"All is quiet" on the Spree

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Us: "The Government of the Republic of Poland will continue its efforts to settle liabilities resulting from German aggression and occupation in 1939-1945" — this is a statement published on January 3, 2023 by the press spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Łukasz Jasina. The diplomatic note was sent to Berlin on October 2, 2022 — the response from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs came only on December 28, 2022. Poland sent this diplomatic note to about 50 countries of NATO, the European Union and the Council of Europe. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Arkadiusz Mularczyk emphasized that it is important for Poland's partners in the international arena to know the reasons why Warsaw is asking Berlin for war compensation. "The government (...) states that the case has never been closed, it is absolutely open and Poland has never waived reparations," Mularczyk said.

(Source: Kuryer Media)

Everyone knows that the fight will be difficult. That it is necessary — the vast majority. The stakes are high: "The point is to obtain compensation for everything that Germany did to Poland in the years 1939-1945 in a long and difficult process. This goal is part of the entire concept of rebuilding normality when it comes to the functioning of the state. Dozens of countries around the world received compensation from Germany. Poland did not obtain them” — the president of the ruling party in the Third Polish Republic, Jarosław Kaczyński; and also: "You should bang your fist on the table!"

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz (with experience as a lawyer) comments on the response from Berlin to the Polish government's note: "I have rarely met debtors who, after the first note or the first letter, acknowledged their obligations and paid the receivables" (...) "It is clear that that Germany recognizes its responsibility for the outbreak of World War II and the destruction it caused, and it is clear that no serious reparations have been paid to Poland in connection with this aggression. These are facts, and «there is no point in arguing about the facts»."

Them: "There will be no negotiations with Poland about compensation for the destruction and crimes of World War II ." The head of the German Foreign Ministry, Annalena Baerbock: "The issue of reparations is closed from the point of view of the federal government." Chancellor Scholz: "I can point out, like all previous federal governments, that this issue has been finally resolved in international law."

The bombed bridge over the Bzura River, aerial photography, September 1939 (Source: National Digital Archives)

Stefan Hebestreit, the spokesman for the government on the Spree, spoke in a similar tone: "The position remains unchanged: the issue of reparations is closed. Poland renounced further reparations a long time ago, in 1953, and later confirmed this renunciation several times."

The federal government's coordinator for cross-border cooperation between Poland and Germany, SPD MP Dietmar, made the same statement. And although on the German side the issue is not assessed in the same way by everyone, and there is no uniform opinion in the parliamentary group, there is something in common: the largest opposition faction, CDU/CSU, like the federal government, is of the opinion that the issue of reparations has been legally resolved.

Following the above-mentioned statement by Annalena Baerbock ("The Greens") in October 2022 (about the closing of the issue of reparations), which position was officially confirmed by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 28, further steps were taken by the Polish side. In January 2023, the German position was rejected and their attitude was called "inconsistent and illogical, because the question of war compensation has never been an open issue." It stated: "We regret the statement contained in the note that the issue of reparations or compensation for war losses is closed. We strongly reject this position of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The following statement was made by the Polish government circles: "There is no legal or political argument in the position of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We critically assess Germany's lack of intention to enter into negotiations on this matter" And further: “(...) there have never been any bilateral talks and negotiations between the two countries regarding German compensation after World War II, and they were initiated only by a diplomatic note of 3 October 2022”

Aerial photo of Warsaw's downtown after World War II, 1945 (Source: National Digital Archives)

A further step in fighting for our rights is the adoption of a resolution by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister on April 18, 2023 on the introduction of diplomatic and political actions — and "shifting the burden of proof to the German state, which today, in this situation, should prove its reasons on the basis of which it claims that the issue of reparations is closed." This report (18/04/23) added — the sum of Polish losses was specified, covering all aspects: human, financial, material, losses of cultural heritage and war damage. "The total value of losses is estimated at PLN 6.22 trillion, i.e. the equivalent of USD 1.53 trillion, at the exchange rate as of December 31, 2021.”

This resolution of the Council of Ministers will help and should definitively end discussions about Poland's alleged waiver of reparations/compensations from Germany.

