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Remembering suffering, without downplaying guilt

Poland uneasy over new German museum dedicated to those expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II.


Steinbach “wounds our Polish sensitivity about the truth towards the Second World War,” Tusk said in a recent interview with FT Deutschland, a German business daily.

Even Steinbach’s claim to be a German expellee makes Poles see red. Expellees are usually people whose families had lived for generations in German territories like East Prussia, or in the Czech lands, and who were forced from their homes by the changes of borders and ethnic expulsions after the war.

However, Steinbach was born in 1943 in Rumia, a Polish town near the Baltic that had been annexed by Germany in 1939. Her father was there serving with the German air force. The family was forced to flee west when the Soviet army approached in 1945.

Steinbach also voted against recognizing Poland’s frontier with Germany until the issue of reparations by Germans expelled from what is now Polish territory was addressed.

She has stood by her claims that millions of Germans were dealt an injustice by being forced from their homes after the war.

“Tusk has not pacified the nationalists in his country,” she said in an interview with Der Spiegel, the German weekly. “They don't want the center at all. Naturally, the expulsions of Germans following World War II is a painful memory to many Poles. But it was also painful to us Germans, dealing with our own miserable past. This isn't easy.”

Poland has little sympathy, pointing out that about 6 million Polish citizens, half of them Jews, were killed in the war, and that Poland lost about a third of its territory in the east to the Soviet Union after the war, being compensated by land in the west taken from Germany. Millions of Poles were expelled by the Soviets.

Steinbach’s presence was so divisive that former foreign minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a member of the Polish underground who helped arm Jews and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and who has taken an immense interest in improving Polish-German relations, said that allowing Steinbach onto the museum’s council would be akin to letting Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson become the Vatican’s new emissary to Israel.

Bartoszewski’s comments provoked outrage in Germany, but underlined the seriousness with which Poland treats the museum and historical issues between the two countries. In the end, Berlin saw that it made no sense to provoke a fight with Warsaw over Steinbach.

“The primary cause of the expulsions of Germans was the world war started by Germans and the Nazi government. The injustices they committed in turn begat injustices committed against Germans,” Merkel told a conference of her Christian Democratic party.

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