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Gauck in Prague

May 6, 2014

German President Joachim Gauck has laid a wreath to honor Holocaust victims while visiting a former Nazi concentration camp at Terezin in the Czech Republic. He ends his Czech visit on Wednesday.

Joachim Gauck in Theresienstadt
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany's ceremonial head of state paid tribute to tens of thousands of victims who died while interned by Nazi German occupiers in former Czechoslovakia during World War II.

He laid the wreath together with Czech President Milos Zeman at the site which lies 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Prague.

From 1941, Hitler's Nazis turned a former garrison at Terezin - also known as Theresienstadt - into a transit ghetto for the deportation of Jews from central and western Europe to death camps, mainly to Auschwitz in then-Nazi-occupied Poland.

Of the 141,000 Jews interned at Terezin only few survived. Some 33,000 died during detention. A further 88,000 were deported and later murdered at other Nazi facilties.

Gauck said he wanted to show that Germans remembered the guilt and crimes of the Nazi period. Those remembering were "today other Germans," he added.

Tragic and remarkable

During a speech earlier on Tuesday at Prague's Charles University, Germany's ceremonial head of state described Czech-German relations during the latter half of the 20th century as both tragic and remarkable.

It was a miracle that both had found the courage to reconcile themselves after a relationship marked by such “suffering,” Gauck said, referring to the expulsion of some 3 million ethnic so-called "Sudeten" Germans from liberated Czechoslovakia after 1945.

“Both those who were innocent [of war-time atrocities] and those were guilty,” were forced to leave by the-then Czech authorities, he added.

“Flight, expulsion, forced relocation, ethnic cleansing, call it what you like,” Gauck said.

The German head of state also remembered the many Czechs who protected ethnic Germans in 1945, praising their valor.

Following his speech, the German president lunched with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and praised Prague's steps within the EU, including its agreeing to the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and a fiscal pact.

This decision would open up new prospects for the country's youths, Gauck said.

ipj, kms/hc (dpa, AP)