"German Arrogance"

BERLIN/WARSAW (Own report) - Poland's ambassador to Germany is raising serious accusations against the Federal Republic. "More than half of the past 100 years of German policy toward Poland have been a disaster," the diplomat from Warsaw declared at a conference in Berlin. He also criticized Germany's dealings with Poland since the 1990s. Germany is pursuing its economic interests in Eastern Europe against Poland, even according to German observers, who themselves are critical of the current Polish government. The German government is also using the EU to achieve its goals against Poland's resistance. Poland's ambassador is now calling for dialog "at eye level" and a new approach to German WWII mass crimes in Poland. Berlin rejects these demands for reparations trying to limit itself to cheap commemoration ceremonies. This also concerns a largely unknown group of Nazi victims - those of the "forced Germanization" of Polish children, who had been abducted to the Reich.

The Costs of a Majority Decision

Polish criticism is - however not exclusively - stemming also from its experience at the height of the 2015 wave of refugees into the EU. In September 2015, the EU Council decided to distribute refugees, who were stranded in Greece and Italy, to all EU countries - against the vote of several EU members. Poland refused to abide by this decision, reflecting the attitude of the large majority of the Polish population. According to surveys, in the course of 2016, 52 to 61 percent of the Polish population categorically rejected admitting war-zone refugees. Among young Poles, aged between 15 and 24, the rejection reached 73 percent.[1] The surveys also revealed a very different attitude toward refugees in May 2015, when only 21 percent of the population opposed their admission. However, in the spring of 2015, refugees from Ukraine were the focus of attention, whereas in 2016, it was the refugees from the Arab world. Apparently, for a majority of the Polish population the willingness to aid refugees depends on their country of origin. The EU lawsuit against Poland, subsequent to its refusal to comply with the Council's decision, has merely reinforced these positions. Experts warn of the high "political costs" this power struggle could have.[2]

At Eye Level Only in Declarations

Warsaw, in fact, is increasingly convinced that, in the case of conflicting standpoints within the EU, German rather than Polish positions will prevail. Poland takes a firm position in the dispute over the policy toward Russia. Whereas Berlin favors a mix of confrontation and punctual cooperation in certain fields with Russia - such as the North Stream 2 pipeline - Warsaw prioritizes a policy of confrontation with Moscow and categorically rejects construction of North Stream 2. At a time when Berlin is seeking a harmonization of EU foreign policy, Poland fears that its interests could be completely subverted. In late October, the dispute over North Stream 2 was dominant, not only at the German-Polish Forum, aimed at conciliation between the two countries, but also in talks between German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda.[3] At Thursday's conference on the history of German policy toward Poland over the past century, Poland's Ambassador to Germany, Andrzej Przyłębski, emphasized that the dialog between Berlin, Paris and Warsaw should be "at eye level" - "in fact" and "not merely as declarations."[4]

"A Disaster"

At the conference in Berlin, Przlebski declared "for more than half of the last century, Germany's policy toward Poland has been a disaster; an epoch in which German arrogance has shown itself in all its repulsiveness, and where German interests always had priority." These remarks provoked an outcry.[5] His criticism was also in reference to German policy toward Warsaw in the years following 1990, which also was met with indignation by the participants at the conference. However, in Berlin observers, considered strong critics of Poland's current government policies, admit that Berlin has often coldly snubbed Poland's interests, when implementing its "Ostpolitik." For example, Germany's attempt to formulate the EU's "Posted Workers Directive for minimum wages and social standards for truck drivers and construction workers," is not seen in Eastern Europe "as a noble effort in the interests of the oppressed, but rather as blatant protectionism, to rob Balts, Poles, and Czechs of their competitive advantage."[6] "Complaints that the German economy uses the eastern EU members as an extended workbench, but does little to develop promising sectors and research, to give the partners a chance to catch up in modernization," are "well-founded." However, according to Berlin, "the political and economic asymmetry" cannot be "overcome."[7]

Cheap Commemoration

At the conference in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has once again implicitly rejected Warsaw's repeated demands that reparations for the devastation caused by the Germans in Poland during World War II be paid. Maas declared that in Germany there is, for example, "too little awareness of the almost complete destruction of entire Polish villages." This must be "changed and we must create together an appropriate commemoration culture."[8] Recently, "20 German-Polish commemoration projects were supported." Now, "another program is being inaugurated," that sets the framework for "German and Polish pupils to trace the fates of the victims of German war crimes in Poland and of the Holocaust." The German commemoration initiative - something that should be self-evident for a country that assumes its "responsibility" for global policymaking - is a distraction from the fact that Warsaw has calculated its wartime damages at €840 billion and is demanding payment of these reparations. Berlin refuses to admit an obligation for payment of any kind.[9]

"Not Relevant to Reparations"

The same holds true for a still largely unknown group of Nazi victims: Polish children, who Germans had abducted to the Reich, where they were submitted to a process of forced Germanization. In Berlin, Maas declared that "we know too little about the perfidious attempts to steal Polish children and integrate them into German families."[10] While Germany's Foreign Minister merely wants - cheaply - to commemorate this crime, as well, the last surviving victims have lost their lawsuit to obtain, at least, a symbolic reparations payment. According to the verdict of the claims court in Cologne, dated July 2018, the approx. 200,000 abducted and forced Germanized Polish children are registered in none of the officially recognized groups of Nazi victims and therefore cannot even claim a one-time subsidy from the German state. Back in 2013, Germany's Ministry of Finance had relegated their fate - which Maas merely wants to cheaply commemorate - to the "general fate of the consequences of the war" having no relevance to reparations.[11]


[1] Umfragen zu Immigranten. Polen-Analysen Nr. 221, 03.07.2018. S. 7-9.

[2] Piotr Buras: Polen in der Europäischen Union: Konflikte und falsche Ansätze. Polen-Analysen Nr. 206, 04.10.2017. S. 2-6.

[3] Christoph von Marschall: Galakonzert für Polen schlittert knapp am Eklat vorbei. tagesspiegel.de 24.10.2018.

[4], [5] Grußwort des Botschafters der Republik Polen, Prof. Dr. Andrzej Przyłębski, bei der Eröffnung der Konferenz "Ein Jahrhundert deutsche Polenpolitik (1918-2018)".

[6] Christoph von Marschall: Deutsche und Polen sind sich fremd geworden. tagesspiegel.de 22.10.2018.

[7] Christoph von Marschall: Polens Botschafter verärgert Berlin. tagesspiegel.de 19.11.2018.

[8] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas anlässlich der Internationalen Konferenz "Ein Jahrhundert deutsche Polenpolitik: Tradition - Zivilisationsbruch - Verständigung - Partnerschaft". Berlin, 15. November 2018.

[9] See also Cheap Commemoration.

[10] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas anlässlich der Internationalen Konferenz "Ein Jahrhundert deutsche Polenpolitik: Tradition - Zivilisationsbruch - Verständigung - Partnerschaft". Berlin, 15. November 2018.

[11] Monika Sieradzka: Von SS geraubte Kinder bleiben ohne Entschädigung. dw.com 06.07.2018. Weitere Informationen finden sich auf der Website geraubte.de . See also Restitution, Geraubte Kinder and Struggle for Reparations.