GDANSK, Poland – Daily News with wires
Europe pays solemn tribute to the victims of World War II as German Chancellor Angela Merkel laments the "endless suffering" caused by her country amid ceremonies marking 70 years since the conflict began. Russian PM Vladimir Putin rejects claims that a 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact sparked World War II at ceremonies in Poland.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk (2nd L) attends ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the first day of World War II. AFP photo.
European leaders remembered the victims of World War II at ceremonies marking the start of the conflict 70 years ago, as the countries involved disputed its historical legacy.
Veterans of the war joined Poland's leaders for a ceremony in the port of Gdansk - the site of the first battle on September 1, 1939, when a German ship opened fire on a Polish base.
"We are here to remember who in that war was the aggressor and who was the victim, for without an honest memory neither Europe, nor Poland, nor the world will ever live in security," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Events marking history's bloodiest conflict began 0245 GMT on the Westerplatte peninsula near Gdansk, the site of the base.
The Polish army, outnumbered by more than two to one, surrendered on October 6 and a brutal Nazi occupation began. Almost six million Polish citizens perished in the war, half of them Jewish.
Bogdan Kolodziejski, who was 10 when the war started and became a resistance courier. "I've never forgotten the day the Germans marched into Warsaw, singing at the top of their voices," he told Agence France-Presse.
Ahead of her departure, Merkel had underlined Germany's responsibility. "Germany attacked Poland, Germany started World War II. We caused unending suffering in the world. Sixty million dead ... was the result," Merkel said on German television. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that her country unleashed "endless suffering" by starting World War II, but also recalled the fate of ethnic Germans expelled at the end of the conflict. "But the expulsion of well over 12 million people from areas of the former Germany and present-day Poland is of course an injustice. This must also be recognized," she said.
Warsaw has protested that a planned memorial in Berlin for the expelled Germans could overshadow the suffering of the Nazis' victims, including the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Putin blames WWII on West's deal with Hitler
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rejected claims that a 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact sparked World War II at ceremonies in Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the war's outbreak.
"In Russia, we see constant, persistent attempts to make it seem that World War II was made possible solely by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact," Putin said during a press conference with his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Gdansk, northern Poland. "Why throw these false facts into the public consciousness and then speculate on them in domestic politics? This is the worst thing we could do," he said.
Putin quoted several agreements preceding the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which in his opinion, paved the way to the outbreak of World War II, including the 1938 Munich agreement that France and Britain signed with Germany.
Vladimir Putin wrote in an article published Monday in Poland's daily Gazeta Wyborcza that Moscow's deal with Hitler was "immoral." But he blamed other European nations for leaving the Soviet Union to face Nazi Germany alone, reported by The Associated Pres. He also pointed to Nazi Germany's partial annexation and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39 and a 1934 Polish-German non-aggression pact. He condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, but added that Stalin's Soviet Union had had no other choice but to make the deal.