Wielun (Poland) (AFP)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier apologized Sunday to the victims of German aggression, at a ceremony in Wielun, exactly at the time of the explosion of the first bombs that fell in 1939 on this small Polish town, the first victim of the Second World War.

"I bow to the victims of the Wielun attack, I bow to the Polish victims of German tyranny, and I beg your pardon," said Steinmeier, in German and Polish, Polish counterpart.

Poland was hit hard by the horrors of the Second World War, losing six million citizens, including three million Jews.

"It is the Germans who have committed a crime against humanity in Poland, whoever claims that it is over, that the reign of terror of the National Socialists on Europe is a marginal event in German history itself, "said Steinmeier.

The head of state seemed to refer to the German far right, whose co-president Alexander Gauland had estimated that the years of the Third Reich were a "bird droppings" in a German millennium glorious.

"We will not forget, we want to remember and we will remember," said Steinmeier.

For his part, Polish President Andrzej Duda denounced "an act of barbarism" and "a war crime" that opened the Second World War "in Wielun on September 1, 1939.

Mr Duda thanked Mr Steinmeier for his presence in Wielun.

"I am convinced that this ceremony will go down in the history of Polish-German friendship," he said.

- Smoke, noise, explosions -

"I saw dead, wounded ... Smoke, noise, explosions, everything was burning ...", told a witness of the bombing, Tadeusz Sierandt, now 88 years old, interviewed by AFP in a few days of the birthday.

The attack came a week after a secret agreement, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, concluded between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on the division of Europe between them. The Second World War killed between 40 and 60 million people, including six million Jews, victims of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

On September 3, 1939, France and Great Britain, allies of Poland, declared war on Germany, but without launching any major operations. On September 17, the USSR attacked eastern Poland.

The collaboration between Nazis and Soviets ended with Hitler's attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941. The war continued between the Allies, joined by the USSR and the United States, and the Axis German-Italian-Japanese, beaten in 1945.

Mid-day US Vice President Mike Pence, preceded by MM. Duda and Steinmeier, will deliver a speech in Pilsudski Square, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw.

Pence replaces President Donald Trump who planned to visit Poland, but eventually gave up to not leave his country threatened by Hurricane Dorian.

- War reparations -

At the time of the Wielun ceremony, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans participated in the commemoration of the desperate struggle of a handful of Polish defenders of the Westerplatte garrison in Gdansk bombed by a German warship.

"Working for tolerance, working for mutual respect, strive to remove the breeding ground of those who propose intolerance, who think that hate is a good engine for politics, who believe that the confrontation between nations, between different cultures, is a good thing, "said Timmermans.

Germany is today allied with Poland in NATO and the EU, and its first economic partner. But, in the eyes of the conservative nationalist government in Warsaw, the question of war reparations has yet to be settled.

"We have to talk about these losses, remember them, demand truth and compensation," said Morawiecki on Sunday.

A parliamentary committee is working on a new estimate of the losses suffered by Poland, which Warsaw wishes to present in Berlin. But for the German government the question of reparations has long been closed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the commemoration in Warsaw, but neither French President Emmanuel Macron nor British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have planned to make the trip. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited because of annexation of Crimea and separatist conflict in Ukraine.

© 2019 AFP