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Expellees Museum

DPA news agency (sms)
February 17, 2009

Germany and Poland averted a row over a controversial museum that is to depict expellee experiences, with a Polish envoy saying he was confident he could trust German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Black-and-white photo from 1954 of a boy kneeling in front of a pile of wood that was part of a house
Poles are concerned the Berlin center will paper over atrocities committed by the NazisImage: bpk, Berlin

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Poland's special representative for relations with Germany, met in Berlin with Merkel on Monday, Feb. 16. There was no news conference, but he told Polish reporters later he was "fully calmed and satisfied."

Tension had earlier flared after Polish diplomats reportedly heard that Association of Expellees President Erika Steinbach, 65, would be appointed to the board of the planned Berlin center, which is to depict how ethnic Germans had to flee many nations after World War II.

Many Poles perceive the center as having an anti-Polish agenda. Steinbach herself is viewed with revulsion by many Poles because of her advocacy for ethnic Germans expelled from Polish soil between 1945 and 1947. Steinbach is also a member of the German parliament for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Not rewriting history

Children behind barbed wire as they were liberated from the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland in 1945
Germany said it will not forget the suffering that Nazis unleashedImage: AP

Ulrich Wilhelm, the German government spokesman, said at a news conference, "The friendship, the partnership with Poland is a very important objective for the federal government." He added that this had "a very high value."

Wilhelm said the federally funded memorial would not attempt to reinterpret the history of World War II and its aftermath. He said Germany admitted it was to blame for starting the war and all its consequences.

He added that Germany's 1939 attack on Poland, the start of the war, had "plunged Europe into unfathomable suffering."

Wilhelm said procedures to select the center's board had not even begun. A state minister, Bernd Neumann, who is a Merkel aide, would meet with relevant organizations to hear their nominations. Germany's Cabinet would then select the members.

The Association of Expellees decided in April 2008 to nominate Steinbach to serve on the museum's board and continues to stand by that decision, the group's spokesman Walter

Stratmann told the Associated Press on Monday.

Sources added that the German government might postpone the issue, meaning the board could not be formed this year.

Steinbach under fire

Steinbach at an expellee exhibit
Much of Poland's anger has been directed at SteinbachImage: AP

Poles have been outraged at Steinbach's criticism of their nation and her focus on the suffering of Germans rather than victims of the Nazis. In the last few years, the expulsions have been the subject of a rash of German TV dramas.

Bartoszewski reportedly said Sunday that Poland would boycott some events with Germany this year if Steinbach were placed on the board.

Markus Meckel, a foreign policy expert for the Social Democratic Party, which rules in a grand coalition with Merkel's CDU, said Steinbach should not be elected to the center's board.

"I assume Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be clearly against accepting Ms. Steinbach when the Cabinet meets," he was quoted as saying by the daily Berliner Zeitung's Tuesday edition.

After a right-wing administration in Poland fiercely opposed the Berlin memorial, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed to advise Germany on keeping the museum neutral. He is set to meet with Merkel on Feb. 27 in Hamburg.

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