After four decades of denying a dark past, East Germany today apologized to Israel and all Jews for the Nazi Holocaust and accepted joint responsibility for the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.
"East Germany's first freely elected Parliament admits joint responsibility on behalf of the people for the humiliation, expulsion and murder of Jewish women, men and children," said a statement read by Speaker Sabine Bergmann Pohl to a televised session of Parliament.
The vast majority of the 400 deputies backed the statement, which also covered relations with Moscow and postwar borders, in a vote. Then all stood in silence out of respect for those who died at the hand of the Nazis.
"We feel sad and ashamed," the statement said. "We ask the Jews of the world to forgive us.
"We ask the people of Israel to forgive us for hypocrisy and hostility of official East German policies toward Israel and for the persecution and degradation of Jewish citizens also after 1945 in our country."
The long-awaited development came as East Germany's new Parliament named Lothar de Maiziere as prime minister and backed a plan for swift unification with West Germany.
The nation's first freely elected government also said a unified Germany should at least temporarily be a part of the NATO alliance, a key issue when the superpowers begin unification talks in the coming weeks. And it endorsed a merger of the two German currencies by July 1, a demand of West Germany.
The agreement among East Germany's major political parties on the speed of reunification, a united Germany's military alignment and a timetable for a currency union was a huge leap forward to creating a single Germany.
The sweeping moves will be followed by unification talks with West Germany and the four World War II allies that divided the countries: the Soviet Union, United States, Britain and France.
In a remarkable string of conciliatory gestures, Parliament recognized the legitimacy of Poland's postwar borders and apologized for East Germany's role in the Soviet-led invasion that crushed reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
It also said East Germany is prepared to make reparations to Nazi victims and urged establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel.
The hard-line Communist government that was toppled in October had never formally apologized for the Holocaust. West Germany has apologized for Nazi atrocities and has paid reparations to Jews.
Parliament approved a declaration saying: "Jews in all the world and the people of Israel are asked to forgive us for the wrongs they experienced. Persecuted Jews should be granted asylum in the future in East Germany."
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official, Michael Shilo, said the declaration appeared to meet Israel's two conditions for establishing ties--East Germany's acceptance of moral responsibility for the Holocaust and its willingness to negotiate reparations.
"It's a very positive text. It may be overdue, but it is nonetheless welcome," Shilo said.