German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on Sunday, asked for Poland’s forgiveness for the bloodiest conflict in the history, during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun, where the first World War II bombs fell 80 years ago. Steinmeier and other world leaders assembled in Poland to remember the outbreak of the conflict.
"I bow my head before the victims of the attack on Wielun. I bow my head before the Polish victims of Germany's tyranny. And I ask forgiveness," Steinmeier said in both German and Polish languages. Nearly six million Poles died in World War II and overall, the conflict killed more than 50 million people. This figure includes the six million Jews, half of which were Poles, who died in the Holocaust.
"It is the Germans who committed a crime against humanity in Poland. Anyone who claims it is over, that the national-socialists' reign of terror over Europe is a marginal event in German history judges that for himself," Steinmeier said in the presence of his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda. "We will never forget. We want to remember and we will remember," Steinmeier added.
Polish President Andrzej Duda condemned Nazi Germany's attack on Poland, calling it 'an act of barbarity' and 'a war crime'. "Wielun was to show what kind of war it would be, that it would be a total war, a war without rules, a destructive war," Duda said. “I am convinced that this ceremony will go down in the history of Polish-German friendship," he added, thanking Steinmeier for his presence.
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Eighty years on, Poland is still demanding compensation from Germany for the death and destruction caused. A Polish Parliamentary Committee is still assessing the amount of compensation, but Germany argued that the matter is settled. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice-President Mike Pence will attend the Warsaw ceremony, but no other major world leaders are expected.
US President Donald Trump will not attend the ceremony as he cancelled to monitor Hurricane Dorian. Also, France President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be present. The Polish Presidency had said the commemorations would be attended by around 40 foreign delegations, including some state heads.
Before dawn on September 1, 1939, the Luftwaffe (German air force) bombarded the city of Weilun, that had no military significance. Around 1,200 people were killed. The first bombs were dropped on the town's hospital, which had a 'red cross' painted on its roof. After the attack, that was ordered by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Britain gave Germany an ultimatum to end military operations. When the ultimatum was ignored, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September, igniting a six-year conflict that killed tens of millions of people.