Germany asks forgiveness for Holocaust

The president of Germany stood before the Israeli Knesset on Wednesday and made an emotional appeal for forgiveness for the Nazi Holocaust.

Johannes Rau told the country's parliament that he was asking for forgiveness "for what Germans have done, for myself, my generation, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, whose future I would like to see alongside the children of Israel." It was the first time that a speech was given in the Knesset in German.

Rau said he "bowed his head in humility" before the six million victims of the Holocaust "who don't have graves where I could ask them for forgiveness for what Germans have done."

In spite of the emotion-charged speech, Israeli parliamentarians appeared unmoved. They applauded politely at the end of the speech. Some boycotted the event.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was gracious in his comments. He told reporters the improving relationship between Germany and Israel could serve as an example for present-day leaders in the Middle East.

"If the president of Germany can be received in the year 2000 in the Israeli Knesset as an old friend, then present difficulties and obstacles should not deter leaders. This is the moral obligation of leadership. This is our obligation."

Rau will spend four days in the Middle East. His trip includes visits with the Palestinians and Egyptians.