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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to the German Bundestag on the state of German-Polish relations

30.10.2020 - Speech

The Holocaust is at the heart of the commemoration of the crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialists. The industrial-scale mass murder of six million Jews cannot be relativised in any shape or form. And this wasn’t the only crime that was committed by the National Socialists in Europe. With the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the regime of terror against innocent civilians began, with mass executions, deportations and the targeted murder of members of the Polish intelligentsia.

It was in Poland that the full madness of the racial-ideological war of annihilation became apparent for the first time. In the years that followed, millions of Jewish and Slavic people also from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other European countries fell victim to this war. And so I’m glad that the Bundestag decided two weeks ago to document the fates of all victims and countries affected of this war of extermination and to create a dignified place of remembrance as part of a vibrant culture of remembrance with the victims of National Socialism at its heart.

Its most tangible manifestation are the memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, and also to other groups of victims such as Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities. These places are not memorials of shame, but rather memorials of dignity. They give the victims back their names and faces, and thus also their dignity. But that’s not all. They also help us, the people who build them, to regain our dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not drawing a line under history with such memorials. The crimes of National Socialism are too serious for that and their impact for our neighbours in Europe is still all too present to this day. I have experienced this time and again in my meetings in Poland, and most recently with my Polish counterpart here in Berlin.

Let me give you just one example that gave me great pause for thought. Last year, I was invited to attend the ceremony to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising in the Polish capital. We’re all familiar with the uprising in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1943. But the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, during the suppression of which the German occupiers massacred over 100,000 Polish civilians, is far less well known. One day after my visit to Warsaw, a German newspaper wrote that I had attended the ceremony to commemorate the uprising in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. This says a great deal about what still needs to be done.

It was possible to sense just how present the memory of these atrocities still is today among all generations – and this is really true of all generations in Poland – at this ceremony. Pupils from German and Polish schools had worked together in the run-up to the event to document the fates of the victims. In view of the resurgence of nationalism, it’s precisely this joint work of remembrance that we need more than ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, doing justice to German-Polish history is a lofty aim – an aim that we can only achieve together, Germans and Poles. That’s why it’s important, as the motion states, to enable Polish and German experts to work together from the get-go. This is a question of also examining the past through each other’s eyes with a view to creating common perspectives.

After all, it is precisely these common perspectives that are the foundation of our efforts to deepen our bilateral relations, our friendship with Poland and our European future. A place that gives rise to such perspectives would add a new dimension to the process of European integration as it would be German, Polish and European, as well as historical and forward-looking at the same time.

Thank you very much.

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