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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germans Pay Homage at Auschwitz

AUSCHWITZ, Poland -- The first uniformed Germans to visit the Auschwitz death camp in 50 years paid an emotional homage Sunday to bury the past and help knit together a united Europe.

Some of the 60 soldiers and 35 officers from the Bundeswehr were in tears as they toured the barracks that were home to the 1.5 million people killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II, including more than 1 million Jews.

Others silently took off their berets for a wreath-laying ceremony led by Colonel Hubertus Mulig, a representative of the German Defense Ministry, who headed the delegation.

Deeply moved, Mulig stood at attention at Auschwitz's "Death Wall," where the Nazis executed about 70,000 prisoners. On behalf of the Defense Ministry, the soldiers laid a wreath of red flowers with a black, yellow and gold ribbon, the Germany national colors.

"It's the first time that a German unit is here," Mulig said. "It's a very, very emotional way full of shame. Auschwitz remains a stain in our history.

"But on the other hand, Auschwitz is a challenge that we have to do all our best that something like this doesn't happen again."

His sentiments echoed among the other visitors, who included Polish and Danish troops taking part in the Tatra '94 exercise, part of UN joint training that took place from Monday through Thursday near Krakow.

"I cannot control my emotions," said Lieutenant Gregor Jeziorowski, 37, of Rotenburg, near Bremen. One of eight German military translators who were born in Poland, he was making his second trip to Auschwitz, built by the Nazis in 1940 and liberated in January 1945.

"It is unbelievable what happened here. We have to be very careful not to allow this to happen again, and we have to be very careful about the neo-Nazis rising in Germany," he said in a trembling voice with tears in his eyes.

After the wreath-laying, the three-nation contingent took snapshots as they toured Auschwitz, including prisoner cells and the museum barracks, where they saw the heaps of hair and glasses from the victims.

Private First Class Brian Linddehl Jensen, 27, of Varde, Denmark, said the exhibits left him numb.

"It's unbelievable, extremely unbelievable, just the thought of what they did to the children," he said. "It makes me sick inside. It means a lot that the Bundeswehr laid a wreath here."

Some of the soldiers had tears in their eyes as they went into the Auschwitz crematorium. In disbelief, they touched carts on which bodies had been brought in for disposal by the Nazis.