GOLUBOVCI, Montenegro (AP) — Officials on Saturday inaugurated a cemetery for German soldiers killed in Montenegro during World War II, hailing it as an act of reconciliation important for the future.
A ceremony outside Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, included a memorial service for 64 German soldiers already buried at the cemetery. Hundreds more are expected to be laid to rest in the coming months.
"We are standing by the freshly dug graves of 64 German soldiers who died in a war ... that ended more than 70 years ago," said Daniela Schily, from Germany's War Graves Commission. "It ... illustrates the past never simply goes away."
About 2,000 German soldiers are believed to have been killed between 1941 and 1945 in Montenegro in clashes with Yugoslav communist partisans. About 500 have been unearthed so far, including 400 from a site excavated by construction workers in 2007 in a Podgorica suburb.
The remaining soldiers are still considered missing. Their names are among those engraved on a crescent-shaped wall surrounding a massive cross at the cemetery in Golubovci.
Wilhelm Sundermeier, 76, cried as he found the name of his father on the wall.
"I still hope his remains will be found," he said.
The idea of a German cemetery has been met with resistance from anti-fascist groups. About a dozen former Montenegrin partisans protested Saturday, carrying banners and chanting anti-fascist slogans.
Schily said her commission was aware of the "horrendous crimes" committed against civilians in Montenegro during the German Nazi occupation. The German delegation laid a wreath earlier Saturday for more than 500 men, women and children killed by the Nazis in 1943 in Doli, northern Montenegro.
Montenegrin government official Snezana Radovic said the opening of the cemetery was meant to deliver an anti-war message and serve as a reminder.
"It also bears the message of reconciliation between people and strengthening of ties between the Montenegrin and German nations," she said.