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Sunday, 1 September 2019

Address by the President of Poland in Wieluń on the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II

Wieluń| Participation of the Presidents of Poland and Germany in the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II

Honourable Veterans and All the Residents of Wieluń who remember that tragic morning on September 1, 1939,

Most Esteemed Mr President of the Federal Republic of Germany,

Honourable Marshals of the Senate,

Honourable Ministers,

Your Excellencies, Most Reverend Bishops of all faiths,

Honourable Members of Parliament, Honourable Senators,

Most esteemed representatives of the regional authorities – Mr Voivode, Mr. Marshal; of district authorities: Mr. Starosto, Mr Mayor, Councillors, City Elders, Mrs. President, Distinguished Councillors,

Dear residents of Wieluń, of the Wieluń district, of the land of Wieluń,

All Distinguished Guests!

 

This is an old Polish town. Certainly it was already a town as a really as 1286,  according to the historical sources available. Perhaps it was granted rights and privileges of the city in 1281. So it has had its long history. And in this history, the town went through two ordeals, two moments of enormous drama. In 1631 the town burned down, practically all of it. Most of the buildings were certainly wooden back then, a fire broke out, and the element devoured almost the entire town, except for the castle, which, albeit partially damaged, nevertheless survived. The town was rebuilt. People sought to rebuild it - local people, residents – driven by their will to survive and persevere, willing to return to their hearth and home.

 

Three hundred years later, in 1939 - exactly 308 years later - at 4.40 a.m., when nobody really expected it, the destruction of the town began, which lasted throughout that tragic day, and in effect led to the disappearance of 90% of the old town centre - 75% of the town was in ruins. 1200 people - ordinary civilians - were killed, murdered. They did not expect it.

 

Actually, with good reasons,  they could not foresee that the neighbours from behind their western border would suddenly arrive in aircrafts, the most modern diving bombers Ju-87B  of the time, which had been in the possession of the German air fleet for less than a year, and drop bombs - suddenly and without warning - on a town where there were no troops, no military installations, on a town that was in no way prepared for any defence. And that they would start with the hospital - marked with a cross, as it is common practise in line conventions and rules. In the hospital itself, 32 people died - 26 patients, four nurses and two nuns.

 

Who could have expected that World War II would begin with such a drastic act perpetrated by a civilized nation? One of the oldest living in Europe. By a nation with such a grand history and such a contribution to European culture. A nation in which, after all, there were many believers. Who could have expected that this terrible war, which began at that moment, would start with such an act? With the act of barbarity - which is not, in fact, an act of war, but of terror. From assaulting ordinary people!

 

It was also a special day in Wieluń – it was Friday. In the long tradition of Wieluń, it was the market day. Many people came over there at that time. Probably, also local farmers to sell their crops. People felt that war was approaching - there was a lot of anxiety, mobilization was announced earlier - but nobody expected that they could attack a defenceless town. In such a way! By dropping bombs on sleeping people who came here to work - because selling their goods was part of their work, their lives.

 

It was a typical Polish town at that time. Poles, Catholics, Jews: citizens of the Republic of Poland, and also Lutherans used to live there. A mixture of cultures, customs that lasted, that was vibrant - cultures mixed together and intertwined. It was the Second Polish Republic in its classical shape, which then disappeared. Unfortunately, as it seems, it was irreversibly lost. It was that moment on that September morning that ended the Second Republic - and put an end to such a long, cultural, ethnic, neighbourly history. Poland was never to be like this again, even when it regained its place on the map.

 

Coming here, I was thinking: how many mothers had already got up early in the morning to prepare their children's clothes for school? How many children excited about the prospect of starting their school life couldn't sleep then - and maybe they did not sleep at all that night? It was a normal world, which was destroyed, ruined against all rules, including, as it should be stressed, against the rules of international law, against the Hague Convention, which was brutally violated. This was a war crime. World War II began with a war crime!

 

Historians say that this happened deliberately - that Wieluń was meant to be a showcase to demonstrate what kind of war it would be. That it would be a total war in which there would be no rules - that it would be a war of destruction. Unfortunately, this is how the Nazi Luftwaffe commanders trained their crews. They said: "Down there, down there, when you hover above inimical cities and towns, down there – there are no people. These beings are not human beings. Only our soldiers are humans, as they engage our enemy.” This is historical truth. Unimaginable as it is for us nowadays.

