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Europe

Marking the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II

Ceremonies are being held to mark the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. This comes at a time of heightened concerns about security among the European Union's eastern states in particular.

German President Joachim Gauck is to join his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski , on the Westerplatte peninsula in Gdansk on Monday, for the main ceremony to mark the beginning of World War II.

The two heads of state are to place candles at the graves of soldiers who lost their lives in the battle that marked the outbreak of the war, before laying a wreath at the memorial to the defenders of the Polish coast at Westerplatte.

In keeping with the spirit of friendship between the two former foes, Gauck and Koromoski are also to take part in discussion session with a group of students.

Fighting breaks out

The fighting began in the early hours of September 1, 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired on the Polish fort of Westerplatte. The first battle of the Second World War quickly ensued.

The attack on Poland by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime led Britain and France to declare war on Germany two days later.

The fewer than 200 Polish soldiers posted to Westerplatte fought bravely, holding out for a full week before their commander surrendered to the German forces.

Prior to the attack on Westerplatte, the Nazi's had staged a number of operations aimed at creating the illusion of Polish aggression on Germany as a pretext for attack. The best know of this was the "Gleiwitz incident," an operation by Nazis posing as Poles on the German radio station "Sender Gleiwitz" in Gliwice, which was then part of Germany.

Remembrance in Gliwice

On Sunday, German and Polish Roman Catholic bishops gathered in Gliwice to mark the outbreak of war between their two countries 75 years earlier.

The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, joined his Polish counterpart, Stanislaw Gadecki in a ceremony to remember the death, suffering and destruction that Hitler's Nazis imposed on the Polish people.

In view of the events of 1939 and the five years that followed, Cardinal Marx said the fact that Germans and Poles were now friends and allies was a "miracle of the mercy of God."

Current security concerns

The ceremonies to remember the outbreak of World War II come at a time when fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine has raised concerns about security in Europe, particularly for eastern members of the European Union and the Western military alliance NATO.

Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to hold talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk on Monday, in the latest effort to bring an end to the bloodshed. This comes after EU leaders agreed on the weekend to direct the European Commission to prepare tougher sanctions that could be imposed on Russia within the next week for its alleged role in the conflict.

pfd/crh (dpa, KNA, AFP)

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