Festival of Seventy-Year Suffering at Westerplatte

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I don’t cover the Polish press here that often; nevertheless, the overriding imperative of this weblog remains finding and discussing the most interesting goings-on within the wide ambit of my language-coverage, and these days that certainly has to lead us to the Polish front.

I use “Polish front” here deliberately, because yesterday’s headline event in Europe was without a doubt the convocation of several national heads-of-state at Gdansk, Poland for ceremonies marking the seventieth anniversary of the opening of that Polish front by Nazi Germany with the ground-attack that started the Second World War. This is understandably a sensitive historical matter for the host nation, and controversy was assured from the very beginning just by the list of attendees. That featured a few names who you would think simply did not belong at such a ceremony, for various reasons. Like James Jones, US National Security Advisor: why were the Americans sending such a relatively low-ranking official and not someone at least at the level of, say, Vice President Biden? There was also Russian premier Vladimir Putin, whose presence was sure to be controversial for more profound reasons, both contemporary (Putin has for years been engaged in an effort to glorify Russia’s past, particularly its involvement in the Second World War under Josef Stalin) and historical (that involvement notably involved the Red Army’s “stab-in-the-back” invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939, arranged according to the terms of the secret protocol to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact negotiated only the month before).

“We can’t forget for a moment that what we have here is a great battle over memory,” preached Archbishop Henryk Muszyński of Gniezno at a Mass he held yesterday. “Preserving that memory and the entire truth about the Second World War is our obligation.” That is probably the wisest, most-reasoned remark made in connection with those ceremonies at Westerplatte, the specific spot on the coast at Gdansk where hostilities begain early in the morning of 1 September 1939, from among those cited in Rzeczpospolita’s main article covering the event, by Piotr Kubiak (After the war – the battle over memory). (more…)

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