 

But, unfortunately, as you can see, the world had to go through this hecatomb in order to learn a terrible lesson, which cost tens of millions of lives all over the world. It also cost tens of millions of lives of ordinary civilians - people who were not involved in any  fighting, people who were not carrying any arms. The greatest hecatomb in the history of mankind! Terrible for Poland , the country which was devastated, which lost 6 million of its citizens, including 3 million of Jewish origin, who were brutally murdered in death camps in many places.

 

This was World War II, which devastated the world. It will never be forgotten, because we must not forget it. Even when its eyewitnesses are gone. When it is only left written on the pages of history books, recorded in archival films and photographs. We must not forget about it, so that what happened in Wieluń, and later in many other places in Poland and worldwide should never happen again. It is also our great obligation to remember and to pass this memory on to future generations.

 

I wish to thank for the presence of young people here today, who are able to meet and talk to those who still remember that day because such people are among us. I bow my head with respect to our dear veterans, war veterans and all current residents who remember those days. Thank you for telling young people about this, for carrying out this great work of building historical memory, the history as it really was. For even the most terrible history must be remembered as it really was. Because only historical truth can heal wounds – aided by other actions which are being carried out against its background.

 

Thank you for being with us and also for coming here today to commemorate this 80th anniversary and, above all, to pay tribute to those who were murdered, died, whose dreams were interrupted by that criminal act and by the whole horrible hecatomb of World War II.

 

However, this 80th anniversary is truly exceptional. I am convinced, Mr Mayor, that it will go down in the history of Polish-German friendship as, in fact, the fourth such significant event. We have been joined here by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany and by the entire presidential delegation.

 

Do you think it is easy to come to a town that was 80 years ago subjected to a brutal destruction at the hand of the earlier generations of your own  people: fathers and grandfathers? Do you think it is easy to stand up and look into the eyes of those who survived, and perhaps some of them children and grandchildren, of those who died? Or who have been traumatised all their lives?

 

Thank you, Mr President, for your presence and for your attitude. I look at you, we are talking, and I see a man who has come with humility, with his head bent down, to pay homage and to honour, to share the pain. However, for the inhabitants, as I think,  because that is how see it myself,  one thing is most important: that you are here. And this is an act of moral redress of a kind that you come to this place and you stand in ttuth, in the face of a very difficult truth for Germans and Germany. But because Germany has never denied this truth - and that is why you are here - this truth has a liberating power, the power to produce forgiveness, the power to unite and build friendship. Thank you for this fruit of your presence today.

 

I would like to tell you that we we had a meeting with the President last autumn. And the President asked me: "Where do you think the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II should be commemorated?” I answered: "Mr President, there are two places in Poland that have been indicated as actual starting points of the war: Westerplatte, where the Polish military post was attacked by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein and the German units, and Wieluń, where there was no fighting, because German planes came and bombed ordinary people in their sleep. The choice is yours, Mr President, because you will be the guest at the ceremony”. And the President said: "Let us go to Wieluń”. That is why we are here today.

 

Believe me, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am convinced that it is easier to go to places where soldiers were fighting than to places where the army from my country with a murderous hand had bombed people who were simply sleeping. Thank you, Mr President, for your choice, not least because your speech and your presence here will certainly be recorded in the media in the Federal Republic of Germany. Thanks to this, those who should know about the tragedy of Wieluń and its inhabitants, as well as about the real nature of the beginning of World War II, the German people, will learn about it.

 

After all, as I know life, there is not much talk about Wieluń in Germany. Today, for sure, Wieluń will be one of the first topics in Germany. I also thank you for this, because it is important that the Germans, especially young people, should know the true history as it was, so that we can learn from it.

 

That being said, I am also pleased that there are young people here today from German cities which are friends with Wielun - this is a great work of friendship, reconciliation and peace-building between nations: that young people are together, that inter-school exchanges are taking place, that a work of friendship is being built. I would also like to thank the President for his contribution to this work and for his support.

 

It was a crime. The whole World War II was one great crime caused by an insane pursuit of power, by lunatic imperial ambitions, but above all by contempt of other nations - by considering others to be sub-human or not human at all, as entities of a completely different category, which should be completely destroyed, as it was the case with the Jewish people who were to be completely destroyed, or should be made slaves, as it was to be achieved with our nation.

 

We survived because we never lacked spirit. I believe that the Republic of Poland - as a country - and our nation will persevere and develop. But I also believe that because we will remember our history - and what was tragic about it - on both sides of Poland’s today's western border, we will be able to build friendship and security on this foundation for the next decades and centuries to come: not only for our own sake - that is, for Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany, for Poles and Germans - but also for other nations, remembering that tragic experience and drawing conclusions from it.

 

Hail and glory to the heroes! Eternal memory to the Fallen!

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