BERLIN-- Marking the 58th anniversary of the best known attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Germany's new defense minister told hundreds of recruits Saturday they should harness the spirit of those who tried to stop the Nazis to make today's military an instrument for peace.
Standing at the side of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, in Berlin for an official visit, Defense Minister Peter Struck said with the Cold War over, the soldiers of Germany and other democracies could best protect their homelands in peacekeeping roles.
"Today, Polish and German soldiers stand side by side as friends and allies in a world that has left behind the large division between East and West but is now faced with a new and complex challenge to our security," Struck said. "The mission of the soldier as fighter and defender now gives way to the duty as mediator and intermediary between quarreling parties."
Kwasniewski said that 63 years after Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II, it was a sign of how well the countries have reconciled that he could be witnessing a German military ceremony in Berlin. He said Poland is committed to NATO, the anti-terror coalition, and to becoming a productive member of the European Union in 2004.
"Peace and freedom will always be supported by Poland," Kwasniewski said, speaking in German.
In his first day of public appearances since his appointment, Struck addressed the 500 air force and army recruits being sworn in at the Bendlerblock -- a national memorial dedicated to internal resistance to the Nazis.
The ceremony annually falls on July 20, the day in 1944 when Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg left a briefcase bomb at a field headquarters in East Prussia where Hitler was meeting with top aides. Believing Hitler dead in the explosion, Stauffenberg rushed back to Berlin to join with fellow conspirators and seize the military headquarters, the Bendlerblock.
But while four officers were killed and seven seriously wounded by Stauffenberg's bomb, Hitler suffered only minor injuries. Stauffenberg and others were apprehended, and shot in the Bendlerblock's courtyard.
In the massive sweep that followed, some 200 others, including civilians who were to have taken posts in the government in the planned coup, were eventually killed -- some strangled by piano wire and strung up from meat hooks.