Poland to name 6m war dead
Ian Traynor, central Europe correspondent
Monday September 4, 2006
Poland is to name as many as possible of the more than 6 million Poles who perished in the second world war in a project aimed at countering what it sees as German attempts to rewrite the history of the war. The announcement coincided with ceremonies marking the 67th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 that started the war and also coincides with a bitter dispute between Berlin and Warsaw over historical truth.
The new nationalist Polish government, headed by twin brothers Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, prime minister and president respectively, are suspicious of German intentions. They are outraged at an exhibition being staged in Berlin on the plight of the millions of ethnic Germans kicked out of eastern and central Europe at the end of the war and alarmed at Russo-German energy pacts to bypass Poland and leave it vulnerable to Russian pressure. "We are sitting in a city that was 80% destroyed by the Germans," Adam Lipinski, an aide to the prime minister, said of the Nazi razing of Warsaw in 1944. "How can we not have anything against the Germans? There's a huge amount of resentment among Poles. The Germans need to take into account that the Poles are very sensitive to what they say about the past."
The Stalinists who took over Poland at the end of the war following the Yalta accords of the allied victors calculated in 1947 that 6,028,000 Poles lost their lives in the war. Some 5 million were civilians. Half the total were Polish Jews who were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. The main Nazi concentration and death camps were located in Poland. The Polish toll was the heaviest proportionately of any country in the war. The new government, fiercely anti-communist, is unhappy with the 1947 tally and wants a more exact reckoning. "The programme's goal is to commemorate by name as many Polish citizens as possible who were persecuted - killed, imprisoned or resettled - between 1939 and 1945 under German occupation," the National Remembrance Institute said.
Polish grievances, particularly under the Kaczynski administration, remain fresh and there is widespread sentiment that the outside world still fails to appreciate what Hitler and Stalin did to Poland. "To us, it is obvious and clear who started the second world war, who built the concentration camps: the Germans did it. But a huge part of the young generation in Germany does not know that," the culture minister, Kazimierz Ujazdowski, told Polish radio. While designed to counter what Poles see as German revisionism and a new German focus on their own victims, the war dead project is also part of the Kaczynskis' programme to build a stronger national identity based on a history purged of communist distortions. The project will take years to complete and should then be augmented by an even bigger undertaking to document and catalogue the depredations inflicted on Poland by the Soviet Union.
The Kaczynskis' parents were both active in the underground resistance during the war and fought in the 1944 Warsaw uprising, brutally crushed by the Nazis. President Kaczynski, when mayor of Warsaw, built an imposing museum devoted to the uprising and also ordered a study of damages that concluded the Germans caused more than €50bn (£33.8bn) of destruction in Warsaw. "Their parents fought in the uprising. They're patriots. They've read all the books," said Michal Karnowski, author of a book on the Kaczynski twins.
The reparations issues were settled between then West Germany and Soviet-controlled Poland in the 1950s and 60s and the twins clearly think Poland got a raw deal. The billions in European Union funds and aid now rolling into Poland go some way to make amends. Said Cezary Michalski, a prominent Polish commentator: "They see the EU funds as their due, as war reparations or a belated Marshall plan, since it was the western powers at Yalta who were responsible for what happened to Poland."
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Poland to name war dead
Author: Nicholas Terry
From The Guardian