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France and Germany hold low-key VE Day events due to coronavirus

Small ceremonies were allowed at local memorials in France.

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President Emmanuel Macron lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Charles Platiau/Pool via AP)

President Emmanuel Macron lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Charles Platiau/Pool via AP)

President Emmanuel Macron lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Charles Platiau/Pool via AP)

Europe has marked the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces in low-key fashion because of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across the continent.

The big celebrations planned were either cancelled or dramatically scaled back, and people across Europe were asked to mark the moment in private.

There were no mass gatherings, no hugging or kissing, but the day of liberation was commemorated a

Unlike the UK, Victory Day is a traditional public holiday in France but it was clearly far more sombre this year with the country under a strict coronavirus lockdown.

Small ceremonies were allowed at local memorials as the government granted exceptions to restrictions following requests from mayors and veterans.

President Emmanuel Macron led a small ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe. He laid a wreath and relit the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on a deserted Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris.

Mr Macron was accompanied by former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, each carefully observing social distancing. Mr Macron used a hand sanitiser after signing the official register.

He also laid a wreath at the statue of one of his predecessors, Charles de Gaulle, the general revered for leading the French Resistance from London after France had fallen in 1940.

He urged people to display flags on their balconies to honour the resistance fighters and the Free France forces.

Although VE Day is a very different occasion in Germany, it is considered a day of liberation too.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a wreath-laying ceremony (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a wreath-laying ceremony (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters via AP)

AP/PA Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a wreath-laying ceremony (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top officials laid wreaths at the memorial to victims of war and violence in Berlin, standing in silence as a trumpet played on an empty Unter den Linden boulevard.

“The corona pandemic is forcing us to commemorate alone,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. He recalled that, on May 8 1945, “the Germans were really alone” and “morally ruined”.

“We had made an enemy of the whole world,” he said in a nationally televised address, adding that 75 years later “we are not alone”.

Mr Steinmeier underlined Germans’ responsibility to “think, feel and act as Europeans” in this time of crisis and to confront intolerance whenever it emerges.

“We Germans can say today that the day of liberation is a day of gratitude,” Mr Steinmeier said. “Today, we must liberate ourselves – from the temptation of a new nationalism; from fascination with the authoritarian; from distrust, isolation and enmity between nations; from hatred and agitation, from xenophobia and contempt for democracy.”

“If we don’t keep Europe together, in and after this pandemic, we will prove not to be worthy of May 8,” he said.

Ms Merkel spoke with Mr Macron, President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone to mark the moment.

Russia, which was then part of the Soviet Union, saw tens of millions of casualties during the war. It marks VE Day on Saturday.

PA