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German President visits Kalavryta
A story in the Athens News Agency of April 1, 2000 describes the event.

[01] German president Rau pays homage at site of 1943 mass execution Athens, 05/04/2000 (ANA)

German President Johannes Rau on Tuesday paid homage to the victims of one of the most heinous crimes committed by Axis occupation forces in Greece during World War II, expressing what he called grief and shame over the Kalavryta massacre. More than 1,300 males were executed by Nazi occupation troops in December 1943 as a reprisal against resistance activity in the Kalavryta region, northwest Peloponnese.

As the highest-ranking German leader to ever officially visit Kalavryta, Rau was accompanied by his Greek counterpart Kostis Stephanopoulos to the exact hill where the executions took place laying a wreath during a brief ceremony followed by a memorial service. Both men had arrived in the mountainous village by helicopter in the morning. The German president landed in Athens on Monday afternoon for a three-day state visit at the invitation of his Greek counterpart.

The church clock of Kalavryta still shows the tragic minutes of 13 December, 1943, which heralded the beginning of this suffering for the residents of this town. Here, where the Greeks struggle for freedom once began, the atrocities and destruction wrought by German soldiers dominated; when the Wehrmacht murdered all the male residents, including children and teens, for reasons of revenge, Rau said in a brief address.

I came here to keep the memory of this event alive in Germany. Here, at this place, I feel immense grief and shame. Only one who knows and accepts his past can find the path to a better future. A half century after the end of the war Greeks and Germans are proceeding together towards a common European future. Together we have the opportunity to shape a European future of peace, democracy and respect for human rights. In such a Europe atrocities and destruction have no place, he stressed, adding: Young people have a particular interest in resisting all forms of hatred, intolerance, violations of human rights, barbarity and war, Rau said.

The German president also mentioned his support for an exchange program between a northern German city and Kalavryta, whereby a group of local youths would visit the Federal Republic of Germany. Maybe then it can be proven that even from Kalavryta, this place of memory, a road towards the future begins.

Stephanopoulos: In his response, Greek President Stephanopoulos called the visit emotionally charged, adding however, that although it cannot reverse the events of 13th of December, 1943, on this day Greeks and Germans met with totally different feelings than on that terrible day and time.

At one point in his comments, the Greek president also emphasized that the German state can do more to alleviate the consequences of the occupation massacres, as part of efforts to lessen the repercussions as well as the (negative) feelings, which no amount of compensation can assuage. Stephanopoulos was referring to a rising crescendo of demands over the past few years that a now united Germany pay war reparations to the victims and communities brutalized during the 1941-44 occupation. Your visit to Kalavryta and your expression of emotions over the tragic events during the occupation acquire an important symbolism and a heightened moral significance not only for Kalavryta, not only for the other martyred cities that are so numerous in Greece, but for all Greeks, Stephanopoulos, a native of the nearby port city of Patra, said.

As president of the German republic youve done what your conscience has dictated, and as much as you could as the highest official of your great country he added.

Both Stephanopoulos and Rau later toured the Agia Lavra Monastery, the site where the Greek War of Independence was declared in March 1821. On Wednesday, Rau will visit the northern port city of Thessaloniki, where local officials will greet him before visiting the German School of Thessaloniki, the archaeological museum and the citys Protestant parish.

Meeting with Simitis: Replying to questions by reporters after a meeting earlier with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Rau praised what he called Greece's "significant role" in the "new order" and peace in the Balkans, while he also said most people in his country considered that the war in Yugoslavia was "absolutely necessary". Rau discussed bilateral relations, the situation in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as EU enlargement in his talks with Simitis. He also described bilateral relations between Greece and Germany as "excellent" and problem-free. Germany, he noted, was the largest investor in Greece, adding that some two million Germans spend their holidays in Greece each year. The German president, who is due to visit Turkey after he winds up his visit to Greece on Wednesday, also said it was necessary to make it clear to Turkey that "Europe is not simply a market, but a society of values".

Simitis said after the meeting that the progress in Greek-German relations was "very positive", particularly in the economic sector. He said that the EU's course should lead to closer cooperation among the European countries, while simultaneously allowing the autonomy and particularity of each of the individual member states. Turning to EU enlargement, he said the EU could not move ahead without first clarifying its new form, thus ensuring the European Union's operation as well as improvement of the standard of living of the new member states.

Greece, Germany are discovering common future, Rau says in press conference: Greece and Germany are attempting to discover their common future, in remembering the past, Germanys fault and history, German President Johannes Rau said during a press conference in Athens on Tuesday. I tried to find the words, which are appropriate (but) lets not play with words. My move today (visit to Kalavryta) was understood and was accepted and for that I thank you, Rau said, commenting on a question on whether he apologized to the Greek state for damages caused during the Second World War.

Rau also noted that Germanys opinions on the issue of war reparations to Nazi victims in Greece did not coincide with those of Greece. Speaking on the loan Germany took from Greece during the occupation years, he said that he was over and beyond administrative and institutional bodies so he could not respond. He added, however, that the issue is under discussion, noting that there are differences of legal opinions.

Discussing his visit to Ankara, which will follow his visit in Athens, Rau said that he hoped to hear comments on European values and not European markets, adding that those who enter the European Union say a great yes to democracy, parliamentary processes and respect for human rights. He also hailed the Greek-Turkish rapprochement and the improved climate, stressing that those who lived the reunification of Germany and the "collapse of alliances in Europe know how important it is to enjoy good neighborly relations". Finally he said that he was impressed by the Greek hospitality and departed for the site of the new airport of Athens at Spata, where he noted that Greeks and Germans work jointly for Greece and Europe.

Last modified 5/2/00; © 2000 John P. Nordin