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Thursday, 2 September, 1999, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Polish invasion remembered
German troops break through Polish border on 1 September 1939
By Berlin Correspondent Caroline Wyatt

The presidents of Germany and Poland have exchanged handshakes on a bridge at the border to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland.

The day the war began
The invasion triggered World War II, in which 50 million people lost their lives, including the majority of Europe's Jews.

Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and German President Johannes Rau shook hands on the peace bridge over the river Oder that links their two countries,. The two then travelled on to the now Polish city of Gdansk, which was formerly known as Danzig.

The ceremonies are deliberately low-key, looking just as much to the two nations' current and future co-operation as to their past enmity.

Bitter memories linger

The two presidents and their wives cross the bridge
But even 60 years on, bitter memories of the German invasion still burn fresh in many Polish minds.

When Hitler's forces began their lightening attack at daybreak on 1 September 1939, no-one could have foreseen that the conflict would spread across the globe and cost tens of millions of lives.

By the time World War II ended six years later, Poland had lost its independence and six million of its people.

Slow process of healing

Reconciliation with Germany has come only slowly.

Many elderly Poles say they can never forgive.

However since the end of the Cold War, Germany has become Poland's biggest foreign investor and its strongest advocate for membership of the European Union.

That issue will be top of the agenda when the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, visits Warsaw later this week for talks with his Polish counterpart.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Caroline Wyatt on BBC's PM programme
Caroline Wyatt: Some Polish veterans refused to shake German president's hand
See also:

02 Sep 99 | World War II
07 Sep 99 | World War II
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