Schröder apologises for Nazi atrocities at memorial for victims of Warsaw uprising

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The Independent Online

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, apologised for the "shameful" atrocities committed against Poles by Nazi Germany during the Second World War as he sought to open a new era of reconciliation yesterday.

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, apologised for the "shameful" atrocities committed against Poles by Nazi Germany during the Second World War as he sought to open a new era of reconciliation yesterday.

At a cemetery of war dead in Warsaw, during an emotional ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the city's 1944 uprising against the Nazis, Mr Schröder declared that Germany was wholeheartedly committed to facing its Nazi past.

Echoing his predecessor, Willy Brandt, who knelt on a visit to Warsaw in 1970 to apologise for German war crimes, Mr Schröder said: "We bow our heads in shame for what was done in Germany's name."

Mr Schröder was the first German Chancellor to attend ceremonies marking the Warsaw uprising, but his visit was overshadowed by a bitter dispute over attempts by some Germans to regain Polish properties they were driven out of at the end of the war.

Mr Schröder held talks with his Polish counterpart, Marek Belka, immediately before the commemorations and publicly reassured him that: "The German government will never support such property claims."

The uprising against Warsaw's Nazi occupiers began on 1 August 1944 and lasted 63 days. More than 200,000 Polish civilians were killed by the Nazi SS and the German army during and after the fighting. On Adolf Hitler's orders, Warsaw was subsequently razed to the ground and only 15 per cent of its buildings were left standing.

The Red Army remained camped in the suburb of Praga for most of the uprising and failed to intervene. Stalin saw the organisers of the insurrection as reactionary nationalists who would stand in the way of future Soviet hegemony. The Western allies succeeded only in providing limited air drops.

Warsaw marked the anniversary yesterday with an official march-past by scores of Polish "Home Army" veterans bearing the "anchor" motif that symbolised anti-Nazi resistance. Most were in their eighties.

The city also opened an £8m uprising museum explaining the background to the events with examples of the Home Army's improvised weapons, captured German helmets and diaries recounting the harrowing fighting among the bombed-out ruins and in Warsaw's sewers.

Mr Schröder had intended that his visit should draw a line under the history between Poland and Germany, after a similar reconciliation in June when he became the first German Chancellor to attend ceremonies in Normandy marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day. "For us Germans," he said then, "World War II is now finally over.

But attempts by groups, representing the nine million Germans expelled from eastern Europe after the war, to regain properties lost in Poland threatened to mar the occasion.The Prussian Claims Society has filed for reparations for some 30,000 former German properties in Poland at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Rudi Pawelka, the society's chairman, said he would model the case on suits filed by the Jewish Claims Conference, which won millions for Holocaust survivors.Lech Kaczynski, Warsaw's mayor, has said that if the society goes ahead, Warsaw will demand $31bn (£17bn) in compensation for the Nazi's destruction of the city.

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