Europe

German president asks for Poland's forgiveness over World War II atrocities

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the commemoration ceremony of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II. Source: AP

World leaders are in Poland to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII when the city of Wielun was bombed by Germany's Luftwaffe in 1939.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked Poles for forgiveness for German atrocities committed during World War II, during a speech in Wielun, the first city to be bombarded by Luftwaffe in 1939.

Steinmeier, alongside a number of heads of state and government, arrived in Poland to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII.

"I pay tribute to the victims of the attack on Wielun. I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness," Steinmeier said, in German and in Polish.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, attend ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of World War II.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, attend ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of World War II.
AP

The ceremony, attended by Steinmeier and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, started on Sunday at 4.40am, the exact hour that the war's first bombs fell.

Before dawn on September 1, 1939, the German Luftwaffe bombarded the sleeping defenceless city with no military significance. Some 1,200 people died in the bombings.

Spectators hold candles in their hands at the memorial service during ceremony marking 80th anniversary of World War II.
Spectators hold candles in their hands at the memorial service during ceremony marking 80th anniversary of World War II.
AP

The first bombs were dropped on the town hospital, marked on its roof with a red cross. Some 75 per cent of the city centre was destroyed.

The attack on Wielun marks the beginning of WWII, in which six million Polish citizens perished, including three million Polish Jews.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch