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Call renewed for Berlin Polish monument

September 28, 2018

A call that a memorial to Polish World War II victims of Nazi Germany be erected in Berlin has been renewed by former Bundestag President Rita Süssmuth. The initiative has the backing of some 100 prominent Germans.

Berlin Askanischer Platz
Berlin's Askan Square has been suggested as a location for the memorialImage: DW/W. Szymański

The "unimaginable suffering" begun during Hitler Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland must be remembered, Süssmuth told the KNA Catholic News Agency on Friday.

Where exactly and which type of monument should be erected in Berlin was still open to discussion, said the 80-year-old historian, who described German actions in Poland during World War II as a campaign of "total extermination."

By 1945, six million Poles had died as a result of the warfare, half of them Jews – many in death camps run by occupying Nazis until these were liberated by Soviet troops towards the close of World War II.

Close-up photo, Rita Süssmuth
Berlin site for Polish victims needed, insists SüssmuthImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Arnold

"First we should design the [Berlin] monument and then determine its location," Süssmuth said, admitting that questions remained about "how the other Central and Eastern European victims of the Nazis should be remembered" in the German capital.

Problematic proximity

One suggested site for the Polish memorial – on Askan Square in Berlin-Kreuzberg – was problematic, said Süssmuth, because it would "provoke the next discussion" on proximity to a documentation center being built for ethnic Germans expelled at war's end from a redrawn Poland and their descendants.

Polish victims as well as Germans expellees both had a "right to admonitory remembrance," said Süssmuth, 80, who is now president of the Darmstadt-based German Poland Institute. and a veteran of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic (CDU) party.

Call for German-Polish reconciliation

Last November's call to erect the monument on the square – directed at Germany's then newly elected parliament – came from 100 prominent figures, including former Social Democrat (SPD) party chairman Kurt Beck and another former Bundestag president, Wolfgang Thierse.

Berlin's Catholic Archbishop Heiner Koch and the German capital's Protestant bishop, Markus Dröge, were also among those appealing for a Berlin site to remember Nazi atrocities inflicted on Poles.

"A memorial to the Polish victims of the German occupation of 1939-1945 has long been a common concern of many Germans and Poles striving for understanding and reconciliation," wrote the signatories. 

Every sixth Pole died

The Die Welt newspaper at the time remarked that "no country of Europe suffered more under National Socialist dictatorship than Poland."

"Every sixth Pole died" as a result, said Die Welt, noting that a Communist era memorial to "Polish soldiers and German Antifascists,"  located in Friedrichshain in former East Berlin was not favored by present-day Polish leaders.

Poland's current President Andrzej Duda still lacked "a place in Berlin where he can lay a wreath for the Polish victims of the Second World War," noted Die Welt's leading historical and cultural author Sven Felix Kellerhoff.

Other memorials in Berlin

Already located in central Berlin is the large memorial to Europe's six million murdered Jews as well as monuments to Nazi persecution victims among homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, and individuals - often Germans - murdered in so-called euthanasia schemes.

Visiting Warsaw last June, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recalled former German Chancellor Willy Brandt's 1970 gesture of kneeling to ghetto victims and admitted that historical dissension still remained.

We cannot talk it down," said Steinmeier, referring to lingering debate among Poles and Germans about how wartime history was understood. 

ipj/ng (KNA, dpa)