Speech by Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, at the Franco-German Ceremony Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of D-Day in Caen:
»Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, My fellow-citizens of Europe,
60 years ago today Caen, and the rest of Normandy, bore witness to untold suffering and tens of thousands of casualties – as well as to the courage shown by so many soldiers in liberating Europe.
France’s memories of 6 June 1944 differ from those of Germany. And yet these differing memories left us with one shared conviction: We all want peace.
We Germans know that we unleashed this heinous war. We recognize the responsibility our history has laid upon us, and we take it very seriously.
Thousands of Allied soldiers died on a single, atrocious day. They paid the ultimate price for freedom.
German soldiers fell because they had been sent forth on a murderous campaign to crush Europe.
But in death all soldiers were united, regardless of the uniform they wore – all were grieved for by parents and wives, brothers and sisters, as well as friends. We pay silent tribute to their pain.
I pay my respects to the citizens of Oradour, on whom 60 years ago the inhuman fury of the Waffen‑SS was unleashed.
France and its allies, as well as the citizens of the sorely tried city of Caen, have memories of 6 June 1944 that differ from those of most Germans.
For France this historic day marked the beginning of the long awaited end of the occupation.
For many Germans 6 June symbolized the inevitable military collapse of their country.
Other Germans had long since realized that the moral disintegration of Germany had in fact begun with the Nazi tyranny.
Many paid for their opposition to the totalitarian regime with their lives in the concentration camps.
Heartened by the Allied advance, members of the German resistance struck a futile blow against the dictatorship on 20 July 1944. They died for a better Germany.
The war cemeteries and the scars of the two World Wars have imposed a lasting duty on the peoples of Europe, and on the people of Germany in particular: To rise up against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and totalitarian ideology.
Our democratic goals are liberty, justice and a life in dignity for everyone ‑ in peace, free of religious intolerance, national arrogance and political delusions.
We believe in the legacy of the Enlightenment, tolerance and the beauty and comforts of European culture.
Salvaging and upholding these goals was and remains the purpose of 6 June 1944.
Europe has learned its lesson, and we Germans in particular will not ignore it.
Europe’s citizens and politicians are responsible for ensuring that elsewhere, too, warmongering, war crimes and terrorism are given no chance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The downfall of Hitler and his dictatorship was brought about by Allies from the West and the East.
The millions of victims of the Nazis in Eastern Europe shall not be forgotten. We remember not only the men and women of the western alliance, but also those Russian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of their homeland.
No-one will ever forget the twelve horrific years of Hitler’s rule of terror.
My generation grew up in its shadow. The grave of my father, a soldier who fell in Romania, was found by my family only four years ago. I never had an opportunity to know my father.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is not the Germany of those dark years that I represent here today.
My country has returned to the fold of civilized nations. It travelled a long road to become a successful and stable democracy.
The citizens of East Germany toppled the communist dictatorship in a peaceful revolution in 1989. They won their freedom and German unity.
But without the helping hand that France too in its magnanimity and political wisdom extended to my country, we would not have been able to complete the path that led to reunification.
Today, 6 June 2004, is a good day to thank France and its allies for this help.
Patriots and soldiers were needed to overthrow Hitler’s dictatorship. Because we Germans are aware of this, we are not pacifists. But nor are we ready to take up arms without long and careful reflection.
However, where military intervention is necessary, Germany does not shirk its responsibility to safeguard peace and protect human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We look upon the battlefields of Europe in profound sorrow, and are thus all the more thankful that France and Germany are today closer allies than ever before.
A European partnership has risen from the ashes of nationalist insanity.
Let us benefit from this day of remembrance to advance our project for peace.
We want to establish a united, free Europe, which lives up to its responsibility for peace and justice across the European continent and around the world. The creation of such a Europe is our great hope.
Hope also stood at the beginning of the friendship between Germany and France. Trust and dependability are now its hallmarks.
What seemed impossible on 6 June 1944 has become reality, because it is what the people of our countries wanted.
By way of example, permit me to mention the story of a German soldier, Hans Flindt from Usedom. During the war, he fought in Normandy and was taken prisoner. Later, following his release, he married a Frenchwoman and stayed in his adoptive country.
Now 78 years old, Hans Flindt says of 6 June 1944: “It was the beginning of a new, happier life for us all.”
Our thoughts go out to those who, 60 years ago, were deprived of the opportunity to experience this happier life. They have our great respect.
They did not die in vain. It is to them that we owe our lives in liberty and peace.
We promise that we will never forget the sacrifice they made.«
Speech by Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, at the Franco-German Ceremony Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of D-Day in Caen, 6 June 2004; Translation of advance text