the history of humanity," he said. Schröder said Germans had suffered during and after the war, the end of which meant "the misery of refugees and a new lack of freedom" in the country.

Putin acknowledged German suffering too. "Of course German civilians suffered but this was neither the Soviet Union's nor the Red Army's fault. They didn't start the war," he said. "The German people were in many ways victims of a lack of responsibility on behalf of their politicians at that time. They were poisoned by the ideology of National Socialism and led into carnage," said Putin. "For millions of ordinary Germans this military adventure became a personal tragedy."

Putin used the bombing of Dresden, which was carried out by British and American air forces and led to an estimated civilian death toll of 35,000, to illustrate his point. "Even today I can't begin to comprehend just why Dresden was destroyed. If you look at it in terms of military strategy there was no need for it at the time," said Putin.

Reconciliation "a miracle"

The German chancellor is one of some 50 world leaders due in Moscow for the May 9 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The two leaders, who know each other well, expressed satisfaction with current state of relations between Russia and


"If you consider the horror of the war, the reconciliation between Germany and Russia is a miracle," said Schröder.

"Both our peoples, Russian and German, have gone through a great deal of drama in their histories. I believe those experiences have made us all the wiser," said Putin, who concluded that "the historic reconciliation between Russians and Germans has been achieved."

On Sunday, a formal Liberation Day ceremony commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945 will take place in Berlin. Germany's two chambers of parliament will also convene a special session in the same Reichstag building that was once the symbol of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist dictatorship. All around Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, adjacent to the Reichstag building, different events throughout the weekend will honor those who suffered under Nazi tyranny.

German President, Horst Köhler, who will hold the official address at the ceremonies in the Reichstag on Sunday, also reminded today's generation to remember the role of the United States. It gave Europe so much -- the lives of its sons, and decades of involvement to ensure liberty, democracy and human rights, he said.

Author DW staff (ncy)

http://www.dw-world.de © Deutsche Welle

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