German President Horst Koehler marked the 50th anniversary of the return of the last German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union on Wednesday, praising current German-Russian relations as proof that people can heed the lessons of history.
"We have taken the right lessons from our history, and because of that our liberal and peaceful democracy is today a nation that is an example for the world," Koehler said. "A nation where life is respected and one that advocates for the respect of life elsewhere."
Koehler was speaking in the central German town of Friedland, which once stood at post-World War II Germany's intersection of the American, British and Soviet sectors. It was also the first stop for German prisoners of war returning from the Soviet Union.
"Thank God, our relationship with Russia is once again a partnership," Koehler said.
During World War II, both the Nazis and the Red Army were known for especially harsh treatment of each other's prisoners of war, and the Soviet Union's reluctance to return surviving German POWs inspired resentment in the German public.
Negotiation for the return of the last German POWs from the Soviet Union in September 1955 was seen locally as one of the greatest successes of Germany's first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.
In the following decades, the stories brought back by the returning soldiers became a key factor in West German resistance to communism and Soviet expansion.
"The fate of the German prisoners in the Soviet Union moved our people in the 1950s like no other question," Koehler said.