Polish premier's attack on Germans shows that the wounds still fester

In this week's EU summit, Poland's Prime Minister attacked the Germans for their crimes against his country during WWII. He said that Poland lost 6 million men to the NAZIS in WWII so, to compensate, needs a bigger voting power (voting is based on population) in the EU than it already has. He argues that Poland's population would have been larger if it wasn't for the NAZI'S war crimes against his nation.

Polish premier's attack on Germans shows that the wounds still fester

23rd June 2007
Daily Mail

Polish Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński attacked the Germans in this week's EU summit. His twin brother is the President.

On the eve of World War II, soldiers in Polish uniform stormed a radio station at Gleiwitz, just inside the German border with Poland. Shocked listeners heard shots echo over the airwaves, then Polish voices proclaiming the hour had come to invade Germany. It was August 31, 1939.

Here was the immediate pretext for "retaliation", Hitler's invasion of Poland, which began a few hours later.

The Nazis had started their assault in the spirit of absolute ruthlessness which was to characterise everything which they did thereafter to the Polish people. The "Polish" soldiers responsible for the Gleiwitz attack were actually SS troops commanded by Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks.

Ethnic cleansing: Jews are rounded up by the Nazis in 1943 during the destruction of Warsaw

The radio station charade was devised by Himmler's-lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich, who even supplied a "Polish" corpse (in reality a concentration camp prisoner) shown to neutral correspondents.

In the six years that followed, more than six million Poles died, 15 times Britain's wartime losses, from a nation of only 35 million. Poland suffered a tragedy rendered all the more terrible because the Russians joined the Germans in the great killing, and continued it long after Hitler was dead.

Today, it is hard to say which country commands a deeper historic hate among Poles - Germany or Russia. The wounds which caused Thursday's astonishing eruption at the EU Summit by Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski are still at the heart of Poland almost 70 years later. Kaczynski caused uproar by accusing Germany of "incomprehensible crimes" against his nation. He spoke of events which still dominate the folk memory of every Pole.

The German troops which poured through Poland in September 1939 swept aside the gallant but hopelessly outgunned defenders, with their ancient aircraft and horsed cavalry.

Hitler's intention from the outset was to incorporate a large part of Poland, which contained a German-speaking minority, into the Third Reich.

In the wake of the Panzer spearheads, German troops started readying these Poles, some 9.5 million of them, for their place in Greater Germany. In the first weeks, 531 towns and villages were systematically burned. Some 16,376 people were executed, most of them prominent citizens or intellectuals.

All traces of Polish culture were obliterated. Universities and schools were closed, libraries levelled, national monuments destroyed. The playing of music by Polish composers was banned.

A million people deemed unfit to become citizens of the new part of Germany were stripped of their homes and possessions and herded eastwards, to survive however they might - thousands died as starving refugees.

Meanwhile, Nazi bombers and tanks completed the capture of most of the country. Jadwiga Soskowska, a nurse at Warsaw's main hospital, described the city's confrontation with blitzkrieg: "The procession of wounded from the city was an unending march of death. As the operating theatres and dressing stations were destroyed, the work was done in lecture rooms on ordinary deal tables, and owing to lack of water, the instruments had to be cleaned with alcohol.

"I shall remember for ever the dreadful night of September 25 when, with one hand, I helped to give anaesthetics, holding a candle in the other, while the surgeon amputated arms and legs. Warsaw was burning. We lost all sense of time.

"I saw a river of blood flowing down the corridor, washing the bodies of the dead, dying and still living martyrs. Here lay a little girl beside an aged, whitehaired woman; there a soldier beside an old workman. Old and young, children and adults, men and women, all mercilessly murdered."

The Poles' ordeal at German hands was rendered vastly worse by the simultaneous invasion which began in the east. By the terms of Stalin's secret bargain with Hitler, Soviet troops stormed over the frontier to seize 77,000 square miles of territory allotted to Moscow.

