LA CAMBE, France (Reuters) - German veteran Paul Golz remembers the first Allied soldier he encountered shortly after the Normandy beach landings 75 years ago. The paratrooper was thirsty, scared - and ready to surrender.
“I told him calmly to not be afraid. He had been told that the Germans killed everyone,” Paul Golz recalled on the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, standing amid the headstones of fallen comrades at the sombre German war cemetery in La Cambe, northern France.
“He understood that we didn’t want to hurt him. I left him my cigarettes. We went to look for paratroopers spread around the region. I found a white paratrooper with open eyes, who was dead when I touched him.”
Born in 1925, Golz said he had never supported the Nazi party and had been conscripted to fight Hitler’s war against Germany’s European neighbours.
Attending a commemoration in southern England, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the sacrifice of tens of thousands of soldiers in a military operation that brought Germany freedom from the autocratic ideology of National Socialism.
“That I, as German chancellor, can be here today, that today we stand together for peace and freedom, is a gift from history that must be cared for and protected,” Merkel said.
The 75th anniversary commemorations come at a time U.S President Donald Trump’s forthright, unilateralist approach to diplomacy has rattled NATO, the transatlantic military alliance formed after World War Two.
Golz now recounts his experiences to French schoolchildren.
“‘Keep the peace, that’s what’s important’ - that’s what I always say when I visit schools. You have to learn German, we have to learn French.”
Reporting by Bart Biesemans; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Kevin Liffey