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World War II -- 60 Years After: Europe Commemorates Victory Over Nazism

Across Europe today, official and unofficial events are marking the end of World War II 60 years ago. The commemorations range from a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to a military cemetery in the Netherlands, to a military parade in Paris, to ordinary citizens holding vigils against war, right-wing extremism, and racism in Berlin.

8 May 2005 -- A gun salute and the sound of a lone bugle broke the morning stillness at the sprawling Margraten military cemetery in the southern Netherlands today.

At the cemetery, over 8,000 U.S. soldiers who died in World War II are buried.

Laying a wreath in their honor, U.S. President George W. Bush said the soldiers had died to preserve freedom.

"On this peaceful May morning we commemorate a great victory for liberty -- and the thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David underscore the terrible price we paid for that victory," Bush said.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that those whom the soldiers fought to free from Nazism owed "a debt of gratitude too great" for words.

"They fought for freedom and peace in Europe and they were laid to rest here in Margraten. They made the greatest sacrifice of all. They gave their lives. With British, Canadian, and Polish troops, they liberated a continent that had labored under occupation and oppression for five long years. Our debt of gratitude is too great to express in words. Today, I salute them," Balkenende said.

Across Europe, other commemorations also recalled the bravery and sacrifice of those who defeated fascism in a struggle that cost at least 50 million lives worldwide.

In Paris, a military parade passed down the Champs Elysees boulevard to the accompaniment of drums and bugles.

German 'Sense Of Horror'

And in Berlin, German President Horst Koehler recalled the war in a speech to both houses of the German parliament. He said that Germans share a sense of horror and shame when they think about what happened during World War II and the pain that was inflicted by Germans on many people.

Police in the German capital braced for possible clashes between several thousand right-wing extremist demonstrators and anti-fascists, who have vowed to disrupt any neo-Nazi marches.

About 30,000 Germans took part last night in a candlelight vigil in Berlin against fascism.
"They fought for freedom and peace in Europe and they were laid to rest here in Margraten. They made the greatest sacrifice of all."

Hans-Ulrich Perels, who took part in the vigil, called remembering the war particularly important for Germans.

"I find it extremely important that we remember this day, especially in Germany, what can happen in 12 years, when Germany had a criminal government. We must again and again remember what happened at the time -- as you can see on the picture over there [of Holocaust victims] -- and to prevent such consequences," Perels said

In Moscow, Russians are preparing for large-scale observances tomorrow.

The U.S. president is due to fly from the Netherlands to Moscow to attend the ceremony in Red Square along with dozens of other world leaders.

Bush's participation will highlight the huge contribution of the former Soviet Union to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But the U.S. president is also using his trip to Europe to urge Russia to uphold democratic values.

He noted yesterday in Riga that the end of the war brought the occupation of Central and Eastern European states by Soviet forces. He called the occupation "one of the greatest wrongs of history."

As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RFE/RL's special webpage looks at that conflict's enduring legacies in its broadcast areas.