In the German media, after a temporary revival at the turn of 2022/23, the topic of compensation was relegated ad acta — that is, until the October elections in Poland with the hope that they would be won by the favorite of the German government, who was sent to Poland "with a special task" — and the problem of reparations (we call it — and rightly so — compensation) — will be swept under the carpet.

But in the last weeks of August, something — at least in the press — stirred, and you can finally come across statements that give hope that the case may not be lost after all — at least people are talking about it.

In the business and financial newspaper "Tagesblatt", published daily in Düsseldorf, the author of the article entitled "This is how Poland wants to receive reparations from Germany", Daniel Imwinkelried, August 8 this year, said this: "Poland has long been demanding reparations from Germany for the atrocities of World War II. So far, the country has not been heard.”

Warsaw, destroyed tenement house on the corner of ul. Nowy Świat and Świętokrzyska. The Prudential building is visible in the background. February 1940 (Source: National Digital Archives)

This is the first pronouncement formulated in this way and made available to the public in months. In order to convince all of the need for the German government to react to Polish demands for compensation (Germans consistently use the term: reparations), he gives the argument that: "This country (Poland, — author's note) is trying to combine the issue of Ukrainian reparations with its own demand for Germany made reparations for the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland during World War II” and quotes the statement of Polish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Arkadiusz Mularczyk. "It would be an important signal for today's aggressors." This has not been written about in the German media yet.

Daniel Imwinkelried also refers to the position of the above-mentioned German SPD MP Dietmar Nietan regarding Poland's waiver of compensation in 1953. He writes: "Whether the issue of reparations has been legally regulated, as Nietan claims, has long been the subject of interest of international legal experts. The key role in this matter is played by Prime Minister Bolesław Bierut's document from 1953 (on the waiver of reparation claims as of January 1, 1954) and further explains to "the average German who does not know history" that: "Bierut's statement is not considered an official announcement; it was only published in the newspaper” (“Trybuna Ludu” – author’s note). And further Imwinkelried: “At that time, the country was a satellite of the Soviet Union. He did not make an independent decision, but acted under pressure from «big brother»."

We, Poles, know about it, but for the Germans it is an "uncomfortable new thing". They have no idea that neither the archives of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, nor the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contain any evidence proving the truthfulness of the assurances of the Soviet government contained in the protocol of August 22, 1953 on the discontinuation of the collection of German reparations, on making arrangements with the government of the Polish People's Republic. There is also no trace of the resolution of the Government Presidium of August 19, 1953 mentioned by Bolesław Bierut. The author of the article in "Handelsblatt" questions the thesis advanced by the above-mentioned SPD official Nietan that "Kaczyński is pressing the issue of reparations because elections are approaching in Poland and anti-German rhetoric attracts part of society." This is also a new narrative.

The attention of those who follow the German press should be drawn to the title of the article from September 7, 2022, by Tatjana Coerschulte: "Polish demands for reparations: Germany should take this painful problem seriously." In a conversation with the famous historian Petr O. Loew, director of the Deutsches Polen Institut Darmstadt, the interviewer asked the question: "If the wounds of war still hurt in Poland — what is it that does not heal even after 80 years?", to which she received the answer: “The awareness of Polish society that after World War II the country was destroyed; a society that has shrunk by over five million people because so many Polish citizens lost their lives during the war; the realization that for decades later under communist rule they also had no opportunity to develop freely — this leads Poles to think that now that Poland is part of a free family of nations, Germans must do more to help their country and their part of the continent. Because Germany often fails to meet these expectations, people reflect on historical events, and politics easily opens wounds that many people carry inside themselves.”

This can be understood as a hint from a German addressed to the authorities in Berlin on how to treat Poland's cry for the compensation it is entitled to.

"Handelsblatt" recalls the words of Minister Mularczyk: "Our goal is to start a long-term dialogue with Germany on reparations" because: ”the issue of reparations for Poland divides Europe, and Russia is closely watching how Germany and Poland deal with this issue.” At this point, the author of the article makes a critical statement: “These estimates are probably too high. However, according to observers, the Polish government realized that it would not win allies in the international arena solely with aggressive rhetoric on the issue of reparations.”

So for the Germans, Polish rhetoric on this matter is "aggressive", and for us — right and necessary.

