Polish PM Calls for World War II Museum Ahead of Berlin Visit | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.12.2007

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Polish PM Calls for World War II Museum Ahead of Berlin Visit

Poland's new prime minister thinks that the Baltic port city of Gdansk is the perfect location for a museum commemorating the war and its consequences. Berlin would rather stick to its own plans for remembrance.

Polish soldiers stand at attention at the site of the Nazi invasion at the port in Gdansk

The Battle of Gdansk in 1939 is considered the start of World War II

Poland's prime minister, Donald Tusk, called on Monday, Dec. 10, for a grand-scale World War II museum in the northern Polish city of Gdansk, the site of the Nazi invasion on Sept. 1, 1939.

Other countries, including Germany, Russia and Israel could have a part in the museum, which was proposed as an alternative to a plan for an exhibition in Berlin to remember German expellees from central and eastern Europe during and just after World War II.

In the large Gdansk museum, "the fate of expellees would have a place in a conclusive and comprehensive context," said Tusk in an interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The coastal city of Gdansk, located on the Baltic Sea, is ripe with symbolic meaning.

"The war began here, but in a sense it also ended here when the Solidarity movement was founded in 1980," Tusk said.

Started by Polish laborers under Lech Walesa, Solidarity, or Solidarnosc, played a key role in the fall of communism in the former east-bloc country.

Berlin adamant about expulsion center

Polish Prime Minister holds a scarf that reads Polska

Tusk became prime minister last month

In response, the German government made it clear that Tusk's statement would have no bearing on plans for the expulsion center. The governing coalition agreed in their founding contract in 2005 to set up a "visible sign of remembrance against expulsion" in Berlin, said government spokesman Thomas Steg.

The conflict began some seven years ago when the League of Expellees (BdV) started a foundation for a proposed expellee center. The organization, which campaigns for the rights and remembrance of ethnic German expellees, has been seen in Poland as overstating German suffering surrounding the Holocaust.

"The problem is not that anyone wants to prevent the Germans from remembering the suffering of their own people," Tusk said. "It becomes problematic when this remembrance of the German suffering diminishes another memory -- namely that of the collective responsibility of the Germans."

Points of contention on Tusk-Merkel agenda

The question of remembrance is likely to be a major agenda point when Tusk meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.

The two leaders are also slated to broach the ongoing issue of restitution claims for German expellees and re-settlers.

The Prussian Claims Society submitted claims for 22 individual claims cases to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2006, requesting the return of land and property in present-day Poland to ethnic Germans who were forced out of their homes during the war.

Several more cases have been submitted since then, and still others are being reviewed in Polish courts.

"The German government has to take responsibility for the possible financial consequences arising from the compensation claims," Tusk said.

Ethnic Germans leave Poland on foot in 1950

Should expelled German be compensated for what they lost?

Berlin has maintained repeatedly that it doesn't support such claims, with then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder making a binding statement to that effect in Warsaw in 2004.

According to German estimates, some 15 million ethnic Germans were expelled from their homes during or directly following the war. Some two million are thought to have died in the process.

Poland fears pipeline puts gas supply at risk

Plans for a joint Russian-German gas pipeline along the Baltic Sea will be another matter of discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

Currently, Russia sends gas to western Europe via Poland, but the Baltic Sea pipeline would circumvent the central European country. Poland has expressed concern that, in a political crisis, Russia could shut its gas supply without affecting delivery to -- and, hence, relations with -- western Europe.

Ahead of Tuesday's talks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed optimism over the future of bilateral relations.

"A concrete program to improve cooperation between the governments is being worked on," he told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on Monday. "The German and Polish ministers will now meet together frequently and regularly."

Topics of friction, such as expellee claims and the Baltic pipeline would be dealt with "openly and constructively," he added.

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