WARSAW/GDANSK (Poland) • Germany's President asked for forgiveness for his country yesterday for the suffering of the Polish people during World War II as Poland marked 80 years since the Nazi German invasion that unleashed the deadliest conflict in human history.
The ceremonies began at 4.30am in the small town of Wielun, the site of one of the first bombings of the war on Sept 1, 1939, with speeches by Polish President Andrzej Duda and his German counterpart, Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Few places saw death and destruction on the scale of Poland. It lost about a fifth of its population, including the vast majority of its three million Jewish citizens.
After the war, its shattered capital of Warsaw had to rise again from the ruins and Poland remained under Soviet domination until 1989.
At an event later in Warsaw, Mr Steinmeier said: "As a German guest, I walk before you here barefoot. I look back in gratitude to the Polish people's fight for freedom. I bow sorrowfully before the suffering of the victim. I ask for forgiveness for Germany's historical guilt."
US Vice-President Mike Pence paid tribute to the courage of the Polish people. "None fought with more valour, determination, and righteous fury than the Poles," Mr Pence told the gathering of leaders, which included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
Parallel events, attended by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, were held in the coastal city of Gdansk, where one of the first battles of the war took place.
Mr Morawiecki spoke of the huge material, spiritual, economic and financial losses Poland suffered in the war. "We need to talk about those losses, we need to remember, we need to demand truth and demand compensation," he said.
NEED FOR TRUTH
We need to talk about those losses, we need to remember, we need to demand truth and demand compensation.
MR MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI, Polish Prime Minister, on the material, spiritual, economic and financial losses which Poland suffered during World War II.
For Mr Morawiecki's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the memory of the war is a major plank of its "historical politics", aimed at counteracting what it calls the West's lack of appreciation for Polish suffering and bravery under Nazi occupation.
PiS politicians have also repeatedly called for reparations from Germany, one of Poland's biggest trade partners and a fellow member of the European Union and Nato. Berlin says all financial claims linked to World War II have been settled.