PARIS (AP) — With quiet moments of memory or military pomp, leaders and ordinary citizens across Europe are marking 70 years since the Nazi defeat and the end of a war that ravaged the continent. But the East-West alliance that vanquished Hitler is deeply divided today.
Russia is celebrating Soviet wartime feats in a ceremony Saturday that is causing diplomatic tensions because of the country’s role in Ukraine’s conflict. Poland has held a ceremony meant as an alternative to Moscow’s.
Paris’ mile-long Champs Elysees was closed to traffic to make way for a procession of official motorcades and mounted military escorts that ascended the wide boulevard from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, site of France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“The victory of May 8th wasn’t the supremacy, the domination, of one nation over another. It was the victory of an ideal over a totalitarian ideology,” President Francois Hollande said in a speech before arriving at the giant stone arch.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. ambassador to France joined French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to lay a wreath at the tomb, in a sign of appreciation for the American role in liberating France from German occupation.
Photos taken 70 years ago show massive crowds of Parisians filling the Champs Elysees to celebrate the Nazi surrender, after nearly five years of occupation. May 8 is now a public holiday in France, but relatively few people turned out on the Champs Elysees Friday for the official ceremony.
Reims, the capital of France’s champagne wine region where the German surrender was signed, was organizing four days of events to mark the anniversary.
The German capitulation was announced to the world later that day by an Associated Press reporter who defied military censors to get the story out a full day ahead of the competition — an act for which he was reprimanded and fired. Decades later the news agency apologized for how it treated the reporter, Edward Kennedy, and said he had done the right thing.
In Caen, the Normandy town liberated and largely destroyed during the D-Day invasion nearly a year before the surrender, a “Victory Ball” was being held with a big-band playing swing tunes.
Other ceremonies took place around Europe, including in Poland, where President Bronislaw Komorowski was joined by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the presidents of Ukraine and several Central European countries for a ceremony at the site where some of the first shots were fired by Germany against Poland at the start of the war on Sept. 1, 1939.
In Germany, top officials gathered at Berlin’s Reichstag parliament building for an hour-long commemoration of the end of the war in Europe.
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