• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
France and Germany mark Battle of Verdun centenary
Around 300,000 French and German soldiers died in the 10-month battle. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

France and Germany mark Battle of Verdun centenary

AFP · 21 Feb 2016, 16:10

Published: 21 Feb 2016 16:10 GMT+01:00

"It was here, 100 years ago, that the first shells fell," said one of the actors as the sound of explosions was re-enacted around him.

"Some 1,400 guns and mortars threw up almost a million shells. Nearly 400 guns were focused on the forest of Caures."

With all the combatants now dead, the commemorations have emphasised educating the young, with thousands of French and German children attending the re-enactment.

"Time has done its work. Today, Verdun is no longer a memory, it is history," said Thierry Hubscher, director of the Verdun Memorial, which has been renovated for the centenary.

A strong point on the long frontline dividing the French and German armies, Verdun in northeastern France was the target of a German offensive whose aim -- according to commander-in-chief Erich von Falkenhayn -- was to "bleed France dry".

One of the most brutal battles in history was waged over a tiny stretch of land and ended with neither side making any significant headway.

Around 300,000 French and German soldiers died in the 10-month battle in which some 30 million shells are estimated to have been fired.

With some three-quarters of France's soldiers having experienced the "hell of Verdun", the battle quickly embedded itself in the country's traumatised psyche, viewed by the French in much the same way as the British saw the Battle of Somme.

French General Robert Nivelle's stirring phrase, "On ne passe pas" ("They shall not pass") came to symbolise the essence of national resistance and was appropriated by military leaders across the world in later years.

But behind that mythologising about courage and sacrifice lay horrific carnage.

For Germans, the soldier of Verdun, striving forward under heavy mortar fire became a mythical hero, praised in Nazi propaganda as the forerunner to the regime's own SS soldiers, said German historian Gerd Krumeich, who has co-written a new book about the battle with a French colleague, Antoine Prost.

Such was the trauma of the battle, however, that it took decades before the governments of France and Germany could contemplate joint commemorations.

In 1966, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer hoped to commemorate the battle of Verdun alongside France's President Charles De Gaulle, but it was deemed too soon, said Prost.

Germany had to wait until 1984 for an official invite, leading to the iconic image of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand standing hand-in-hand at a memorial ceremony that came to symbolise the new era of peace in the heart of Europe.

Such a moment did not come easily. It was just a few months since Germany had been left out of the 40th anniversary ceremony of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, said Prost.

In all, the First World War killed some 10 million military men and left 20 million injured, many of them disfigured by explosives or poison gas, or reduced to human wrecks by what became known as "shell shock".

Between 1914 and 1918, among the major belligerents, Germany lost 1.9 million troops, Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire a million and Britain 760,000.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
No injuries after blast near Bavarian migrant centre
A sign at the Zirndorf migrant centre. Photo: DPA

A suitcase, likely packed with aerosol cans, has blown up near a migrant centre on the outskirts of Nuremberg, causing no injuries, police confirm.

Not your average student digs: 'amazing' plastic bubble
Photo: DPA

Could this wacky experiment be the future of student housing?

Police settle train violence over smelly feet
Not the feet in question. Photo: Caitlin Regan/Flickr

A fellow passenger's foot odour proved too much for one traveller to stomach.

How Berliners are responding to the Bavaria attacks
Photo: DPA

Is fear of terrorism creeping up on the capital?

Munich gunman was far-right racist: media reports
Photo: DPA

According to research by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the Munich gunman was proud to have been born on the same day as Hitler and hated Turks and Arabs.

Ansbach suicide attack
Ansbach bomber ‘influenced’ by third person: officials
Photo: DPA

Officials in Bavaria have said that the man who blew himself up in an apparent Islamist attack on Sunday was influenced by an as yet unknown person.

What is the link between the attacks in Germany last week?
Police on guard in Munich. Photo: DPA

And how likely are 'copycat' attacks?

Rights experts call for calm after string of violent attacks
Bavaria has called for soldiers to protect the German border. Photo: DPA

Human rights groups and legal experts are warning the government to react responsibly to the attacks and rampages which have taken place in Germany in recent days.

France church attacker had been arrested in Germany
Photo: DPA

A neighbour described the man as a "ticking time bomb".

Dutch join hunt for German terrorists-turned-outlaws
From left to right: Ernst-Volker Staub, Daniela Klette and Burkhard Garweg. Photo: DPA.

Dutch police on Tuesday told people to be on the lookout for three German far-left militants, at large for decades and suspected of a string of recent heists.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
11,129
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd