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German leader: We bow in shame
Updated: 2004-08-02 09:13

In a gesture of humility, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder bowed on the steps of a memorial to the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi occupation and expressed shame Sunday for the "immeasurable suffering" inflicted by Germans when they crushed the revolt 60 years ago.

Schroeder became the first German chancellor to attend an anniversary of the two-month uprising, which ended with 200,000 Warsaw residents dead and most of the city systematically destroyed by the Nazis.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder bows in front of a memorial wall in Warsaw, Sunday, Aug.1, 2004, during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. The Nazis killed some 200,000 Poles in the 1944 uprising and razed most of Warsaw to the ground. Schroeder is the first German Chancellor to attend the ceremonies. [AP]

He bowed on the steps of the Warsaw Uprising Memorial as a lone trumpeter played taps. Just before, sirens sounded across Warsaw at 5 p.m., the hour the uprising began on Aug. 1, 1944.

"Today we bow in shame in the face of the Nazi troops' crimes," Schroeder said. "At this place of Polish pride and German shame, we hope for reconciliation and peace.

"Never again must we allow such terrible wrong. This task unites the peoples of Europe."

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski called Schroeder's visit historic.

"We were divided by an abyss filled with pain and blood," Kwasniewski said in his speech. "Today we welcome the chancellor as a representative of a friendly and close nation, as an ally and a partner."

Candle for Schroeder : A boy scout holds a candle he will present to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to put in front of the bell dedicated to the commander of Warsaw Uprising 1944 Antoni Chrusciel 'Monter' in a museum of Warsaw Uprising 1944 in Warsaw.  [AFP]

But when Schroeder joined U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at another monument to Polish freedom fighters, he was booed by a crowd that included many uprising veterans. One man held up a sign, "Heil Schroeder."

"Schroeder's presence is against my sense of what is right," said Leokadia Borzezinska, who watched Warsaw burn in 1944 as an 8-year-old girl. "The uprising is a very Polish experience."

Wojciech Wiewiorowski, 76, who was showing his grandson places where he fought, told The Associated Press, "I do not feel good about this. We have a proverb in Poland that says Germans are better off one meter under the ground."

Remembrance of the 63-day battle against Nazi troops by Poland's poorly armed and out-manned Home Army resistance movement and civilians — even children — has provoked an outpouring of patriotism in Poland.

Powell expressed "admiration for the spirit that kept freedom alive during those terrible days of World War II," drawing an allusion to Poland's military support in Iraq.

"The important thing is that Poland and the United States are united today," he said. "Poland will never be alone again."

Nearly five years after the Nazis invaded Poland, starting World War II, the Home Army rose up, with Soviet troops just outside Warsaw and Allied forces advancing eastward after the D-Day landings. After the Poles were crushed, the Germans imprisoned fighters and expelled civilians, many to concentration camps.

In contrast to the communist era, Poles now could also bitterly recall in public that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's Red Army stood by on the east bank of the Vistula River while the Germans quashed the uprising. Stalin also prevented British and American planes from airlifting supplies to the insurgents by refusing them permission to refuel at Red Army airfields.

"There were difficulties in reaching Poland, but attempts were made," Powell said Sunday.

Stalin maintained the uprising was an irresponsible act that would set back the war effort. But it is widely believed his real motive was fear that the rebels would become Poland's future leadership and resist his scheme of bringing eastern Europe under communist domination.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Kwasniewski praising the resistance fighters for contributing to the Allied victory.

In a second message addressed to all Poles, he suggested that both countries put past animosity behind them and work for relations "free of stereotypes."

Relations with Germany have vastly improved since the collapse of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 ended Europe's division. On May 1, Poland joined its western neighbor in the European Union.

"I consider it a great personal honor to have been invited and a big-hearted gesture to my country, which brought such immeasurable suffering to the Poles with the war it started," Schroeder said after meeting Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka.

But a dispute has flared over Germans who lost ancestral property in Poland when their forebears were expelled or fled after the Nazi defeat in World War II in May 1945.

On Sunday, Schroeder gave his strongest assurance yet that his government will oppose individual claims by Germans for restitution.

"The German government will oppose such claims and make that plain before any international court," he said.

The Polish government says the issue is closed. But Germany's main expellee lobby group has pointed out that no one can forbid individuals from trying to regain property through the courts.

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