In the wake of this occupation, every Polish officer and prominent citizen identified by the Russians was taken to the forest at Katyn. There, some 7,000 were murdered by one of Stalin's most experienced executioners, who shot each one himself with a bullet in the neck. The first 4,000 bodies were found only in 1943, by the Germans. Further corpses are still being disinterred to this day.

In Nazi-occupied Poland, the Jewish population was herded into ghettoes in the major cities where they were held until their systematic annihilation began in 1942. The greatest extermination camps in Himmler's empire were established on Polish soil at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Maidenek.

A host of ordinary Poles were conscripted for forced labour in the factories of Germany. The remainder were reduced to a life of oppression and near-starvation, which continued through the years that followed. A cavalry officer captured by the Germans, Colonel K. S. Rudnicki, asked his German escort where he and his companions were being taken.

"Have you heard about the Volga-Don canal?" the soldier answered contemptuously. "You'll be sent there to dig. After two years, if you're still alive, your wife will join you and you'll settle down and live there. If you die, a band will play at your funeral."

The response of Rudnicki, like many Polish soldiers, was to throw everything into passionate efforts to escape west and rejoin the armed struggle against the Germans, a quest in which he was eventually successful.

The first Poles to distinguish themselves in the struggle after the fall of their country were fighter pilots who reached Britain and began to fly with the RAF.

Some 154 Polish airmen took part in the Battle of Britain, of whom 30 were killed between the end of August and October 1940. Their record was extraordinary. Men such as Czech-born Josef Frantisek (who had joined the Polish Air Force), the most famous ace, were the despair of their British commanders and controllers. They ignored all orders and simply hurled themselves at the Luftwaffe formations.

In the end, the British decided they had no alternative but to allow the Poles to fight their own way, which they did in two squadrons - 302 and 303.

The memorial to 303 still stands at Northolt outside London, where its Hurricanes were based in 1940.

Polish pilots claimed 203 German aircraft shot down during the Battle of Britain, an extraordinary record.

Around 20,000 Polish troops reached Britain, of whom the most senior was the hugely admired General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who later died in an air crash off Gibraltar. These Poles formed a corps which fought with distinction in the British Army in North-west Europe.

A second corps was later created from Poles grudgingly released by the Russians through Iran. Those men fought in Italy, most famously at Monte Cassino.

Their passion, of course, was to take part in the liberation of their own country. At every turn, the Western Allies soothed and assured them that they would be able to do this.

Yet it proved their tragedy that while they played a noble part in the struggle against the Germans in Western Europe, great power politics would deny them the chance ever to return home.

Many of those rash enough to go back to Poland eventually perished at Russian hands, when Stalin gained control of their country.

Throughout the war, the Nazi lawyer Hans Frank, who served as governor of Poland, sustained a policy of repression and mass murder more ferocious than any which operated in France, Belgium and Holland. The Polish people had been designated as sub-humans, of slave status. They were thus deemed not to require education or leadership.

Racial testing centres were established to determine the suitability of children for Germanisation.

Several thousand Catholic priests were deported to the concentration camp at Dachau.

Some 100,000 people were removed from the port of Gdynia, which was renamed Gotenhafen.

German settlers from the Baltic states were imported to occupy Polish lands. Food was rationed by racial categories, the Jews inevitably receiving least.

Resistance spread through Poland far more rapidly than in France. Their leaders established radio contact with the Polish government-in-exile in London and laboured to sabotage the German railway network to the Russian front.

Partisan groups began to operate from the marshes and forests of the east, but they could not readily be armed, because the country lay so far from British air bases.

By 1943, there were already acute tensions between the mass of Poles who gave their allegiance to London, aspiring to become a free post-war democratic nation, and those who became Communist stooges of Moscow.

One of Stalin's earliest demands from the Western Allies was that Eastern Poland should be recognised as part of the Soviet Union, while the Poles would be compensated with land from Eastern Germany.

Nobody liked the deal, but Russian participation in the war against Hitler was thought essential.
London and Washington acceded to Stalin's demand. It was one of the great political betrayals of the war.

In August 1944, with the Soviet armies storming westwards and the Germans in full retreat, the Polish "Home Army" of resisters under General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski launched its bravest and most reckless stroke - the Warsaw Rising.

Though feebly armed, and beyond reach of Allied supply, the Poles concluded that their only chance of escaping domination by the approaching Soviets was to liberate themselves.

Through more than two months which followed, they fought a heroic, doomed battle in the capital against Hitler's SS.

On the first day, 98 men of the Resistance "Stag" battalion stormed one German position armed only with revolvers. They succeeded in taking it, but only seven survived.

Large parts of the city were destroyed. Governor of Poland Hans Frank reported to Hitler: "For the most part, Warsaw is in flames. Burning down the houses is the most reliable means of liquidating the insurgents."

A quarter of a million Poles died, almost all civilians. The Russians, a few miles away across the Vistula, declined to hasten their advance to help them.

"The Soviet government do not wish to associate themselves directly or indirectly with the adventure in Warsaw," a senior Soviet commissar coldly informed the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow.

The 1944 agony of Warsaw became the Western world's most vivid memory of wartime Poland.

The combination of Polish suicidally courageous emotionalism, German savagery and Soviet ruthlessness set the seal on six years of slaughter and misery.

Polish behaviour was characterised by a heroic spirit of self-immolation which has displayed itself throughout the nation's history.

The Soviets told General Bor-Komorowski that if the Red Army was to help, the Home Army must recognise Moscow's Polish puppet government, along with Russia's claim to eastern Poland, and declare publicly that the Katyn massacre was the work of Germans, not Russians.

The Polish proudly refused. Their general signalled to London on August 26: "Poland has not been fighting the Germans for five years, bearing the greatest losses, just to capitulate to Russia. Our fight against the Germans has shown that we love freedom more than life". Here, indeed, reality matched rhetoric in the most terrible fashion.

When the surviving resisters capitulated on October 2, 1944, a Polish officer said bitterly to General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the Nazi high priest at Poland's sacrifice: "You, the nation which gave your Goethe and Schiller to the world, have tried through terror to take the rights of freedom and existence from us."

The German shrugged: "This is war." Hitler knew that his armies could no longer hold Warsaw against the Russians. Yet he ordered his engineers to conduct a last act of vengeance against the Poles whom he hated and despised. Every major public building in Warsaw was systematically destroyed before the Germans evacuated the city. A few weeks later, the Red Army occupied the rubble.

The Russians continued shooting "London Poles" - those who refused to give their allegiance to the new Communist regime which Moscow established - long after the end of World War II and the defeat of Hitler.

K. S. Rudnicki, the cavalry officer who by 1945 was a general commanding a Polish division in North-west Europe, told Montgomery that his men felt utterly betrayed.

The general died an exile in Britain, along with many other wartime Poles, the colours of whose regiments still hang in that tragic rendezvous of lost souls, the Polish Hearth Club in London. He wrote in his old age: "We are still on the path of destiny, and I am deeply convinced that this path will lead us expatriate Poles back to a free Poland."

His hopes have been triumphantly fulfilled long after his death, by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the coming of democracy and freedom to his country. But the descendants of the wartime generation, who suffered so terribly at the hands of both Germans and Russians, never forget.

The Germans may today have become their partners in the European Union, but in the eyes of men such as Poland's prime minister, they are still the architects of the nation's 20th-century tragedy.

For all the courtesies of modern commerce and diplomacy, for years to come there will still be moments such as that which took place on Thursday, when old Polish passions break loose and history is hurled back in the face of the German people.

Jeszcze Polska nie zginela ,poki my zyjemy ......
Poland has not perished yet ,a as long as we live .

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