“Germans have memory gaps” regarding Polish suffering in WW2, says Poland’s foreign minister

Poland’s foreign minister has said Germans have “memory gaps” when it comes to the Second World War, remember the suffering caused to Jews but not to Poles.

He repeated his recent call for Berlin to find a way to compensate Poland for the losses it suffered during the war, and suggested that this could be done by funding the rebuilding of a historical building destroyed by Germany or by investing in Poland’s defence capabilities.

@Dariusz_Kalan and @puhl_jan have an interesting interview with the Polish foreign minister @radeksikorski in @derspiegel this weekend. Some highlights: 1/4 https://t.co/YLDVxbrveX

— Oliver Moody (@olivernmoody) February 10, 2024

Speaking to German weekly Der Spiegel, Radosław Sikorski emphasised that his government, which took office in December, is determined to improve relations with Berlin that were damaged under the eight-year rule of the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“We do not want any artificial hostility with our neighbours,” said Sikorski, adding that “there will be no more taunts against Germans…or demonisation of democratic Germany from the government”.

However, when asked about the PiS government’s push for up to $1.3 trillion in war reparations from Germany – an issue that caused tension with Berlin, which says the claim has no legal basis – Sikorski confirmed that “this is an important issue” for the new government too.

“Poland suffered enormous material losses and was plunged into poverty for decades” due to the war, noted Sikorski, who during a visit to Berlin last month called on Germany to “think creatively” about how to compensate Poland.

Polish foreign minister @sikorskiradek has called on Germany to “think creatively” about compensating Poland for WWII.

On a visit to Berlin, he also said that the new government would „end the cold war” waged by the former ruling PiS party against Germany https://t.co/kZ62nUuqqO

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 31, 2024

Speaking to Der Spiegel, Sikorski expanded on this idea. One form such compensation could take would be “a ‘visible sign’, a documentation centre, a dialogue centre that recognises the suffering of Poles and is also a place of memory”, he said.

“After all, Germans have gaps in their memory: they know about the Holocaust, they remember the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad, but they have forgotten what they did to the Polish civilian population,” continued Sikorski, pointing to the example of the bombing of Wieluń – Nazi Germany’s first war crime.

Germany last year unveiled plans for a new institution in Berlin that will be dedicated to historical relations with Poland, and in particular to the atrocities committed during the Nazi-German occupation of World War Two.

Germany has outlined plans for a new centre in Berlin commemorating the victims of German atrocities in Poland during WWII.

„We Germans, and that includes me, still have a lot to learn,” says Claudia Roth, the federal commissioner for culture and media https://t.co/HeuP4zGozV

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 30, 2023

Sikorski also suggested that Germany could fund the reconstruction of a historic building destroyed during the war – such as Warsaw’s Saxon Palace – or could “invest in the defence capabilities of our countries, so that we can defend ourselves against Putin together”.

Asked whether such suggestions meant that the new government was no longer demanding $1.3 trillion from Germany, Sikorski joked: “If Berlin wants to transfer this money – fine! We will even agree to a discount if the money is received by the end of the year.”

“But seriously,” he continued, “money is a difficult thing in times of war and crisis. We are asking the German government to prepare a package that will convince our public and show them: ‘Aha, Germany is ready to deal with this matter’.”

Poland’s president has submitted a plan to rebuild the historic Saxon Palace in Warsaw, which was destroyed by the Nazi German occupiers in WWII.

The rebuilt palace can become „the beating heart of the reborn Republic of Poland”, says the prime minister https://t.co/9ncjbqm4CO

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 7, 2021

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: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland/Flickr (under CC BY-NC 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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