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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the event commemorating the Warsaw Uprising

01.08.2019 - Speech
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising© Xander Heinl

A young woman from Warsaw walks through her home town with a camera in her hand. What does she capture? The beautiful Old Town? Her friends in one of the city’s countless cafés? A selfie in the park?

That’s what we see if we log on to Instagram, like so many young people do, and search for the hashtag #warsaw. We see a city on the move – young, modern and cosmopolitan.

Ewa Faryaszewska was also a young woman from Warsaw. She, too, walked through her home town with a camera. But the photos she took showed the skeletal shells of buildings, with flames shooting out of them. They showed a sea of ruins.

These photos date from the time of the Warsaw Uprising.

When it began, Ewa was 24 years old. She was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. For Ewa, as for many other people from Warsaw, it was clear on 1 August 1944 that the time had come to shake off the brutality of the occupiers.

The time had come to risk everything for a free country, a free Poland and a better future.

However, Ewa didn’t use weapons to fight the German occupation. She used her camera. She captured images of the city as it fell, images of the unfettered destruction of Warsaw, the city she adored.

Ladies and gentlemen,
It is not easy to connect the vibrant Warsaw of today, which I saw these past two days, with Ewa Faryaszewska’s photos.

Or with the images in a short film that I just watched with my Polish counterpart. The film shows Warsaw, or what was left of it, after the uprising.

The beautiful city had been wiped out by bombs, razed to the ground.

These images go beyond human imagination. If you don’t see them, you can’t believe it. And that is precisely why it is important to see what people are capable of doing.

The district of Wola, now home to the modern Warsaw, shows this destruction more clearly than anywhere else. This is where the German occupiers carried out a particularly brutal massacre of innocent people.

The message was blatant. Warsaw – the city and the people who lived in it – was to be annihilated.

The young student Ewa was not willing to allow that to happen. She wanted to help preserve the identity of the city and the people who lived here through her photos and by rescuing cultural objects. And she paid with her life.

Just like tens of thousands of people, who we remember today with profound sorrow and gratitude.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In what they did at the time, each and every one of these people made clear that the German occupiers may have taken almost everything from them – the right to education, self-determination and physical integrity – but could not take their desire for freedom.

Warsaw was destroyed. But its spirit was not broken.

The people of Poland did not allow that to happen.

The people who rose up on 1 August 1944 or supported the uprising, as well as the following generations, who rebuilt Warsaw, did not allow this to happen. And each stone used to rebuild the city marked the triumph of life over the brutality of the past.

Ewa’s photos also helped to achieve this. They were one element among many that made the city back into what it is today and what it never stopped being, thanks to the Polish people, namely a European metropolis at the heart of our continent.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The crimes that were perpetrated by Germans and in Germany’s name against this city and its inhabitants 75 years ago can hardly be described in words. That becomes very clear in this museum.

And Germany bears responsibility for these horrific events.

This responsibility goes far beyond Warsaw. In other parts of the country, too, towns were destroyed and entire villages were erased. The population was expelled to create so‑called “Lebensraum” – what a cynical word! – that is, to create “living space” for Germans.

However, the annihilation of the capital was a particularly dark chapter in this war. It was a deliberate attempt to eradicate everything that defined Polish identity.

But this year’s 1 August, like every 1 August in the past 75 years, proves that thankfully this did not succeed.

I am extremely moved to be invited here today. I am well aware that this is by no means a matter of course. My dear Jacek, thank you so much for this invitation. It is a very special gesture of friendship.

I have come here because I wish to honour the dead and the families of those killed and wounded and to ask the Polish people for forgiveness.

I am ashamed of what was done to your country by Germans and in Germany’s name.

And I am ashamed that this guilt was not acknowledged for far too long after the war.

That makes it all the more remarkable and moving that Poland was often the one to reach out its hand in reconciliation after the war.

