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French President Jacques Chirac welcomes Gerhard Schröder to France on SundayImage: AP

Text of Gerhard Schröder's Historic Speech

Gerhard Schröder is Germany's chancellor
June 6, 2004

In a speech given by the first German chancellor to attend ceremonies to mark the D-Day landings, Gerhard Schröder said the thousands slain during the Allied invasion 60 years ago did not die in vain.


The following unofficial translation has been provided by Agence France Presse:

Today, 60 years ago, Caen and Normandy were the scene of endless suffering and tens of thousands of victims. But they were also the place of military courage to free Europe. France's memories of June 6, 1944 are different from Germany's. But they all end in a common conviction: We want peace.

We in Germany know who caused the war. We know our responsibility for history and we take it seriously. Thousands of Allied soldiers died on a single, cruel day. They paid the highest price for freedom. German soldiers were killed because they were sent on a murderous drive to oppress Europe.

Through their deaths, all the soldiers on all fronts were united -- in the grief of their parents and wives, of their brothers and sisters and friends.

I remember the citizens of Oradour. They fell victims 60 years ago to the immoral and inhuman Waffen-SS.

France and its allies, but also the citizens of the heavily tested town of Caen, have a different memory of June 1944 to that of most Germans.

For France this historic day marked the start of the long-awaited end to occupation. For many Germans, June 6 symbolized the ultimate military defeat. Others had recognized long before that Germany's moral collapse had started with the National Socialist's violent rule.

Against the background of the Allied advance, German resistance fighters on July 20, 1944, made a failed attack against the dictatorship. They died for a better Germany.

The soldiers' cemeteries and the scars of both world wars have given the people of Europe -- especially the Germans -- an enduring duty to resist racism, anti-Semitism and totalitarian ideologies.

Our democratic goals are freedom, justice and a worthy life for all -- in freedom, without religious hatred, without national arrogance or political indoctrination.

We depend on the legacy of enlightenment, tolerance and the consoling beauty of European culture. To preserve these aims was and still is the task of June 6, 1944.

Europe has learned its history, and we Germans are not going to supress it. Europe's citizens and politicians are responsible for ensuring that war-making, war crimes and terrorism have no chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, the fall of the Hitler dictatorship was the work of the Allies in the West and the East.

The millions of victims of the Nazis in eastern Europe are not forgotten, the men and women of the western Alliance are not forgotten, neither are all the Russian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of their homeland.

No-one will ever forget the 12 years of Hitler's rule. My generation grew up in its shadow. My family only found the grave of my father, who fell in Romania, four years ago. I never had the chance to get to know my father.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is not the old Germany of those dark years that I represent here. My country has found its way back into the circle of civilized communities. It was a long path to a successful and stable democracy.

The citizens of east Germany overturned the communist dictatorship through a peaceful revolution in 1989, achieved freedom and won unity. Without the hand, which France in its generosity and political wisdom stretched out to us, we would not have found been able to complete the path which led us to reunification.

And for this Mr. President I would especially like to thank you for your constant help and commitment. It is a good day -- today on June 6, 2004 -- to thank France and its Allies for that.

The fall of the Hitler dictatorship needed patriots and soldiers. Because we Germans know that, we are not pacifists. But we are also not prepared to turn lightly to military means. Where a military intervention was and is needed, Germany will not shirk from its responsibility for peace and human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, we look in great sorrow on the battlefields of Europe. We are grateful that France and Germany today stand closer to each other than ever before. Out of nationalistic madness, the European partnership was born. Let us this day use these memories to further our work for peace.

We want a united, peaceful Europe that takes its responsibility for peace and justice on its own continent and in the world seriously. That is our hope. There was also hope at the beginning of the German-French friendship. Trust and confidence are today its hallmarks.

What on June 6, 1944 seemed impossible, became true, because the people of both our countries wanted it so. I would like to take as an example the fate of a German soldier Hans Flindt. He fought in Normandy and was captured. After his release he married a French woman and stayed in this wonderful land. Today the 78-year-old said of June 6, 1944 'it was a new, happier beginning for us.'

Those who 60 years ago were robbed of this happier life, deserve our remembrance, our deepest respect. Your death was not in vain. We live in peace and freedom. And for that we thank you.

Our promise is: we will not forget the victims.

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