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Europe marks Nazis' surrender

60th anniversary observed; Berlin seeks forgiveness

BERLIN -- Sixty years ago what was left of the German leadership surrendered to Allied forces, and the heavy burden of responsibility for a war that killed tens of millions of people in Europe has been shouldered by the German people ever since.

Yesterday morning, at somber ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, a tone of remembrance and a continuing search for forgiveness was expressed by the German government. ''We have the responsibility to keep alive the memory of all this suffering and of its causes, and we must ensure it never happens again. There can be no drawing the line," said President Horst Koehler of Germany in a speech to Parliament.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, with other German politicians, paid a visit to Berlin's monument to the victims of war and the Nazi regime. There was also a special service in Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin and a ceremony at the main Soviet war memorial.

A candlelight vigil took place on the eve of the anniversary, and thousands of spectators gathered near Brandenburg Gate yesterday for a ''Day of Democracy," with concerts and speeches.

In a further testament to German remembrance, Berlin's new Holocaust Memorial is to open later this week.

In the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, thousands of concrete blocks of varying sizes cover a vast space the size of several football fields to remember the 6 million Jews put to death under the Nazis.

Across Europe, ceremonies took place that mixed somber reflection for lives lost with parades and concerts celebrating the victory over Germany.

In Paris, President Jacques Chirac attended a ceremony on the Champs-Elysees, where he handed out medals to veterans.

In London, wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph to honor the 265,000 British servicemen and women who died in the war and the tens of thousands of civilians killed in the German air raids.

Hours later, more than 15,000 attended a ''Concert to Remember" in Trafalgar Square, featuring modern British pop stars and wartime singer Vera Lynn, known as the ''Forces' Sweetheart."

But nowhere was the day marked with a more complex swirl of emotions than in Germany itself. Despite the official speeches, resentment toward the Allied victory in World War II continues to play out on the streets of this country.

An estimated three thousand supporters of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party gathered in downtown Berlin yesterday to protest under their motto ''60 years of lies about Germany's liberation -- time to put an end to the cult of guilt." Many carried black, red, and white flags -- colors formerly used by the Nazis -- and carried signs proclaiming ''1945: The year of liberation -- We don't celebrate that."

Although they intended to march in Berlin, counterdemonstrators thwarted the protest. Max Dessau, 22, a recent university graduate, said he was protesting against the neo-Nazi demonstration ''because if they can march with no problem, they will grow stronger in their hearts and minds."

Hundreds of police from the far reaches of Germany gathered in Berlin to keep the peace between the neo-Nazi supporters and counterdemonstrators, sealing off great swaths of downtown Berlin.

But outside the contested district, the vast majority of Germans went about their day, angry at the media attention given to a small group of neo-Nazis and setting about to remember the end of World War II through public expressions and personal reflections.

Dr. Helmut Holl of Atlantik-Bruecke, a Berlin-based think tank focused on German-American relations, said the 60th anniversary is also marked in Germany by a new willingness to grapple with German suffering in World War II.

''Ninety percent of Germans think of themselves as the aggressors. They know it was our fault," Holl said. For decades, Holl said, Germans ''didn't talk about the fact that many children were orphaned, that there was a whole generation of young women whose fiancés were killed. They had to repress it."

But in the past few years, ''in literature, art, and political speeches, Germans learned to talk about themselves not only as aggressors, but as victims."

With regards to the war in Iraq, Holl added, ''Germans knew right away what Schroeder meant when he said that you can win a war right away, but the victims will always be the civilians. Germans have learned the consequences of war."

Liebowitz reported from Berlin and Sennott reported from London.Material from wire services was used in this report.

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