One example was when the Polish bishops wrote the courageous sentence in a letter to their German counterparts in November 1965, saying “we forgive, and we ask for forgiveness”. This was an impressive gesture, which unfortunately never received the recognition it deserved.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We do not only owe it to the dead to address the past honestly. We also owe it to ourselves, as only by remembering the past together can we pave the way to a future together.

That’s why we want to do more to raise awareness in Germany about the Polish victims of the war and to remedy the fact that the Warsaw Uprising is still discussed far too little, particularly in Germany.

And that’s why we have decided to foster this knowledge.

For example, an exhibition about the Warsaw Uprising was reopened a few days ago at the Topography of Terror memorial in the centre of Berlin.

We support the initiative aimed at creating a memorial site in Berlin for the victims of the war and occupation in Poland. It is long overdue.
A memorial of this type would not only be a gesture of reconciliation to Poland, but would also be important for us Germans.

We cannot undo the crimes of the past. And many wounds will never heal.

But we can help to ensure that the victims are commemorated in a fitting way and that the stories of their lives are researched, recounted and kept alive by remembrance.

That is why I am pleased that the Pilecki Institute in Warsaw plans to digitise the German files on the Warsaw Uprising in cooperation with the Federal Archives.

These files are a part of German-Polish memory, painful memory of German crimes and Polish courage, which we must preserve for the future generations in both our countries.

Many representatives of this new generation are here today – pupils from Poland and Germany. Some of them are taking part in a new project, remembering people – people remember, which Foreign Minister Czaputowicz and I were particularly keen to support.

These young people are telling the stories of people like Ewa Faryaszewska, people who stood up for humanity and paid with their lives.

This project creates a common understanding of the past, but also of each other’s sensitivities in the present.

Ladies and gentlemen,
European history was made in Warsaw on 1 August 1944. Warsaw paid a terrible price for this uprising. But the desire for freedom of Polish women and men was not broken!

That made it all the more tragic that they had to wait almost half a century for freedom after 1945.

That was what then Federal President Roman Herzog meant in his speech 25 years ago on this day here in Warsaw, when he underlined that Poland’s natural place is in Europe.

Or to put it another way, Europe would be amputated without Poland.

It would be amputated without Polish pragmatism and its economic momentum, and indeed without its hands‑on optimism, which comes from the country’s experience of having managed to create something time and again, even if it often had to start from scratch all over again.

We need all that in Europe today. We benefit from all that.

We Germans have the great fortune to live in a united Europe today with Poland as an equal partner.

Naturally, we are not always of the same opinion. For example, we have different views on some topics, including sovereignty issues, but in view of our past, what else could one expect?

However, that must not be allowed to divide us. And it will not divide us. The European Union is not a project that comes at the expense of national identities.

On the contrary, it bestows us with an additional identity, namely a common European identity. That’s why it is perfectly possible today to be a proud native of Warsaw, a Pole and a European all at the same time.

But this European identity is only complete if we pool our different memories and experiences of the past, that is, if it also includes and reflects Polish ideas and Polish memories.

Only in this way will we overcome the rifts that we are currently experiencing in Europe.

And that should be our joint aim because division – and our two countries know this for very different reasons – causes incredible pain.

And that is precisely what makes us allies and gives rise to a common responsibility – responsibility to shape things and willingness to compromise in the interests of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Young people from Warsaw are still trying to capture their city, now using smartphones, and with cameras no longer a means of resistance. These images show, almost as an afterthought, that Poland has long since arrived where it was always meant to be.

It is a free, sovereign and irreplaceable country at the heart of Europe.

It cannot be shown any more clearly that the German occupiers did not achieve their aim of eradicating Polish identity.

This was also thanks to people like Ewa Faryaszewska, who wanted to determine their own fate. And in this way, they also shaped the fate of Europe.

Their desire for freedom and the way they stood up for humanity live on today in the story of Poland and its people. And these are values we need today in Poland, in Europe and all over the world.

And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, the commemoration here in the past days is important. It is important for Poland and Germany, but also for all of us in Europe.


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