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Gauck visits WWII massacre site

March 7, 2014

German President Joachim Gauck has asked the families of victims of a town wiped out by German soldiers in WWII for 'forgiveness.' Gauck visited the memorial site amid calls in Greece for more reparation payments.

Denkmal im Dorf Lingiades Griechenland
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

German President Visits Greek Massacre Site

In the morning of his final day in Greece, German President Gauck met with local business owners and trainees at a local school of tourism in the country's capital, Athens.

Economic relations between Germany and Greece have stood at the center of the two nations' diplomatic ties in recent years. But on Friday, it was a troubled relationship from many decades ago that would be the focus of Gauck's last hours in Greece before returning to Berlin.

In the early afternoon, the German president visited the site where the town of Lingiades once stood.

In October 1943, German soldiers under Adolf Hitler's Nazi dictatorship wiped out the entire village, located in Greece's northwest, killing over 90 civilians. The motive for the obliteration of Lingiades was the assassination of a German commander.

"With shame and pain I ask in the name of Germany the families of the victims for forgiveness ... I bow in front of the victims for this monstrous crime," Gauck said after laying a wreath at a memorial site. "We have to do everything in our power so that what happened is not forgotten."

"What happened was a brutal injustice," he said, adding that he wished those words had been uttered by the perpetrators or others held accountable after the war.

"These unspoken sentences that make up the foundation of [our other debt to our victims] because they banish even the victims from memory."

Greek President Karolos Papoulias honored the victims alongside Gauck. Following the memorial, the German president traveled to the neighboring town of Ioannina to meet with representatives from the Jewish community. The community claims to have paid the equivalent of 45 million euros to Nazi forces in 1942 to secure the release of 10,000 Jewish men submitted to forced labor.

On Thursday, the German head of state spoke of the moral debt Germany owed Greece for the people victims of Nazi terror. He offered to set up a new "Future Fund" to remind Germans of their past, but declined to give details on the size of the fund and what exactly it would finance.

Demands for reparations

Arguments over economic ties and Germany's debt to Greece for WWII atrocities intersected during Gauck's three-day visit this week.

He reiterated on Thursday that Berlin would not be issuing any further reparation payments, referring to demands over the past year from Athens and several groups representing Greek war victims.

Last year, several groups in Greece representing WWII survivors demanded some 162 billion euros ($222 billion) - the equivalent of half of Greece's total government debt.

However, Berlin denies it owes any more money. In 1960, the German government paid 115 million Deutschmarks (60 million euros) to Greece. Athens claims it has always considered that money an initial payment with the remainder of the debt to be paid after German reunification, which occurred in 1990.

The state of Greece's economy - with the country seeing its economy shrink by a quarter and unemployment soar to 27 percent - has featured prominently in the relationship between Athens and Berlin in recent years. Contingents of Greek society blame Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet, which has been at the forefront of austerity measures during the crisis, for the economic hardship besetting the Mediterranean country.

kms, ph/jr (AFP, dpa)