On the 80th anniversary of the attack on the Soviet Union, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on the Germans to remember this war and the crimes associated with it more intensely, consciously and in greater detail.

Steinmeier spoke at a memorial hour in Karlshorst (Berlin) at the place where the German surrender was signed in May 1945.

The building houses exhibitions on the history of the war under the name Deutsch-Russisches Museum.

Johannes Leithäuser

Political correspondent in Berlin.

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    Steinmeier said that on June 22nd, 1941, "the radicalization of a war into the madness of total annihilation" began.

    From the first day on, the German campaign was driven by hatred, "by anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism, by racial madness against the Slavic and Asian peoples of the Soviet Union".

    27 million people "killed, murdered, slain, starved to death by National Socialist Germany", 14 million of them were civilians.

    The Germans had not accepted the history of the crimes in Eastern Europe for too long, "it is time to catch up on this".

    "Prisoners of war robbed of their humanity"

    In his speech, Steinmeier did not limit responsibility for the war of extermination to the National Socialists alone. He said, “The criminal war of aggression wore the uniform of the Wehrmacht. Wehrmacht soldiers also had a share in his atrocities ”. And he added, "It took us Germans long, too long to admit this fact to ourselves". As difficult as it may be, this time must be remembered: "The memory of this inferno, of absolute hostility and the dehumanization of the other - this memory remains an obligation for us Germans and a memorial to the world," said Steinmeier.

    The Federal President also gave examples of how the memory of this “German barbarism”, which devastated the continent and subsequently divided the world, could be deepened in the future. He called up places where crimes were committed or the scenes of devastating battles that nobody in this country would remember. The Federal President asked, “Who in Germany knows Maly Trostenets near Minsk, where at least 60,000 people were murdered between 1942 and 1944? Or the village of Khatyn, which was razed to the ground in the summer of 1943 and where all the inhabitants were killed - half of them children? Who knows about Korjukiwa in northern Ukraine, where within two days 6,700 men, women and children fell victim to the largest and most brutal punitive action of the Second World War ”.

    Steinmeier also recalled the town of Rzhev near Moscow, where the Red Army had counted more than a million dead and wounded in a never-ending battle, and he asked about the small town of Mizocz, at whose gates the Jewish inhabitants in a single day had been shot; only five photographs of a German gendarme documented the location of this crime today.

    The Federal President stated that the crimes and inhumanities in those years were not the result of spontaneous atrocities, but followed calculated plans and orders.

    The entire European part of the Soviet Union, whole areas of today's Ukraine and Belarus, should have been "cleared" according to these instructions and prepared for German colonization.

    The Soviet prisoners of war were deprived of their humanity.

    The Wehrmacht, which was responsible for the prisoners, had no intention of feeding them.

    Steinmeier cited an order from the Army Quartermaster General from November 1941, "Non-working prisoners of war must starve".

    Steinmeier: The crimes weigh on us

    As one of the reasons for his appeal to strengthen the memory of what happened, the Federal President named its aftermath: “The crimes committed by Germans in this war weigh on us. On the descendants of the victims as well as on us. Til today. It weighs on us that it is our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers who waged this war, who were involved in these crimes ”. It is a burden on today's people that too many perpetrators have not been brought to justice and that the victims have been denied recognition for far too long.

    Steinmeier said that the point of remembering is not "to burden current and future generations with a guilt that is not theirs", rather it is about "understanding how this past continues to work in the present". Only those who learn to read the traces of the past in the present will be able to “contribute to a future that avoids wars, rejects tyranny and enables peaceful coexistence in freedom”. The Federal President said that the memory of the painful story could increasingly become a source of alienation. "If the view back is narrowed to a single, national perspective, if exchanges about different perspectives of memory come to a standstill or are refused, then historiography becomes an instrument for new conflicts," he said:“History must not become a weapon”.

    Finally, the Federal President also indicated his position in the current dispute that he had sparked with his speech. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk stayed away from the memorial service in Karlshorst, saying that he could not attend such an act together with the diplomatic representative of the Kremlin. Steinmeier said that the place of surrender is a place of remembrance: “With all political differences, with all necessary arguments about freedom and democracy and security, there must be room for memory. That's why I'm here today ”.

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