IT IS STILL NECESSARY TO SPEAK LOUDLY
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: - In the beginning of this year the Archive of New Acts placed a ‘Catalogue of executions and war losses in the years 1939 – 1945 according to reports of the Delegation of the Polish Government on the Country’ on its website. Why not earlier?
DR KRZYSSZTOF JABŁONKA: - One can say that better late than never. Indeed, this catalogue had already been made in 1946. It was an estimated calculation of the level of losses caused by material destruction of the structures of Polish cities and property plunder.
How was the estimation of losses carried out? We must know that at the inter-war time the Polish country was able to estimate its property, considering its all components, including police officers’ bikes. So, when estimating the war losses, a statistical method was used, which was based on summing the values of houses’ quarters with considering necessary rebuilding.
Did it concern only Warsaw?
It was a way of estimating the losses also in other destroyed cities but, undoubtedly, it was Warsaw which had the biggest losses; it was destroyed more than Hiroshima. It was said jokingly that it had been a well-organized ‘professional German manual work’ – in the first place the most valuable buildings were destroyed or plundered. And if something was not destroyed, only because something had not gone well according to a plan. It was how the church of St. Anna in Warsaw was saved…
In 1946 the war losses of Poland was summed – and what next?
The sum gained was suggested to alliance countries as damages due to Poland from Germany. However, Poles heard that they had received sufficient damages of the losses in the form of the western lands. Nobody cared about Poland – which suffered from the biggest losses in the war, even the so-called allies. Moreover, a giant robbery was done by the Soviet country, and exactly speaking: privately Soviet generals. Whereas allies in their sphere of influences, got to rebuilding destructions at once, treating western Germany as an important element of the whole western economy.
Whereas economy of the eastern part of Germany and Poland did not have a chance to be rebuilt, did it?
Oh, it did, as there was an American plan of Marshall which could comprise also Poland and it would be really effective then to save the destroyed country…
But it was not!
We did not have a chance to take advantage of this help as the soviet occupiers were afraid of any presence of the West – even in the form of free money – in their sphere of influence. Everything which was possible to gain within the plan of Marshall, was collected by them; nothing was left in Poland.
When was the ‘Catalogue of executions and war losses in the years 1939 – 1945 according to reports of the Delegation of the Polish Government on the Country’ thrown away and remembering about any reparations was prohibited?
Poles’ hopes to gain war reparations from the Germans had already been dying in the 50s of the last century. Today it is worth reminding that signing an agreement of Zgorzelec with the newly created NRD meant renouncing any claims for damages towards the German country, and, in addition, this document was not registered in the UNO and did not get to exist in the international arena.
So, has it never had and still has not got such a legal power?
Exactly. And no declarations of state officials of the lower rank have not got this power, either – and there were such! – in this issue. Moreover, there are no statements of the supreme officials of the Polish country about resignation from war reparations. So, the reparations are due to us according to law.
Probably it is the only case in the history of Europe torn by wars, that there was refusal to grant them to the country being disadvantaged by the war so ruthlessly.
That is true. Tradition of war reparations appeared during Napoleon wars; Napoleon ruthlessly used a simple rule: you lost in the war, so pay! The fact is also that during those wars robbery was giant. That Napoleon’s method was followed by other countries later. After the defeat of France with the Prussian-German coalition there was a demand on paying 6 milliard Franks in gold to the German Reich, thanks to which a powerful war industry of Germany was built soon, which allowed German to start the First World War, after which the French demanded reparations from the Germans for destroying Champagne, half of Lorraine and Flanders, they also demanded on returning 5 milliard which Germany had taken with Lorraine and Alsace.
Polish lands also suffered a lot during the First World War…
Indeed, during that great war on the Polish lands, a giant German robbery was taking place. Disarming the Germans in Warsaw in 1918 by the Polish armed forces was aimed, among the others, at preventing from transporting everything from Poland to Germany. And it was the time when trains were transporting trains from Poland…and the world war characterized with an enormous scale of robberies and mutual reparations and some of them have been paid till today.
Was it possible for the Second Republic of Poland to gain any reparations, war damages?
It was but it could not gain a lot, after all. Damages from Russia were defined up to 30 million rubles in gold, and it was quite a high amount of money then. Later it was said that we had sold Ukraine for those 30 pieces of silver – which, unfortunately, was true – and we ended up with getting nothing. The Bolsheviks did everything not to allow for creating suitable executive provisions…
Were other countries of our region successful?
Definitely they were. Estonia received the most – the country smaller than Poland by 20 times, got one third of what had been promised to Poland. Damages were also granted to Latvia. In this way the Bolsheviks were bribing countries dependent on them. Whereas Poland was facing up a dilemma: regaining the plundered achievements of culture or 30 million rubles in gold? Finally we chose the achievements of culture, although we were given only a small part of them; the last arrears were sent to us after the Kings’ Castle in Warsaw was rebuilt, that is, in the beginning of the 70s of the last century.
