Austria's president has apologized for his country's treatment of soldiers who deserted Hitler's army during World War II as traitors.

President Heinz Fischer said that labeling the Austrian deserters that way for decades after the conflict is "something for which one has to apologize and shame himself."

He spoke on Friday while unveiling a memorial honoring those who had fled military duty rather than serve under the Nazi regime.

The ceremony in Vienna was attended by municipal dignitaries and some of those who had deserted the Wehrmacht.

The grey stone monument, just steps from the presidential offices, is the first of its kind in the Austrian capital.

A large "X'' on its surface stands for the tens of thousands of deserters who were executed under Hitler.