A large coalition of German parliamentary parties offers charity to Poland | Commentary by Hans-Rüdiger Minow
(german-foreign-policy.com) – Several hundred members of the German Bundestag are planning major construction projects in Warsaw. The non-partisan group of German parliamentarians – ranging from right to left – is discussing transformation plans for the Polish capital, which had been destroyed in the 1940s, when war was raging everywhere. Warsaw could finally be embellished with historical sensitivity and German money from a “Poland Fund.” Berlin is discussing the reconstruction of Warsaw’s huge 18th century Baroque palace, the “Pałac Saski” in reminiscence of the Kingdom of Poland, when Poland was moaning under the reign of the Saxons (“Saxony Poland”) – a serious proposal from the portfolio of Germany’s Poland institutes. Therefore, Warsaw’s museums and libraries must also expect wide-ranging construction measures. They would be expanded, with means from the “Poland Fund,” to make room for cultural goods from Germany, where they have been stored in greater quantities – some already for several centuries. They had unfortunately disappeared from Poland, when “Saxony Poland” had been succeeded by quite varying regimes under German domination. Poland’s cultural heritage had been transferred to Berlin in a cloak-and-dagger operation, supposedly to safeguard it from theft and destruction. The Polish artifacts would, however, remain German property and only loaned out to Warsaw’s museums, as was so caringly suggested in the Germany capital.
“Culture of commemoration”
German money and measures of a quite different nature would have been appropriate in a suburb of Warsaw, as long as the people – whose records are stored there – were still alive. Archives of nearly 500,000 Polish citizens – documents with photos and life stories are piled up to the ceiling on several floors in a dusty hall. Of course, that hall is not a suitable venue for the Germany’s “Poland Fund.” These archives contain applications of former slave labourers, who, in their later years, were hoping for supplementary pay for their years of suffering at the hands of German companies. Only few received reparations. In 2006, Berlin shut its coffers, whose temporary opening had been imposed by the US Special Advisor Stuart Eizenstat – against the resistance of the Schröder-Fischer government and despite the German industry’s threats to object. The Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future,” which paid out financial aid for a limited period of time, turned into an indulgence agency, into which Siemens, Bosch or Bahlsen paid crumbs, labeled “donations” to avoid lawsuits by surviving Nazi victims in the USA. The protests of Eastern European victims’ associations were to no avail. A non-partisan group of German Bundestag parliamentarians, the Foreign and Finance ministries sanctioned a process they called “legal peace for the German economy.” This is the same interest group that is now planning in 2020 to pursue a baroque “culture of commemoration” in Warsaw, rather than pay Germany’s debts.
Whoever calls these debts by their name, instead of shifting the historical setting, must be wary of the long arm of Germany’s foreign policy. When in 2007, a new edition of the report on the damage caused by the terror of German occupation was published in Warsaw, an authentic source from the immediate aftermath of the war; the initiators, in opposition to the government, were immediately fired. The CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s subsidiary in Poland, which had maintained the best relations to the Polish government, at the time, discovered that the Warsaw publication contained “anti-German resentments” and “conspiracy theories.”
A similar maneuver was repeated on a broader scale in early July 2020. Again, “anti-German resentments” and “conspiracy theories” were used by the pro-government German media to take Poland’s conservative candidate to task. The media praised his opponent as a beacon of hope for “Europe” and a “hero” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), because he was skeptical about the demand for German reparations. The country’s foreign ministry summoned Germany’s ambassador and confronted him with these massive media attempts to influence the elections. Since then, Germany’s pro-government media’s outrage has become even more blaring. This is about a lot of money. It is not merely about Poland.
Seventeen per cent
The 1947 calculation – mentioned in the documentation – of the amount of damage caused by the terror of German occupation, would amount to US $850 billion in current buying power. One would rather not ask how the more than 5 million Polish civilian victims had been calculated into that sum. That was approximately 17 per cent of the Polish population at the time. These numbers are outrageous. Each human life lost rules out a balance being struck. Every single one is priceless. It cannot be paid for, and revived through payment. However, the loss, inflicted upon the survivors, is a value that extends beyond their period of mourning. It is passed on to the descendents. They have the right to quantify that loss. The situation In Poland stinks to high heavens.
In spite of the undeniable German terror, the heirs of the governmental culprits in Berlin declare they will never pay reparations. This refusal has persisted throughout Germany’s post-war history and is aimed at protecting the Nazi period’s material German heritage, while its ideological is being preserved. The refusal is being adorned with political, judicial, and even economic excuses, which are all the more repulsive, because they seek to lay claim to the losses, the dead, whose amount would be too exorbitant to ever be compensated for. The heirs of the murderers take advantage of the crime’s magnitude. Had there been fewer victims, reparations could have been discussed. But there were simply too many. You understand: 850 billion is simply too much. Who is supposed to pay?
Germany’s foreign and economic policy’s murderous potentials are being supported by Germans, who consider the murderousness immoral that could be handled either morally or pragmatically, for example, with a “Poland Fund.” Why argue about reparations, when that money could otherwise be provided, for example for Warsaw’s Baroque palace or for a “commemoration site” in Berlin? Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) and Manuel Sarrazin (The Greens) are in agreement with Katja Kipping (The Left) on the “commemoration site” for Poland. A memorial in Berlin would also suffice. For years, historians have been working on such a “commemoration site,” such as for the Italian victims of German terror, who have never received reparations. A bilateral commission was established and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs was allowed to accept the commission’s report – while Germany was bringing a lawsuit against those among the Italian victims, who were not to be fobbed off with merely “commemoration sites” and insist on payment of Germany’s debts. Germany’s victims who insist on reparations are being dragged into international courts, because Berlin – in spite of its mass crimes – considers itself to be “immune.” “Commemoration sites,” as a substitute, are intended to give the impression that guilt and debts have been redeemed.
The significance these “commemoration sites” have for Germany’s political self-image is demonstrated in the current example of the “commemoration site” for the Romani people located in Berlin. Because it stands in the way of the Deutsche Bahn’s planned S-Bahn (commuter train) route, it will be barricaded off with planks and hollowed out underground, of course, for its own protection. The function of cheap German commemorations sites cannot be more vividly demonstrated. The commemoration is being undermined and surrendered to economic interests of the heirs of the culprits, rather than being the inviolable property of the victims.
The Right to Demand
Poland will not escape this devaluation, if it accepts the Berlin memorial and a “Poland Fund,” as surrogates for reparations. Poland needs no charity from Berlin, neither does Italy nor Greece. They all have the right to mourn their losses, to quantify these and to demand restitution of what has been taken from them in values – in values that are tangible for the culprits’ heirs.
As far as Poland is concerned, in monetary terms, the debt that must be paid is €800 billion.
*Minow is an acclaimed film maker and the board spokesman for the “Zug der MEMORY” (ZdE). On behalf of the ZdE, he advised Polish and Eastern European victim organizations, which met in Warsaw in 2010 to quantify their atonement demands. In 2007, he organized the “Train of Memory”. After several months of planning, the “Train of Remembrance” began its nationwide journey in Frankfurt aM on November 8, 2007. The date was chosen to commemorate the victims of the November pogroms (“Reichskristallnacht”). By May 8, 2008, the train and its exhibition vehicles had covered almost 10,000 kilometers. More than 240,000 visitors came to 70 train stations in the Federal Republic and in the Republic of Poland. Rail transportation (Reichsbahn) in favour of the Berlin State Treasury affected three to six million people in Poland.