Polish historian: Reconciliation with Germany must include compensation

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Prof. Stanisław Żerko argues that it is not enough for Germany to preach reconciliation when it is avoiding the paying compensation for the crimes it committed against Poland. The historian notes that those who pay homage to Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt’s gesture in Warsaw in 1970 our failing to recognize that Germany has to this day failed to pay its dues for the Second World War to Poland.
The Brandt gesture on Dec. 7, 1970, was to kneel at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial to pay homage to the victims of Nazi Germany. On the 50 th anniversary of this event, Germany’s ambassador to Poland celebrated it as a breakthrough in Polish-German relations.
Prof. Żerko agrees in his interview for portal Dorzeczy.pl that it was a highly significant event that at the time had been controversial with many Germans. But more significant was the signing of the treaty between communist Poland and the German Federal Republic in which the Germans recognized the border on the Oder River.
That also proved unpopular with many German politicians and 238 deputies abstained in the Bundestag during the vote, with it being delayed by a year and a half anyway. And it wasn’t the final recognition which was to come when a peace treaty was signed. That only came when 20 years later in 1990 in the form of a treaty in which the superpowers such as the United States underwrote the border settlement.
Prof. Żerko is skeptical about using the word “reconciliation” to describe Polish-German relations. He says gestures are not enough, and that they are often contradicted by reality.
For instance, he wrote that last year, “President Steinmeier took the full blame for the war when in Wieluń commemoration, but just weeks later telling ‘Corriere della Sera’ that Poland and Germany should not be stuck in the past when responding to a question on reparations.”
Prof. Żerko writes that there is very little knowledge in Germany about crimes committed by Germans on the Polish civilian population. But Germans are well aware of the crimes of the Holocaust and, to a lesser extent, those committed against Russians.
However, when Poland’s foreign minister went to Bonn in 1972, Willy Brandt told him that young people in Germany do not accept the need to pay reparations for the sins of their fathers.
The Polish historian doubts Germany will ever pay reparations to Poland as a state. There may be, however, room for at least compensating individual victims and their families. Germany should reflect on that before it indulges in more preaching about compensation, Prof. Zerko stated.
Title image: Willy Brandt, the German Chancellor who signed a treaty with Polish Communist Government on December 7, 1970 what was seen as a start of political normalization between Poland and West Germany after the Second World War, source: AP Images.

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