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70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings

Publié le June 10, 2014
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at the international commemoration ceremony
Ouistreham, June 6, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, heads of state and government,

You represent 19 countries gathered here with France to mark the reconciliation, the coming together, the tribute we owe to all the veterans present here, whom I want to welcome first of all because they’re the living witnesses of what happened here on 6 June 1944.

This ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings is extraordinary: extraordinary in its scale – that’s been demonstrated to us; extraordinary in the public fervour it arouses; extraordinary, too, at this very moment when we’re gathered.

We’re involved in a duty of remembrance. Yes, for the victims, all the Allied victims, military and civilian, and also here for the German victims of Nazism. But we’re also sending a message in today’s ceremony, along with those taking part in it: a message of peace, a requirement for the United Nations to intervene where it’s necessary for collective security; a message for Europe, which has enabled peace after being the continent of war throughout the 20th century.

Seventy years ago to the day, right here, opposite this beach, this beautiful beach on the Riva Bella, thousands of young soldiers jumped into the water under a torrent of gunfire and ran towards the German defences. They were 20 years old, give or take a few years, and at that moment, who could say that 20 was the best age in life? For them, 20 was the age of duty, it was the age of commitment, it was the age of sacrifice. They were cold; they were afraid. On that 6 June the air, so pure today, was thick with the smoke of the first clashes, and riven by the din of explosions. The calm water we see today was striped with foam from the landing craft and red with the blood of the first combatants. What were those 20-year-olds thinking, in the face of this terror? They must have been thinking of their beloved mothers, their fathers so worried, their loved ones so far away, their childhoods so recent, and their lives so short, lives whose horizons were blotted out by the war.

And yet those young men, amid that hell of fire and steel, didn’t hesitate for one second. They advanced, advanced across the soil of France, braving the bullets and shells; they advanced, risking their lives to defeat a diabolical enemy; they advanced to defend a noble cause; they advanced, yes, and went on advancing, to free us, to liberate us at last.

Among them were the members of the Kieffer battalion – not many of them: 177 Frenchmen, 177 brave men who enabled France to liberate France. Led by Philippe Kieffer and wearing British uniform, they belonged to No.4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade, 134 of whom would be killed or wounded in Normandy. They were few in number but their courage was great. A little further on, the British soldiers of General Dempsey’s 3rd Infantry Division disembarked in much greater numbers, tasked with capturing this beach at Ouistreham, renamed Sword Beach in the language of Operation Overlord. Still further, it was the Canadian troops who led the assault; then, to the west of this battlefield, between Arromanches and the Cotentin Peninsula, it was the American forces commanded by General Omar Bradley who would pay a heavy price in the operation, in the landing on Omaha Beach – Bloody Omaha.

General Bradley said that every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day, 6 June 1944, was a hero; yes, they were heroes, all those men who advanced and went on advancing for our freedom!

We’re in Normandy. The battle that unfolded throughout the summer of 1944 was the biggest air and naval battle in history: 5,000 ships, 10,000 planes and 140,000 British, Canadian and American soldiers. On 6 June alone, 3,000 of them were killed – 3,000!

But the soldiers who came from the sea had achieved the essential thing. The essential thing was to set foot on French soil, and on 6 June they had begun to liberate France. And as the sun set on the Longest Day, a radiant beam of hope rose over subservient Europe. On these Normandy beaches, the memory lingers of a bitter, uncertain, decisive confrontation. On these peaceful Normandy beaches, the souls of the fighters who gave their lives to save Europe live on. On these tranquil beaches, whatever the weather, whatever the climate of the seasons, a single wind blows, the wind of freedom. It still blows today.

That’s why, in the name of France, I’d like the beaches of the Normandy Landings to be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, because this place belongs to humanity’s global heritage. This inclusion will remind us of the sacred nature of this place, so as to protect it for evermore, and above all to welcome all the generations who come to visit its sites when they want to understand, when they want to see where humanity’s fate was played out, where it was decided, on 6 June 1944.

The veterans, the survivors, are here with us in the very place where they disembarked 70 years ago, where they came in by parachute, where they fought, where they were wounded.

In the name of France, I want to extend a fraternal welcome to those who are here today. Thank you for being here in the summer of ’44, thank you for being here again on 6 June 2014, and you will always be here in spirit, on the Normandy Landing beaches.

I want to express my gratitude to all the combatants who are no more: Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Poles, Belgians and all the nationalities engaged with the Allies. They all served humanity, and if today we can live in peace, if we can live in security, if we can enjoy sovereignty, protected by the laws we’ve chosen, it’s thanks to those men who gave their lives. And I say it here on this beach: the Republic’s gratitude will never die.

