Mayors in storm over SS wreaths

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The Independent Online
PARIS - as Normandy prepares to fete the Allied veterans who took part in the D-Day landings 50 years ago, mayors in the region have admitted taking part in recent ceremonies to honour German dead organised by ex-SS members, writes Julian Nundy.

On 5 May, Antoine Lepeltier, the mayor of the Calvados village of Esquay-Notre-Dame, accompanied a group of 15 German ex-servicemen and their wives to lay a wreath at the local war memorial.

The next day, the same group invited Roger Boulais, the mayor of the nearby village of Maizet, to attend a similar ceremony. Mr Boulais suddenly noticed the words 'Waffen SS' on a ribbon adorning a wreath. Mr Boulais allowed the ceremony to proceed and the German party signed the village visitors' book. Later, the mayor said, he had burned the wreath. A check at Mr Lepeltier's village showed that the wreath there was also from the 10th Division Panzer SS.

Mr Lepeltier said it was 'not forbidden to receive veterans of the 9th, 10th or 12th Panzer SS. They come here as tourists, peacefully to honour the memory of their friends who fought here'. Mr Boulais said he believed he had been 'tricked'. 'They didn't have SS written on their faces,' he said.

Leon Gautier, a member of the Kiefer Commando, a French unit which took part in the D-Day landings, said: 'If they tricked the mayors, it means they were behaving as they used to (during the occupation). If not, the mayors should resign.'

As the daily Liberation pointed out, however, it was not the first time there has been a ceremony involving former SS men in Normandy. General Hans Harmel, the commander of the 10th Division of the Panzer SS in Normandy, was formally decorated by the town of Bayeux 10 years ago, shortly before ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day.