German historian Karl Heinz Roth, who works for the Social History Foundation in Bremen, also spoke on this matter. He is an expert in the field of war damage during World War II. He presented a work entitled “Reparationsschuld. Hypotheken der deutschen Besatzungsherrschaft in Griechenland und Europa“ (“ Reparation debt. Mortgages of the German occupation in Greece and Europe”) on reparation claims and considers these Polish calculations (EUR 1.3 trillion) to be reliable!

Świętokrzyska Street in Warsaw, 1945 (Source: National Digital Archives)

Prof. Roth tries to explain why in Germany there is still little talk about Nazi crimes, the war and its consequences: "Decades will pass before the social climate in the Federal Republic of Germany changes and people start talking about Nazi crimes. Also because many perpetrators and accomplices were in the judiciary, administration and politics.”

As you can see, the "successors" of the above-mentioned people do not want to talk about compensation either. The historian also explains why the issue of compensation claims is so difficult and almost controversial. He says: “Germany has not submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in this matter. This means that in matters of reparations claims, the International Court of Justice cannot pronounce judgments against Germany." If he is right, this Tribunal will not recognize Poland in its just fight...

In 2021, Roth's monograph was published in Polish under the title "Repressed — rejected — postponed. Germany's Reparation Debt to Poland and Europe" (currently being reissued), in which he analyzes not only the economic and political dimensions of the issue of reparations, but also the moral dimension of this problem and Berlin's attempts to ignore this issue in its relations with Poland and other European countries.

Karl Heinz Roth (Source: Wikipedia)

In an interview with TVP, the German historian supported the demands for reparations to the Federal Republic of Germany for the losses suffered by Germany during World War II. In his opinion, this matter was not decided by the applicable international treaties. Discussing the provisions of the Two Plus Four Treaty (1990), he wrote: "It is not mentioned that this matter has only been omitted, but not removed, and that this treaty meets the conditions of a peace treaty, even if it does not call itself one."

According to Dr. Roth, the issue of reparations cannot be influenced by a possible change of government in Poland after the autumn parliamentary elections, because it is a matter related to the Polish national interest. "I have always believed and said it directly, even to those friends who used the argument that only Polish conservatives want reparations, and the liberal opposition is against them, and that reparations are an important topic for the majority of Poles." A clear contrast to the narrative of politicians from the Spree, e.g. by SPD MP Dietmar and part of the German press!

Another German historian Stephan Lehnstaedt, historian and professor of Holocaust studies at Touro-College Berlin, believes that the German position on war losses should be discussed because: "It is deeply contradictory because it gives the impression, at least abroad and not only in Poland that Germans are always good to ask for forgiveness, but it must not cost them anything."

On February 7, 2023, in the rbb television program (Berlin), journalist Magdalena Schwabe talked to Markus Meckel, the last Minister of Foreign Affairs of the GDR and co-chairman of the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. Title of the report: "Dispute over reparations claims — should Germany pay Poland?"

What is noteworthy is the way the interviewer formulated her question: 'Do you think that Poland still has the right to demand some kind of compensation?” We know that the issue of reparations was not even discussed in the Two plus Four agreement. “So Poland paid a very high price after the war because reparations through the Soviet Union never really got where they were supposed to.” Markus Meckel: "I think that such compensation, such a demand for repairs, can no longer exist today." And further — arguments, the appropriate commentary on which can be found in the above-quoted interpretation of the "German understanding of compensation" — in the words of historian Stephan Lehnstaedt that "Germans are always good to ask for forgiveness, but it cannot cost anything."

Stefan Rassalski sitting on a destroyed barricade, 1945 (Source: National Digital Archives)

The Minister of Foreign Affairs from the GDR era plays in this tone: "I am immediately in favor of such things, i.e. specific reparations, symbolic things. Let us think, for example, about extermination memorial sites and other German crimes. Germany has already done a lot for the Auschwitz memorial site.” And here he clarifies: ”In Wrocław today, consideration is being given to equipping the church in Ostrów Tumski, in front of which there is currently a monument to Bishop Kominek, with stained glass windows. The author of the project is an Israeli artist. The city of Wrocław wants it, and the Catholic Church wants it too. I am in favor of financing this in Germany from state funds, as well as through collections.”

