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Panel meets to discuss Berlin memorial to Polish victims of WWII

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says that while Holocaust ‘rightly takes the central place in our memory, there are still gaps elsewhere’ including suffering of Poles in WWII

Roses with a note saying "#weremember" are placed on the Holocaust Memorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, January 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Roses with a note saying "#weremember" are placed on the Holocaust Memorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, January 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A panel of German and Polish experts on Wednesday started discussing what shape a memorial in Berlin to the Polish victims of World War II should take, embarking on a project mandated last year by the German parliament.

In a resolution approved by most parties in October, parliament called on the German government to “create a place in a prominent location in Berlin that, in the context of the special German-Polish relationship, is dedicated to the Polish victims of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Poland.”

It is also supposed to be a forward-looking concept that aims to “bring together Germans and Poles and so contribute to understanding and friendship, and to breaking down prejudices.”

The expert commission aims to produce a concept for the Berlin memorial this summer. It will follow memorials already constructed in the German capital over the past two decades to the Jews, gays, Sinti and Roma and disabled people murdered by the Nazis.

A woman visits the Memorial for the Murdered Sinti and Roma under the Nazi regime, in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/dpa/Soeren Stache)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who opened Wednesday’s meeting, said that “while the Holocaust as the darkest chapter of German history rightly takes the central place in our memory, there are still gaps elsewhere.”

“Those include the particular suffering of the Polish civilian population in World War II,” Maas said in comments released by his ministry. “The madness of the racially ideological war of destruction in eastern Europe started in Poland. Poland was supposed to be erased from the map forever with the destruction of whole cities, mass shootings and resettlement.”

Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister, puts on his face mask at the end of the press conference in Berlin, Germany, December 21, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and subjected its population to more than five years of brutal occupation. Around 3 million of the country’s 3.3 million Jews were murdered, as were more than 2 million other mostly Christian Poles.

Yet amid the occupation, there were also Poles who betrayed Jews to the Germans, or took active part in their persecution.

The topic was taboo during the communist era and each new revelation of Polish wrongdoing in recent years has sparked a backlash, with a court in Warsaw ruling Tuesday that two prominent Holocaust researchers must apologize to a woman who claimed her deceased uncle had been slandered in a historical work that suggested he helped kill Jews during World War II.

The case was closely watched because it is expected to set an important precedent for independent Holocaust research. The ruling can be appealed, however.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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