The sacrifice made by the tens of thousands of victims is still alive in the memory of Poles – writes Eryk MISTEWICZ
Every family in Poland lost someone in this war. The greatest losses were suffered by the Polish intelligentsia. Professors and teachers, people of culture, officers, entrepreneurs, and priests were targeted by the German occupying forces when, on September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. A few days later, when the French and British refused to help Poland, the intelligentsia was also targeted by the second occupier, who entered Polish territory on September 17, 1939, namely Soviet Russia.
My city, Warsaw, was razed to the ground. In the crumple zone between Germany and Russia, the last few centuries saw partitions, extermination, deportation to Siberia, and after September 1939, mass street round-ups and deportations to concentration camps, and mass emigration to France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Each Polish familiy can tell you its story!
When you meet Poles and they start telling you their personal story, or that of their family as well, you hear fantastic stories. But questions are also asked, addressed especially toward the French and the English. Why, despite the signed declarations, did they refuse to help Poland when it was attacked by the Germans? Maybe then we could have stopped Hitler. Maybe the cruelest of all wars would not have happened then. I have no doubt that Poles would have hurried to help France or Great Britain in September 1939 if they came under attack, knowing the national character of Poles, solidarity with others, love of freedom, heroism and courage, and helping others.
Polish mathematicians deciphered Enigma, the machine that encrypted German strategic reports. Polish pilots fought in the No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron defending London. Polish diplomats rescued Pierre Mendès-France, who would later become French Prime Minister, by providing him with false passports and helping him escape and survive. The Polish avenue of trees planted for everyone who saved Jews in Yad Vashem is the longest of all.
When my countrymen show you Warsaw and take you to the Royal Castle and the Old Town, you will be surprised that these places have been rebuilt from scratch, after the fires and their demolition by the German Luftwaffe.
My countrymen will tell you how they supported the Warsaw Jews and their uprising in the German ghetto. They will encourage you to visit the Ulm Family Museum commemorating all of the families who were shot by the Germans for helping Jews during the whole war. These are many, many, many Polish families who were shot and burned alive for helping hide Jews who had been threatened with death by the Germans.
The Poles will tell you about Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki. It is worth remembering that name. He was sent to Auschwitz of his own free will, and his reports from there alerted the Allies, but they did nothing to end the Gehenna of the German death camp. He came close to his own death several times, but eventually died at the hands of the communists after the war.
The Poles who you meet will take you to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The Museum was established only several years ago, on the initiative of Lech Kaczyński, the Polish President. For many decades, it was impossible to talk about the Warsaw Uprising. Recalling recent history was punishable by dismissal or even imprisonment. The uprising broke out when the Germans were still in Warsaw and the Russians were approaching the capital of Poland (the front stopped and looked on as the city was being burned and destroyed by the Germans). The sacrifice made by the tens of thousands of victims is still alive in the memory of Poles. As a result of the decision of the powers in Yalta, Tehran, and Potsdam, Poland found itself within the Russian sphere of influence after the war for many decades and was forced to pay contributions.
But also thanks to the events of 1956, 1970, and 1980, thanks to “Solidarity”, and thanks to the restless Polish spirit, the eastern borders of Europe are a guarantee of security, recently strengthened by both the European Union and NATO. They are an immigration buffer zone, receiving more than 2 million immigrants from Ukraine. Poland hosts the largest number of non-EU citizens and issues the largest number of residence permits per 1,000 inhabitants (15.2 Poland, 13.1 UK, 6.0 Germany, 3.5 France).
In order to understand Poland and not to attack it because we still want something, because we want to defend something important to us, I ask you to understand our history. Our love of freedom that borders on madness. How well we understand heroism and solidarity with others. How much we draw from our history and identity.
September 1, 1939 is an important anniversary for Poles. On that day, our development was halted and we experienced the destruction of the elite, the nation (huge demographic losses), the economy – and it lasted for many decades. Then, and our future began. Today, as we leave all of this behind, we tell you this story. We are in one Europe; it is our common history.