BERLIN - Germany on Friday celebrated its "liberation" from the Nazis 70 years ago, with the speaker of parliament Norbert Lammert hailing the willingness of the country's neighbours to forgive.
During a joint session of parliament's two houses attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, Lammert paid tribute to both Western Allied forces and the Soviet Army "who ended the National Socialist terror regime at unimaginable loss" to their own ranks.
Lammert said May 8, when Nazi Germany capitulated, marked a "day of liberation" for Germans, quoting a watershed 1985 speech by then president Richard von Weizsaecker.
"Today we remember the millions of victims of an unprecedented annihilation campaign against other nations and peoples, against Slavs, against the Jews of Europe," Lammert said.
Lammert, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said the willingness of European nations to reconcile with Germany after the war was "historically unique".
The session ended with a brass band performing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", the anthem of the European Union.
Gauck later paid tribute to the "victims of German aggression" while laying a wreath at the Russian War Cemetery in Lebus on the Polish border, where more than 4,800 men are buried.
"This war did not end because Germany liberated itself with its own strength from the Nazi dictatorship," he said.
"It ended because Germany was defeated by the Allied troops." Von Weizsaecker's speech before the German parliament 30 years ago helped transform the country's thinking about the war's end from a "defeat" to a "liberation" and a new chance to rejoin the community of nations.
A YouGov poll published at the end of April showed that 76 per cent of Germans now believe the Nazis' surrender liberated Germany.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday laid a wreath at the site of the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia as part of commemorations to mark the defeat of Nazi forces in WWII.
Merkel will shun Russia's Victory Day parade on Saturday due to tensions over the Ukraine crisis but visit Moscow a day later to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier and hold talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.