On September 1, 1939, German troops under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime launched an attack on Poland. The countries’ presidents have come together 75 years later in commemoration of the event that marked the start of WWII.
German President Joachim Gauck joined his Polish counterpart, President Bronislaw Komorowski, in northwestern Poland on Monday evening for a commemoration ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.
"I feel a deep shame and a deep compassion for those who suffered under the Germans," Gauck told those gathered at the ceremony on Monday evening, recounting the particularly grave losses suffered by Poland under Nazi terror.
He underlined how the countries' relationships had changed, namely, through reconciliation, saying: "Only [nations] that respect the independence and self-determination of others live truly in peace with their neighbors."
The event was held on the Westerplatte peninsula, which lies just under 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the Polish city Gdansk, where the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired on the Polish fort in the early hours of September 1, 1939. The battle marked the beginning of WWII, which would claim over 50 million lives worldwide.
Between 1939 and 1945, Germany and Poland both lost over 6 million soldiers and civilians each during the six-year war.
Europe 'in danger'
Prior to Gauck’s speech, Polish President Komorowski underlined the lessons to be drawn from the past.
"Here, on the Westerplatte [peninsula], history is speaking to us clearly," the Polish president said.
Gauck echoed his words, saying that the partner countries were not only united in commemoration, but also in the face of current conflicts.
"Stability and freedom on our continent are once again in danger," the German president said.
In recent weeks, the EU has worked to hinder a further escalation with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, a crisis which has frightened former members of the Soviet Union, among them Poland.
"History has taught us that territorial concessions often only increase the appetite of aggressors," Gauck said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s refusal to withdraw support from separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Pledging support to Germany’s neighbor, Gauck said: "We will fit our policies, economies and defense readiness to the new circumstances."
The German president's words reflected a new, controversial line taken by the current government under Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a break with the country's post-war policy, Berlin announced this week that it would supply Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq with weapons. The announcement - which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII - drew criticism for its poor timing. Her government has also faced criticism for favoring tough sanctions against Russia.
kms/hc (AFP, epd, dpa)