How faithfully this statement agrees with the following (not German!) words: "I would like to be able to arrange with the Germans, for example, for them to finance some great work in Poland, which would be some form of compensation, reparation", "You can come up with various things , or maybe an art gallery, or maybe something... well, various things — instead of compensation... an art gallery" — President Komorowski, a dreamer.

Or, from September 2022: "The war reparations initiative has been appearing for several years whenever PiS needs to build a political narrative," or: "PiS does not want any reparations from Germany. It's about a political campaign” – we know who said these words! It is therefore not surprising, only outrageous, that statements such as the above are easily absorbed and popularized by the German "elites".

German conclusions: “This demand for reparations is simply an election campaign. People know that nothing will come of it. They are ready to strain relations between our countries in the name of the election campaign.”

This attitude can now be considered typical of the average German's way of commenting on the Polish compensation report.

Us: The Polish side uses the word "compensation" and not reparations, because this formulation is much broader and covers both reparations within the meaning of international law and other claims described in the content of the note.

On September 1, 2023 — on the 84th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II — Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Gliński said at a briefing: "Due to today's anniversary, we are once again asking the German state to pay compensation due to Poland and Poles" (...) "Receiving compensation for the terrible crimes committed by the Germans in Poland during World War II is a matter of national interest!" At this point, it is necessary to refer to the statement of Karol H. Roth, quoted above, who expressed himself in the same way: "this is a matter related to the Polish national interest." And these were the words of a German historian!

The head of the Ministry of Culture, Piotr Gliński, pointing to the location of the briefing — Marshal Józef Pilsudski Square — informed that it was not accidental: ”We are located at the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Square in Warsaw, where we are carrying out work aimed at rebuilding the Brühl Palace. Warsaw lost almost 90% of its material substance in the left bank part of the city.”

On that day, September 1, the Minister of Education and Science, Przemysław Czarnek, according to "Gazeta Prawna" in an interview with the I.pl portal, also spoke on this matter. When asked if there is a real chance that Germany will pay war reparations to Poland, he replied: "Of course there is — and we have ways to accomplish it!"

On this day, there was one more statement on this painful topic for us: the deputy head of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Jarosław Selin, emphasized that ”we expect reparations when German social and political opinion comes to the conclusion — and I think that sooner or later it will happen — that it is not profitable not to have a »closed« issue with Poland. Poland is an increasingly important partner for the Germans.”

Even more optimistic — on that September day — came the statement of the President's advisor — Professor Andrzej Zyberowicz, who during a conversation on Polish Radio 3 (02/09/23) gave... a specific date: ”It will be September 1, 2027. That money will then start flowing in.”

It's time to create a positive story about Poland, destroyed by two barbaric totalitarianisms that changed it beyond recognition. Today, Poland, a member of the EU and NATO, is a place of great economic success and is involved in humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine, without regard to the help of wealthier people. To talk about Polish-German reconciliation and good neighborliness, we need to carefully and honestly look at the wrongs that Poles suffered during World War II. Reparations from Germany are essential. All Poles and the entire Polish diaspora must be involved in this great campaign.


80 years have passed since the height of the abduction of Polish children by Nazi organizations. We need to remember those tragic moments and the heroic activities of attorney Hrabar. No amount of reparations can compensate for those wrongs, even time cannot heal the wounds, but we must prevent that history from repeating itself.


The Polish-German reconciliation has stalled and it is not the fault of the Polish side. For years, the German side did not take any action to commemorate the Polish victims of the Third Reich.


In the context of the debate that has flared up in Poland after the publication of a much-needed report on war losses suffered as a result of German aggression and criminal occupation, it seems obvious that the time has come to start work on preparing estimates of losses as a result of Soviet actions.


The destruction of cultural property was one of the priority goals of the Nazis, it was supposed to break the cultural backbone of the Polish nation. It is estimated that Poland lost over 500,000 works of art during the war, and over 20 million valuable volumes.


After inflicting unprecedented death and destruction on Poland and its people during World War II, Germany arrogantly spurns Poland’s demand for reparations.