When we come here, all of us – whatever our age, whatever our background, whatever our origins – are deeply moved. What’s still striking when we go from place to place and sometimes from cemetery to cemetery is the courage of the soldiers who fought here: the courage of the parachutists who jumped in the night to prepare the offensive, the courage of the Rangers who captured the Pointe du Hoc, the courage of the British soldiers who silenced the Merville battery, the courage of General Norman Cota – galvanizing his men who landed on Omaha Beach, pinned to the ground by the force of German fire –, the courage of all those young men who came from all over the world to conquer the beaches and dunes metre by metre, the courage of the French resistance fighters who facilitated the operation’s success, the courage of the Free French Forces rallied by General de Gaulle’s appeal, the courage of Normandy’s civilians who suffered under the bombs, who suffered considerable losses and no longer knew whether to share their grief or their joy – their grief at losing loved ones or their joy at regaining their freedom.

I want to pay tribute to the courage of the Red Army, which, far from here, in the face of 150 German divisions, was able to drive them back and defeat them! And once again – but it will never be too often – I want to emphasize the decisive contribution made by the people of what was called the Soviet Union; we also have a duty to recognize what those people did for our own freedom, for victory over Nazism.
And finally, I want to pay tribute to the courage of the Germans, who were also the victims of Nazism, dragged into a war which wasn’t theirs, which shouldn’t have been theirs.

Today we pay our respects to all the victims of Nazism.

That great epic, to echo General Eisenhower’s words, reminds us of a simple, a very simple truth that we must always bear in mind in all circumstances: that freedom is a struggle. Freedom in nations isn’t an obvious thing as it may seem to some people; they think that freedom is natural, like the air we breathe, and that there’s not even any reason to think about it. Yet freedom is always a struggle. It can never be taken for granted. Women and men must still rise up to defend it, to conquer it, 70 years after D-Day.

This freedom is still under threat in too many of the world’s regimes! Here, on 6 June on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago, democracies joined forces to take up a just cause. We still have this cause today. It is no longer the Allies which must rise up to wrest it from those threatening it; the United Nations is responsible for peace. The United Nations must still be equal to the mission with which it was entrusted just after the war and ensure collective security everywhere.

I’ve talked about courage – the courage of the soldiers, the courage of the resistance fighters, the courage of people at the time; courage in wartime. But courage in peacetime is just as essential and necessary.
What motivated the soldiers who landed here 70 years ago? Their patriotic duty? Yes, no doubt. But also an idea, an idea they all shared, whatever their nationality: by setting foot here, on these beaches, they were carrying a dream, a dream which seemed impossible in 1944; a dream born out of the depths of despair, a dream which enlightened their conscience. What was this dream? It was the promise of a world free from tyranny and war. It was also the dream of a fairer, more fraternal society.

This aim had been expressed two years earlier by the two war leaders who decided on Operation Overlord: Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. On a ship anchored in the middle of the ocean, they wrote the Atlantic Charter. It recalled the war’s objectives: to set Europe free, achieve peace and defeat Nazism. But at the same time this charter affirmed the desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field to guarantee progress and social security for everyone.

On 5 May 1944, a month before the Normandy Landings, the Allies adopted a declaration, the Declaration of Philadelphia. It specified that all human beings have the right to pursue material well-being and spiritual development in conditions of freedom, dignity and equal opportunity. We are still bound by this message today, because the heroic campaign carried out here was also driven by a desire, that of putting an end to evil, to the scourges which had plagued mankind from the very outset.

Extreme poverty, injustice, oppression – everything which causes war. Well, ladies and gentlemen, heads of state, heads of government, [other] elected representatives, veterans, civilians: yes, we still have a duty to protect what we have been bequeathed, the duty to make progress on uniting the peoples of Europe. Our duty to strengthen the role of the United Nations, our duty to uphold everywhere human rights and dignity, the dignity of women who are still enslaved, degraded, crushed in too many parts of the world; it is an attack on us all.

It’s also our duty to ensure peace everywhere, and heads of state and government have also come together to serve peace and, where it is threatened, find solutions and ways forward so that a conflict doesn’t degenerate into a war. Our duty is to fight fanaticism, extremism, nationalism. It is for us, all of us, whatever our position, to show the same high-minded ideals, the same boldness, the same bravery, the same conscience and the same determination as those who came onto these beaches.

Today, the scourges go by the name of terrorism and crimes against humanity; but also terrible scourges we have to banish: the humanitarian crises, the excesses of the financial system, the dangers of global warming, extreme poverty and mass unemployment. They aren’t comparable, but they too can threaten, throughout our nations, cohesion and at times cause conflicts.

6 June is no ordinary date. It isn’t simply the Longest Day. It’s a day when every moment compels the living to remember those who were killed. It is for us, representing the people united here, to keep the promise written with the soldiers’ blood. It is for us to remain faithful to their sacrifice by building in their name and on future generations’ behalf a fairer and more caring world.

Yes, I pay my respects to those killed on 6 June and during the Battle of Normandy. I salute the veterans and tell the heads of state and government how grateful I am to see them gathered here. And at the same time, I want to tell them that what lies ahead of us is more than a duty, it’s an obligation for the world and a duty towards those who fought on these beaches and who, today – this very day – know in their hearts that we are their heirs./.

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