Could we choose money? Today we might have decided so…
In appearing free Poland nobody doubted that the treasure of culture are valuable. After all later we would not buy back Szczerbiec from Ermitaż for any millions! So far a lot of our valuable historical souvenirs plundered during the Second World War are in the Russian museums and at German homes.
Won’t we ever be able to regain or hope for any kind of damages?
Today we cannot even hope for either a good word or remorse from plunderers…But we cannot forget that the Germans owe a lot to us, that Russia still owes 30 million rubles in gold to us, as we had signed the Treaty of Ryga with Russia, the Sovuet one but not with the Soviet Union which stopped existing. And rates are growing…Maybe there will be time of payment.
It is rather unrealistic!
But it is worth remembering that it is not us who owe anything to anybody, as our debtors are persuading us to believe it, but the fact is that it is us who were treated disgracefully. This claim for lack of war reparations for Poland is important today as we are accused of using EU funds. So, after years it is important to speak publicly about war reparations owed to Poland.
Before that nothing was said about it. At the times of communist Poland it was assumed that the issue had already been settled, and later any kind of rebuking of not compensated war losses was considered as politically incorrect.
That silence was broken by Lech Kaczyński, who as the president of Warsaw decided to elaborate a report on war destructions of the city. Certainly, not necessarily to demand from the Germans particular amounts at once, but to stop rebuking backwardness to Poland and using magnanimity of the EU, in which the Germans are playing the lead role today….There used to be such time in the Third Republic of Poland when there were negotiations about damages for Katyń families. I admitted myself that when the Russian party agreed with me, it was remarked at once that there was no money to pay the damages from. We proved that Russia had a bad will and our negotiations stopped at that moment.
However, the Germans decided to pay us symbolic amounts within ‘humanitarian help to particularly suffering victims of the Nazis persecutions’.
Indeed it happened so. A special Polish-German Foundation Reconciliation was even established for this purpose, which had been paying very little amounts of damages since the half of the 90s, in a drop-by-drop-like way, for 10 years.
For which – as German and Polish media were suggesting it – we should be very grateful….
So, we should remind others that Poles used this German generosity in the least amount, as they only got less ‘help’ than other similar victims of German crimes, from other countries. It must also be emphasized that the damages concern individuals, whereas reparations are compensation for the country which had lots of losses in economy, culture and demography. Not paying Poland war reparations caused delay in the development of the country so much that now we must speak about ‘an effort to catch up with the West’. Therefore when the Germans were mocking at ‘polnische Wirtschaft’, saying ‘Go to Poland, your car is already there’, we should dare to say: ‘Go to Germany, furniture and riches of your grandparents have already been there for 70 years’. And our most valuable picture stolen from the Czartoryki museum in Cracow – ‘A portrait of a young man’ by Rafael Santiego has been missing till now and we know that it must be hidden in Germany till now….So, even an approximately estimated amount of what is owed to Poland, must be the responsibility of Germany. Nobody should forget this historical debt.
Isn’t it, however, better to forget – and as some Poles say today – forgive the debts not to tease anyone?
No way! Even if we resign from particular amounts of money, we cannot forget about the German debt to us. Renouncement of war reparations by Poland, promoted by the Germans, will lead to a belief in the world about no blame of the Germans for the war, to blurring the truth about German crimes. We have lots of evidence that it has already happened, for example, by introducing the term ‘Polish death camps’ which suggests the co-responsibility of Poles.
Cannot we hope for any money equivalent? Is it too late?
There is no expiration in this issue, the right for war reparations is inalienable – it works as long as there is memory about the harm done. Therefore, Japan has been paying the Philippines till now, for destroying Manilia – it has already paid 900 million dollars and there is no end to the payment. The Japanese are paying as much as they can because they treat it as a form of expiation. The Germans have already paid to nearly all western countries, even small Luxembourg received a high amount of money after German armies had passed through its territory and destroyed the highway. Monaco got damages for a temporary war occupation although no house was destroyed there. A suitable compensation was granted to San Marino bombarded by accident.
Incapacitated communist Poland simply could not and did not want to demand anything, and later, after the year 1989, its successive governments wanted to be kind to the big western neighbouring country…
Unfortunately, it was true. When due to late Lech Kaczyński a report on estimation of war destruction of the capital city was published, it must be admitted that it made lots of impression on the Germans.
The present government seems not to escape from this difficult issue…
That is true, that something is happening in this respect, as the Parliamentary Team for Estimation of Amounts of Damages owed to Poland from Germany was created for Harm Done during the Second World War. What next steps will be is difficult to say.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 8/2019 (24 II 2019)