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Bundestag remembers WWI

July 3, 2014

The Bundestag has marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. One hundred delegates from neighboring and partnering countries, most prominently from France, were in attendance.

Bundestag Gedenkstunde Erster Weltkrieg 03.07.2014
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

On Thursday morning, members of the German parliament gathered in commemoration of the World War One. The president of Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, opened the service.

"What does the First World War have to do with us?," Lammert asked numerous times during his speech.

World War One, also known by such names as "The Great War" or "The War to End all Wars," was not so easy to define for Germans, Lammert said, pointing to the catastrophic consequences that the "last conventional and first modern war" had on the country.

The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 2014 by a Serbian nationalist sparked a diplomatic crisis, with world powers taking sides against one another and finally leading to the outbreak of war 37 days later.

By the end of the war, over 10 million had died on the battlefield and four million civilians had been killed in the crossfire.

'No one has greater responsibility'

Germany was the perpetrator of "barbaric" crimes, not only the violation of human rights through its attack on Belgium, but also the "shameful and unforgiveable" destruction of cultural monuments, including Reims Cathedral, Lammert said.

Germany's resounding defeat - a loss of its empire, repatriation obligations that ruined its economy, and the introduction of an unstable democracy - paved the way for the rise of a fascist dictatorship and the horrors of the Second World War.

He answered finally: "No one in Europe has a greater obligation or responsibility than Germany," to uphold peace and freedom.

"We learned much later that military measures are fundamentally not suitable means [for political change]."

Following his speech, Austrian-English sopranist Anna Prohaska performed "In Flanders Fields," the popular 1915 poem by Canadian writer John McCrae. The US composer Charles Ives put the poem to music several years later.

Keynote by Jewish war survivor

French political scientist Alfred Grosser, born to a German-Jewish family in 1925, delivered the keynote speech. He recounted the significance of the First World War not only for the Jewish population and the French-German relationship, but also on the current generation.

"We've lived in peace for decades. We are the happy ones. From that emerges our responsibility," Grosser said.

Grosser was awarded for his roll as a mediator in German-French relations in 1975 with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and in 2014 with the Henri-Nannen-Preis for his life's work.

kms/rc (dpa, epd)