Friday, April 13, 2007

Poland and Auschwitz

Poland and the second world war

Black mischief

Apr 12th 2007 | WARSAW
From The Economist print edition

Whose version of history should prevail at Auschwitz?

COMPARED with the other horrors of Auschwitz, questions of nationality might seem secondary. But they rankle. Russia wants to describe as “Soviet citizens” the hundreds of thousands of people killed there who came from such places as eastern Poland and Lithuania. During the camp's existence, these were part of the Soviet Union. Poles find the wording infuriating: the Hitler-Stalin carve-up of eastern Europe was a crime, not a mere historical backdrop.

Russia closed its exhibition at Auschwitz in 2003, to update it. But the Polish authorities will not let it reopen unless it changes its terminology. Russia is furious. A Russian politician, Konstantin Kosachev, accused Poland of wanting to “rewrite history”. A Russian Jewish leader called the move “blasphemous”. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former Auschwitz inmate who was also twice Poland's foreign minister, and who chairs the museum's international council, accuses Russia of “sheer arrogance”.

Attempts to exploit Auschwitz are hardly new. Under communism, the museum there oozed Soviet propaganda, obscuring the fact that most of the million-plus murdered in the camp were Jews. Poles are twitchy when outsiders call it a “Polish death camp” and neglect to mention that it was built and run by the country's Nazi occupiers.

A somewhat similar row is brewing in Estonia, where the government wants to move a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of Tallinn to a war cemetery. The figure of a bronze soldier is seen as a heroic liberator by many locals with Russian ancestry. But to many Estonians the “unknown rapist” symbolises only the switch between a Nazi occupation and an even more brutal Soviet one.

Russia's relations with its former satellites are not uniformly bad: it has just signed a border treaty with Latvia and its ties with Hungary are positively chummy. But relations with Poland are icy. Last year the Poles vetoed the start of talks on a new EU-Russian co-operation agreement, because of a year-long Russian embargo on Polish meat exports, imposed seemingly out of spite. That issue is now sure to overshadow next month's EU-Russia summit.

Yet squabbles about sausages may be patched up more easily than rows about the past. Under Vladimir Putin, the Soviet version of history has become part of Russia's own story. The idea that anyone might not have wished to be a “Soviet citizen” seems baffling and rather ungrateful. The Poles find Russian nostalgia for the Soviet empire not just baffling, but worrying.


Kristjan said...

I like the Poles. They have back-bone.

If other European countries would as well in relations with Russia, then the world would become a better place.

Giustino said...

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski is my new hero.

Agu-Enrik Ubailves said...

Rewriting history is a pair of words Russia uses more and more 04frequently. They are right now busy doing it at home. It should not be wery hard work, since they have to moderate a bit the stalinist version of their history. The archives of KGB are very helpful for beating up this kind of mess. The time distance is sufficient for the target group who would believe that KGB took care to document accurately all of their atrocities. Russian historian Alexander Dyukov is right now up to this task - rewriting history of Estonian SSR.
The summary of the new concept of history by Kremlin:
* Baltic states were never occupied.
* The number of deported and killed estonians,latvians and lithuanians is largely (at least 3X ) overdone by nationalistic historians.
* Most of deported people deserved it right.
* Balts, especially estonians and latvians joined wilingly German army and committed unseen atrocities both home and away.
Anyone,who can read russian, may get the imression of his task from his notes in Livejournal:

Agu-Enrik Ubailves said...

Sorry, an interesting addition: among Alexander Dyukovs postings you can find a rare admiration of Stalin:

Margus said...

Not only the Poles find Russian nostalgia for the Soviet empire worrying the estonians find it deeply worrying :(

I wouldn't call the Poles way of doing politics something to be looked at admiringly. They're dealing with/in the EU is quite similar to the way they deal with Russia. Their current politics is quite self-centered and egoistic - both towards the EU and Russia. It's a growing problem within the EU, I would say.

karLos said...

I agree the Polish reaction to Russia is merely incidental, an accident we should blame on their attitude to anything non-Polish rather than actually standing for anything/anyone - be it the EU, or Russia. Russia deserves it, though. ;)

Kuba said...


First, let me tell you that here is specifically strong positive sentiment for Estonians in Poland;
for their admirable resilience under the Asiatic yoke which has let you spring up into your usual respectable posture, untainted and modern.
I have been raised with these basics; it was repeated over and over again, either by my parents or grandparents whenever the occasion, that you had all (Latvians and Lithuanians, too)been naturally independent and European to the core, and how outrageous it was that you had been so barbarically stripped of it and kept captive for so, so long! We have never, and of this I am sure, ever thought of you guys as Soviets! So a good disposition of Poles is there and is not accidental!

Now, having said that, I must say I do not really understand the notion of egoistic/altruistic in politics; the best definition of 'egoistic' I am able to come up with is when a country does the move of which it is a sole beneficiary leaving the 'international community' (not this or that state but common interest) at an undisputable loss.

This clearly is not the case disputed here! The audible undertone of satisfaction shows that you, gentlemen, perceive Polish action or attitude as righteous; deserved, because it had been provoked.

Still, Poland is distrusted and accused of egoism even when it has been declared on our part that the action over meat is undertaken in the best interest of us all who face Russian whimsical embargo. The fact appreciated by your political class in their favorable stance toward it.

The common platform, on which Poland moves, is even more evident in case of our foiling the attempts of distorting the Auschwitz history - the belied 'Soviet citizens' are not only Poles, but even more so, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians! where is 'the egoism'?

I think it is very much undeserved of Poland to be accused of it just now, when something has eventually been done in the right direction and given the fact that our common enemy (not of our choice!)finds it music to its ear.

I do, however, appreciate the apprehensions and distrust as I understand where they might have come from:

We, in Poland, have a similar trauma of being squeezed between two powers; Germany and Russia. Of the two, only one remains today as overtly and actively hostile, while the other has proven our long-term friend, never mind minor misunderstandings or even conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, in the Polish collective mind, Germans are indiscriminately distrusted. I dare say it is similar with the Baltic states (naturally, more so in case of Lithuania). Shortly: we are your friends and we do care! Our stance is even more historically traditional – unlike the Germans’ in relation to us. In this context, I would like to turn your attention to the long and deeply rooted tradition of thinking in terms of common welfare which has been in Polish foreign policy always whenever it was independent;
just take a look at the Commonwealth of Both Nations - how it came about and how it differs from all other empires ever known to mankind - look at the very name - we did not impose it!

Look at the concepts of Pilsudski who saw it rudimental for our future to try to revive a redefined union and you will see that no subjugation or other types of cynical force were any part of it.

Overgrown, unrealistic, they show the mental framework of our foreign policy which is very much in terms of common wealth.