NORMANDY-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will today become the first postwar German leader to attend D-Day celebrations. U.S. President George Bush, Queen Elizabeth, the kings of Norway and Belgium, presidents and heads of states including Vladimir Putin, the first Russian president to be invited, will attend the ceremony on Arromanche beach today, marking the 60th anniversary of the invasion.
Schroeder's invitation and attendance are considered the most significant. He himself said the decision to invite him "shows that the postwar period is over and done for good."
The German chancellor will enter Le Memorial de Caen Museum in Normandy at 6:20 P.M., accompanied only by French President Jacques Chirac. This intimate ceremony, more than the large official ones, will mark the end of an era. At 6:30 P.M. Chirac and Schroeder will unveil an inscription testifying that on June 6, 2004 they attended the first joint ceremony commemorating the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
It took the French 40 years to build the memorial at Caen, a town which was almost completely destroyed in the war. It was inaugurated only in 1988.
On July 13, 1944, the first edition of Free Normandy was published in Caen. Almost 60 years later, the local mass circulation Ouest-France appeared with its main headline over a photograph of graves, saying "Europe owes them peace and Liberty." The newspaper's owner and president, Francois Regis Hutin, told Haaretz, "We chose the word `Europe' in the headline deliberately, including Germany in it as well. In Normandy their liberation from the Nazis began, too. I have fought for including Germany in the ceremonies, and I am happy it is happening. I completely understand the Holocaust pain of the Jewish people. We do not forget either, but the Holocaust and World War II are not the same."
Hardly anyone disagrees with Hutin. "As an old warrior I didn't like the SS," Colonel Ernest Cote, of the third Canadian division that took part in the invasion, told Haaretz. "As a Canadian, I am happy to see the Germans here today." Cote then hastened to take part in a joint interview with Hans Flint, a German veteran, who married a French woman after the war and stayed in Normandy. "I am the proof that this reconciliation should have come sooner," said Flint.
"For 40 years Europe is being built anew on the basis of the economic and political relations between Germany and France," said Philippe Chollet, of radio France Bleu. "You can't build a friendship and interests while holding a grudge. For the French it's already completely normal to have Germans participate with us in events," he said.
Schroeder will not visit the large German cemetery in Normandy, but partake in a modest ceremony in the Ranville British Cemetery, where a number of German soldiers are buried in a separate plot.
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