German former ambassador’s call for permanent troops in Poland prompts anger from Warsaw

Germany’s former ambassador to Warsaw has welcomed the imminent arrival of a new Polish government and suggested that it could lead to the permanent stationing of troops in Poland.

His remarks have prompted criticism from figures associated with the currently ruling Law and Justice (PiS), who say they evoke memories of Germany’s brutal wartime occupation of Poland. “Hitler’s dreams are coming true,” declared a constitutional court judge and former PiS MP.

Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven served as ambassador to Poland from 2020 to 2022. From the very start, he had tense relations with the Polish government, which initially delayed his appointment after accusing Berlin of “insensitivity” for nominating the son of a Wehrmacht officer who served in Hitler’s bunker.

When he left Warsaw last year, Loringhoven remarked that he was “unable to understand the logic” of PiS, which he said needs to decide if it wants Germany to be an “ally” or a “scapegoat”.

The German ambassador says he is „unable to understand the logic” of Poland’s government, including whether it wants Germany to be an „ally or a scapegoat”.

He also reiterated Berlin’s position that the issue of war reparations is „closed”

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 28, 2022

PiS lost its parliamentary majority at last month’s elections, paving the way for a likely new coalition government made up of three opposition groups. In an article for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Loringhoven welcomed that development.

“There is now a chance for a democratic and pro-European Poland to play a role in the EU that corresponds to its economic and geopolitical importance,” wrote the former ambassador, who is now retired. “Germany should take advantage of this opportunity.”

Whereas PiS “squandered” Poland’s potential “with its nationalist politics”, a new Polish government led by Donald Tusk can help “Poland grow into the leadership role in Europe that Poland deserves”, he added.

Nach der Wahl in Polen besteht die Chance, dass das Land in der EU eine Führungsrolle spielt, die seiner wirtschaftlichen und geopolitischen Bedeutung entspricht. Deutschland sollte diese Chance nutzen. Ein Gastbeitrag.

— FAZ Politik (@FAZ_Politik) October 31, 2023

This also “opens a new window of opportunity for a partnership between Germany and Poland on an equal footing” that can take the lead in supporting Ukraine and strengthening Europe’s defences, wrote Loringhoven, who admitted that Germany previously pursued a “failed policy” of seeking good relations with Moscow.

He also called for Berlin to tackle its “historical guilt” by setting up a new fund to support surviving victims of “German tyranny” during World War Two, by accelerating the return of looted cultural assets, and by participating in the reconstruction of Warsaw’s Saxon Palace, which was destroyed during the war.

Most controversially, the former ambassador suggested that, “with the upcoming strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank, a closer integration of armed forces and, in the longer term, a permanent transfer of troops to Poland are in the interest of both sides”.

Germany’s ambassador has warned Poland not to „open the Pandora’s box” of war reparations because „nothing good would come of this for Europe”.

But he also admitted that Germany’s support for the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia „was a mistake”

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 24, 2023

Those latter remarks quickly caught the attention of figures and media outlets associated with PiS, which throughout the election campaign argued that an opposition victory would result in Poland falling under German control.

“Years later, Hitler’s dreams will come true without the use of force [and] WITHOUT RESISTANCE from Poles,” tweeted Krystyna Pawłowicz, a constitutional court judge who, before being appointed to that position, was a long-serving PiS MP.

“Soon Germany will again ‘PERMANENTLY’ occupy Polish land,” she added, alongside an image showing Loringhoven’s words. “The majority of voters in Poland recently gave their consent.”

The screenshot she shared comes from Polish state broadcaster TVP, a government mouthpiece, which quoted Loringhoven as saying “German forces” could be moved to Poland. In fact, in his interview the former ambassador did not use the word “German” in that section.

Już niedługo,za sprawą nowego UE traktatu Niemcy znowu,
„NA TRWAŁE” zajmą sobie tereny Polski…Zachodniej ?
Sny Hitlera po latach,już bez użycia siły spełnią się
BEZ OPORU Polaków..
Większość wyborców w RP 🇵🇱niedawno,z radością oraz ze słowami „je..ć” i „nienawidzę” dała zgodę…

— Krystyna Pawłowicz (@KrystPawlowicz) November 5, 2023

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a leading PiS MEP, also shared the same image of the former ambassador’s purported remarks, in which the words “permanent transfer of German forces to Poland” are highlighted. “Sound familiar?” asked Saryusz-Wolski.

“Poles did not fight and die during World War Two so that German troops could be ‘permanently stationed’ in our country again,” tweeted PiS MP Paweł Lisiecki.

“The son of Hitler’s associate suggests the presence of German troops in Poland,” headlined Niezależna, a news website supportive of PiS. “This sounds disturbing coming from a man whose father was sitting with [Hitler] in a bunker just a day before the death of one of the greatest criminals in history.”

Syn współpracownika Hitlera sugeruje obecność wojsk niemieckich w Polsce. „Jakieś skojarzenia?”.
Więcej na #NiezaleznaPL

— Niezalezna.PL (@niezaleznapl) November 5, 2023

PiS itself in fact recently invited German troops to be temporarily stationed in Poland to operate Patriot missile batteries that Berlin transferred there early this year.

Germany had been due to withdraw the batteries and troops at the end of June, but Poland’s government asked that they remain in place until the end of this year. That request was accepted by Berlin.

Recent months have, however, also seen the German and Polish governments clash over a number of issues, including Ukrainian grain exports and a corruption scandal in Poland’s issuing of visas. That led Poland’s government to accuse Berlin of seeking to “interfere” in the elections in favour of the opposition.

Germany has accepted a request from the Polish government to keep its Patriot missile defence batteries in Poland until the end of this year while Warsaw readies its own Patriot systems ordered from the US

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 10, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: 7th Army Training Command/Flickr (under CC BY 2.0)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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