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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Feuding

Germany and Poland have some stained relations at the moment. Various actions by both governments have fueled some bad feelings. A report in the Washington Post gives some insight into the current problems.

Money quote:

Germany and Poland are the two biggest countries in central Europe and share a long border, but polls show a widespread lack of familiarity between the two neighbors' people.

Two of every three Germans have never set foot in Poland, according to a survey commissioned last spring by the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw. Public views of Poles are also not favorable. When asked what they most associated with Poland, the top answer was "car theft and crime," followed closely by "illegal workers" and "poverty, backwardness."

Many Poles harbor skeptical views of Germany as well. In a similar poll conducted by the institute last March, 49 percent of Poles questioned said they feared Germany could pose "an economic threat" to Poland in the future, even though Germany is Poland's largest trading partner.

Also ruffling feathers in Poland are recent historical exhibits in Berlin that highlighted the hardships faced by millions of German refugees after World War II. Many Poles saw the exhibits, which closed just before Kaczynski's arrival, as an attempt to portray Germans as victims of a war that they started -- and that left 6 million people dead in Poland.

Sponsors of the exhibit, titled "Forced Paths," said they took pains to include the experiences of other political refugees in Europe throughout the 20th century and questioned whether Polish leaders were seeking to score political points at home.”

A Berlin article about the “Forced Paths” exhibit explains the:

"German expulsions "not unique"

However, Erika Steinbach, a deeply controversial German politician and director of the BdV insists that the exhibition is committed to cover the plight of all European refugees.

"If you think in terms of human rights, then the fate of each individual and the dignity of each person must be preserved," Steinbach told Deutsche Welle. "And in the end, it was collective punishment that drastically violated international law."

Klotz, one of the curators of the show, also stressed that the exhibition was meant in no way to disproportionately highlight German suffering.

"For us the most important thing is to contextualize the expulsion of Germans," Klotz told German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "We want to show that it is no way unique."

For more information about the exhibit, National Public Radio NPR has the story here and here.

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These articles and the exhibit have a particular interest to me since I only learned about the mass expulsion of Germans from Western Prussia a few short years ago. Prussia had been a part of modern day Germany. Its history is deeply entwined in the histories of both Poland and Germany. My research about Prussia came about as I researched the genealogy of my Fuhrwerk Family.

My research led me to discover some of my German cousins. They were the first to tell me about the family’s expulsion from what was Danzig. After WWII the Germans in Danzig and surrounding areas were expelled as a large piece of Germany was ceded back to Poland. Danzig, West Prussia, Germany became Gdansk, Poland.

My cousins briefly described the hardship of having to quickly pack their essential things, leave behind many family treasures, and being forced to move into what became East Germany. I make no judgment here about the actions of nations in the days following WWII. I am just relating the losses of one family, the disruption in communications between our families, and historical facts.

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