In addition to Germany, a string of European countries remembered the sacrifices that underpinned the Allied victory over Nazi Germany 60 years ago at parades and speeches Sunday marking the end of World War II.
US First Lady Laura Bush at commemorations in the Netherlands
Under an overcast sky in the Netherlands, US President George W. Bush paid homage at a US military ceremony to the fallen and compared the fight against fascism then to the struggle for democracy today.
Backdropped by some of the thousands of white crosses for American war dead, U.S. President George W. Bush and Dutch Queen Beatrix arrive for a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation, at the American cemetery in Margraten, southern Netherlands, Sunday May 8, 2005.
At a cemetery at the southern Dutch town of Margraten, where over 8,000 US soldiers lie buried, Bush and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands laid a wreath, gunshots rang out in salute and a bugler played the Last Post. Military planes flew overhead in a "missing man" formation, where one plane breaks away from the group to signify a fallen comrade.
"We recommend ourselves to the great truth that they defended, that freedom is the birthright of all mankind," Bush said in tribute. Even today, the president said, "Americans and Europeans are continuing to work together and bringing freedom to places where it has long been denied: In Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon and across the broader Middle East." "The world's tyrants learned a lesson," he added.
"There is no power like the power of freedom, and no soldier as strong as a soldier who fights for this freedom."
British forces' veterans attend a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, Sunday May 8, 2005.
In London (photo), Paris and elsewhere in Europe too, leaders and officials joined somber ceremonies to honor the dead of the 1939-1945 war, history's bloodiest conflict.
In London, heir to the throne Prince Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph war memorial. He was due later to take the salute at a parade of veterans.
In Paris, President Jacques Chirac laid flowers on the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and bestowed medals on several deportees. Fighter jets closed the commemoration with a fly-past, trailing blue, white and red smoke behind them.
Uncomfortable reminders too
But there were reminders too, notably in Poland and the Baltic states, that the fall of Nazi Germany also ushered in 50 years of totalitarian Soviet rule over eastern Europe.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek led tributes in Prague to the victims of the war and tens of thousands of people watched a drive-by of vintage military vehicles.
World War II veterans salute wartime army flags during ceremonies marking 60 years since the war's end in Wroclaw, Poland on Saturday, May 7, 2005.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski hailed the sacrifices of the Soviet Red Army, but also called for recognition of Soviet crimes under Stalin. Poland was carved up by Hitler and Stalin under a pact shortly before WWII broke out, and after the war was dragooned into subservience to Moscow.
"We cannot today allow historical reality to be manipulated once again. We will not change history, but we can overcome its legacy," he said at Poland's main official ceremony in the southwest city of Wroclaw.
Kwasniewski has been criticized in Poland for planning to attend the climax of the Europe-wide celebrations Monday in Moscow, when up to 60 world leaders including Bush are to watch a military parade in Red Square.
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip called in Tallinn for reconciliation, noting that while his nation was invaded during the war and ruled from Moscow afterward, atrocities were also committed on its territory against Jews.