‘War on our doorstep’: Victory in Europe Day marked by reminders of WW2 tragedies & modern perils
French President Francois Hollande led the World War II commemorations in Paris. He began the proceedings by laying a wreath at the statue of Charles De Gaulle, the leader of France’s exiled war-era government. De Gaulle’s grandson, Yves, also took part in the ceremony.
Hollande then drove to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, where he laid another wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and held a minute of silence.
The president called on modern-day people to keep in mind “what happened in history and what can happen again.”
“We know war can resurface. [It] is on our doorstep as well, unfortunately,” he stressed. Indeed, the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa have spilled out into Europe, with terrorists pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) waging deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels.
In Berlin, hundreds flocked to Treptower Park to pay tribute to victims and heroes of the war, which saw the German capital almost entirely destroyed 71 years ago.
Treptower Park is itself a war memorial, as thousands of those who helped free the nation from Nazism are buried there in mass graves.
RT correspondent Peter Oliver visited the commemoration event and spoke to former pilot and WWII veteran Peter Alayev. The veteran said the significance of commemoration ceremonies like the ones taking place on May 8 and 9 cannot be underestimated, as they help young generations remember the most gruesome events of our history so that they, hopefully, won’t be repeated again.
“More than 20 million people died in the Soviet Union during the war. Why wouldn’t we remember the victims we lost destroying fascism and Nazism? So many people died, and that was only what the Soviet Union lost! [But] other countries lost people as well, lots of Germans died, and Americans,” Alayev said.
“It was the people’s war, that’s why we need to remember it and explain it to youngsters so that you wouldn’t allow something like what happened back in 1941 [to happen again].”
Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stressed that Germany holds a special responsibility to uphold peace and mutual understanding in the modern world.
“Our country, which is responsible for so much violence and suffering in the 20th century, has managed to win back its position in the heart of the global community. Europe has become an outstanding project of cooperation and dialogue. We are grateful for it,” TASS cited the minister as saying.
“We, Germans, have a special responsibility to uphold peace and reach mutual understanding, especially at crisis times like the ones we live in today,” Steinmeier added.
The UK is also celebrating the day, although commemoration ceremonies in Great Britain are mostly private, but for the annual minute of silence at 3 pm proposed by King George in 1946 to remember the immeasurable sacrifice of those who died fighting oppression and fascism in WWII.
There were also numerous gatherings prior to the date, when school kids met veterans and families visited the graves of their fallen loved ones.
Meanwhile, major V-Day commemorations in Russia have only begun. Their centerpiece, the annual Victory Day Parade, is to take place in Moscow on Monday, May 9, with the newest military technology in the heart of the Russian capital, Red Square, as the showcase. Some 10,000 servicemen and over 100 military vehicles are to take part in the proceedings, with 71 aircraft set to fly over Moscow – a reference to the number of years that have passed since the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The Immortal Regiment March, as well as a variety of concerts, flower layings, and veterans’ celebrations are set to take place across the country, as well as in other former Soviet states that suffered the most in the dreadful war, losing some 27 million people, though many consider this figure far from complete.