Warsaw demands Schröder apology
IT WAS one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War, when more than 200,000 Polish civilians and partisans were slaughtered in 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising.
Now Poles are looking for more than crocodile tears when German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder visits Warsaw today on the 60th anniversary of the uprising by a partisan army that was crushed by the full might of the Nazi war machine.
Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski has called on Schrder to publicly apologise to Poles for Germany’s aggression during the Second World War while some veterans of the uprising have said the presence of any German officials at the 60th anniversary ceremonies would still be "premature".
"Speaking plainly, in my opinion their presence is unwelcome," said veteran, historian and journalist Stefan Bratkowski.
Other statesmen, including US Secretary of State Colin Powell, have been invited along to pay tribute to the doomed uprising. Britain and France have also been invited.
The Polish government said it was "appropriate" that Schrder should attend as he did not take part in the war and had attended a similar commemoration at D-Day ceremonies in June.
Against the backdrop of Schrder’s visit and the commemoration of the uprising is growing anger over plans in Berlin for a monument and documentation centre to Germans booted out of Eastern Europe by the Red Army towards the end of the Second World War.
Kaczynski said a recent gesture by the German Union of Expellees hailing the uprising during a seminar on the issue in Berlin was "not appreciated in Poland".
He called the plan for a memorial an "attempt to create a completely false balance" between the fate of Polish insurgents on the one hand and that of Nazis and Germans expelled from eastern Europe after the war on the other.
"This is putting the victims and the perpetrators on an equal footing," Kaczynski said, adding this was a "dangerous" move for Polish-German relations.
There is also outrage over German politician Erika Steinbach’s decision to hold a "sympathetic service" in Berlin to commemorate the 1944 uprising without inviting any surviving Polish combatants. Members of the Polish parliament said the move was "simply disgusting", "bad-mannered and aggressive".
Jan Rokita, leader of Civic Platform, a party tipped to win the next elections, said the affair had "poisoned the atmosphere" for the commemoration later today.
There is also the issue of land. Piotr Nowina-Konopka of the Schumann Foundation in Poland points to increasing numbers of claims by Germans to property they were forced to abandon. Though German President Horst Khler, himself born in Poland, has distanced himself from such claims, many in Poland fear for their property.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski urged Schrder to use his speech to distance himself from German groups demanding the restitution of ancestral property in Poland that ethnic Germans lost when they fled or were expelled at the end of the war. Kwasniewski said he expected Schrder to address the issue of claims and expulsions "in a spirit that will help build a good future in Europe".
"For Poland, any kind of revision of the postwar status quo is not acceptable," Kwasniewski said.
For his part, Schrder assured Poles that his government would "never support" the claims of the German expellee groups. "The issue of property restitution has been legally dealt with," Schrder said. "No one making such claims will ever find an open ear or support anywhere."
While that row simmers on, there are great expectations for Schrder to humble himself in public on behalf of Germany as former chancellor Willy Brandt did on a visit to Warsaw in December 1970, when he dropped to his knees before the monument to the Jews killed in the ghetto revolt a year before the Home Army rose up. "Schrder should know that a certain act of expiation is needed similar to that of Chancellor Willy Brandt more than 33 years ago," said Kaczynski.
"Today I think it is time for a similar gesture towards the Polish people," Kaczynski said, adding that without it, Schrder’s visit during the uprising’s anniversary would be "highly unfortunate".
The 1944 Warsaw Uprising is viewed by historians as the bloodiest battle in turbulent Polish history. It was launched on August 1, 1944, by the Polish Home Army, a clandestine force battling the Nazis.
The desperate offensive was aimed at repelling German forces from the city, and according to many historians, to forestall its takeover by the advancing Soviet Red Army.
Stalin’s tanks were parked on the opposite banks of the Vistula River while the Nazis exterminated all resistance - the Soviet leader did not want a nationalist government standing in the way of a communist dictatorship. At least 20,000 partisans and about 200,000 Polish civilians were slaughtered in two months of savage battles against a Nazi force of 50,000 troops. Some 16,000 German troops were killed.
The uprising was crushed by the Nazis on October 2. More than 80% of Warsaw was destroyed on the orders of Adolf Hitler.
In the build-up to today’s commemorations the remains of the revered leader of the uprising were finally laid to rest in Warsaw, brought from the United States for a ceremonial funeral as part of the anniversary observances.
Antoni Chrusciel was chief of the Home Army resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and commanded the thousands of largely teenage insurgents.
"He was - and remains - one of our national heroes," Kaczynski said, as Chrusciel’s remains were interred at the city’s Powazki military cemetery.
The German foreign office stresses that Schrder will attend and atone at the official celebrations. Officials are confident he will not repeat the mistake of then President Roman Herzog in 1994.
Attending the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, he thought he was paying tribute to those who died in the Jewish ghetto in 1943.
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