• 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
Garbageman catches child falling from 2nd floor window
Bogdan W. (r) with four-year-old Eden. Photo: DPA

A young boy had a miraculous rescue in western Germany on Wednesday when a bin man happened to see him hanging from the window ledge and managed to catch him just in time.

Church hides refugees from state in Bavarian beauty spot
The view near Tutzing on Lake Starnberg. Photo: DPA

The Catholic Church in southern Bavaria is offering religious asylum to refugees who fled Isis, and who the state now wants to deport.

German firm fights years-long battle to crack Rubik's Cube
Photo: DPA

A German toy manufacturer is nearing success in its long battle to be able to make a Rubik's Cube all of its own.

The Local List
13 (even more) thrilling facts you must know about Berlin
Berlin, du bist so wunderbar. Photo: DPA.

Berlin is just so gosh darn interesting, we couldn't fit it all into the first list on our website of infinite virtual space.

1000s of smashed beer bottles bring Autobahn to standstill
The clean up near Bayreuth. Photo: DPA

The main road artery between Munich and Berlin was completely shut down on Tuesday evening after a truck driver committed a cardinal sin.

Far-right leader Petry under investigation for perjury
Frauke Petry. Photo: DPA

Her right wing populist party’s electoral successes have struck the fear of God into the political mainstream. But Frauke Petry is now under investigation in Dresden for perjury.

We'll crush German airlines, boasts Ryanair boss
Michael O’Leary. Photo: DPA

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has told a German newspaper that German rivals Air Berlin and Eurowings are doomed.

All aboard the €3,000 train ride from Berlin to London
Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express. Photo: Arte/DPA

One imagines that there is more than one Londoner who has moved to Germany in pursuit of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin. Now they have the chance to travel like him, too.

Adidas to bring production home with robot shoe factory
File photo: DPA

Adidas, the German maker of sportswear and equipment, announced Tuesday that it will start marketing its first series of sportshoes manufactured by robots in Germany from 2017.

Passersby spur on mob as they attack refugees
File Photo: DPA

When four refugees were attacked near a tram stop in a town on the German-Polish border on Monday evening, pedestrians egged on their assailants.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that will stay with you forever
Technology
Church plans to connect with faithful at Wi-Fi 'Godspots'
Technology
Online hate speech can cost users thousands of Euros
Society
Bavarians in rush for non-lethal weapons licenses
Sport
Here's Germany's Mannschaft for Euro 2016
Culture
The Syrian pianist playing his way into Germans' hearts
The parrot who flew fast enough to trigger a speed camera
Business & Money
Surprise results give Germany strongest growth in two years
Technology
New law could let free Wi-Fi bloom across Germany
Politics
Berlin's plans to beef up the German army
Munich
The bloody knife attack that shocked a Bavarian town
National
Supermarkets must pay massive fine for fixing beer prices
Sport
Lufthansa's Euro 2016 ad takes aim at England
Culture
The 6 German words you need to know for spring
Culture
6 weird and wonderful ways Germans celebrate May 1st
Gallery
Feast your eyes on Germany in springtime bloom
National
4/20: Five things to know about weed in Germany
Berlin
Police break up hipster swarm at vegan restaurant opening
Politics
Merkel allows Erdogan case against German satirist to go ahead
Travel
7 of Germany's most jaw-dropping national parks
7,775
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd