PARIS – France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel held on Saturday a historic meeting at the northern French town where the armistice that put an end to World War I was signed a century ago.
Macron and Merkel jointly visited Compiegne, a middle-sized town that entered history books when the document that marked the end of brutal hostilities between Germany and the Allied Powers was signed there on Nov. 11, 1918.
Compiegne is also the place where France capitulated to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in June 1940.
Macron and Merkel unveiled a new memorial plaque at the so-called “Glade of the Armistice,” leaving photographers with an iconic image that has been compared to the one featuring their predecessors, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, holding hands at the historic WWI battle site of Verdun in 1984.
After being received with honors by the Franco-German brigade, the two leaders held a minute of silence for the millions of victims of the conflict also known as the Great War (1914-18) and later strolled toward the “Compiegne Wagon,” an exact replica of the historical train wagon in which the ceasefire document was signed.
Following a ceremony in which Merkel and Macron signed the memorial’s golden book, they chatted with several youths who attended the event.
Macron told them that over seven decades of peace in Europe had only been possible because countries, especially France and Germany, have willed it so.
“The message is that if we want to live up to those young men who died, we cannot give in to the temptations of division and must face the challenges of the contemporary world together, not one against the other,” the French president added.
A grand ceremony is scheduled for Sunday in Paris, with the attendance of 72 heads of State and government expected.
WWI left more than 16 million killed throughout the planet in what was humanity’s deadliest conflict of all time – until World War II erupted two decades later and shattered that tragic record.