RAISES TENSIONS OVER WWII ROLES
Russian PM condemns West's pacts with Nazis
BY MATTHEW DAY
GDANSK, POLAND * Vladimir Putin condemned the West's readiness to "appease" Hitler as "morally unacceptable" yesterday as commemorations in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War were marred by recriminations over who was responsible.
In a speech in Gdansk, where Poland had hoped the Russian Prime Minister would move close to apologizing for Stalin's invasion of the country, he admitted the Soviet Union's role in the origins of the war, but deflected blame by criticizing the West.
"All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous," he said. "We must admit these mistakes. Our country has done this. The Russian parliament has condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. We have a right to expect this from other countries that also agreed [to] deals with the Nazis."
Mr. Putin was apparently referring to deals like the 1938 Munich agreement, a 1934 German-Polish pact and Poland's participation in the 1938 dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.
Also yesterday, a top official from Russia's secret SVR foreign intelligence service made a rare public appearance to present declassified documents allegedly proving Poland played a role in starting the war.
"Reading these documents, my impression is that Poland at the time could have done much more for there to have been a system of collective security and an anti-Hitler bloc before the start of the Second World War," he said.
A "portion" of the blame for the war lies with Poland, which is why "they are trying to distort historical facts."
The comments continued the heated argument between Poland and Russia over historical wounds that have overshadowed the commemorations.
As dawn came up over Westerplatte, where the first shots of the war were fired when the Polish garrison came under German attack at 4.45 a.m., 70 years ago yesterday, Poland's President and Prime Minister highlighted national frustration over Russia's unwillingness to accept and apologize for its role in the wartime destruction of their country.
President Lech Kaczynski accused Russia of "stabbing Poland in the back" when it signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact in 1939 that allowed the dwo dictatorships to divide Poland.
Under the terms of the pact, on Sept 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded and annexed eastern Poland, subjecting the inhabitants to the full horrors of Stalinist rule. Poles believe Russia has never atoned for those crimes.
Referring to the 1940 Katyn massacre, when Stalin's secret police murdered 22,000 Polish officers and public officials, Mr. Kaczynski said it had similarities to the Nazi's slaughter of European Jews, although on a far smaller scale. "Jews died because they were Jews. Polish officers were killed because they were Polish officers," he said.
In veiled references to recent Russian claims the Kremlin had no choice but to sign the pact with Hitler because of possible Polish collusion with Germany, Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister said, "We meet here to remember who started the war, who the culprit was, who the executioner in the war was, and who was the victim of this aggression. We meet here to remember this, because we Poles know that without this memory, honest memory about the truth, about the sources of World War Two , Poland, Europe and the world will not be safe."
These bitter exchanges were in marked contrast to the words of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who recognized the role her country played. "The German invasion of Poland opened up the most tragic chapter in European history," she said at the ceremony. "The war unleashed by Germany resulted in immeasurable suffering to many peoples - years of deprivatiob of rights, of humiliation and destruction."
The Daily Telegraph, with files from Agence France-Presse and Reuters (NATIONAL POST, Wednesday, September 2, 2009).
Soviets the forgotten aggressor
Seventy years ago on an unseasonably hot first day of September, Germany invaded Poland. thus began the Second World War, a battle where so many Canadian soldiers lost their lives.
Although the Nazis despised Communism, Hitler, needing to arm Germany, secretly collaborated with the Soviet Union, eventually signing the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact on Aug. 23, 1939. Secure in the knowledge the Soviets were on site, Hitler attacked Poland. The Blitzkreig was swift and brutal.
But Germany was not the only aggressor. With the world's attention on Hitler's armies, Stalin saw an opportunity to push the Soviet border westward and attacked Poland on Sept. 17, 1939.
Tens of thousands of civilians fled the advancing German army to the east, where the Red Army stopped them, handing many back to the Germans.
The Soviets ushered in a period of political terror and ethnic cleansing. Thousands were arrested, tortured and eventually murdered by the NKVD (the precursor of the KGB) in prisons and camps.
On Stalin's orders, deportations of the civilian population began in the spring of 1940. By some estimates close to two million Polish civilians were transported in cattle trains to Siberia and the gold mines of the Caucasus. Many died en route, many more perished from hard labour, starvation, and the elements.
The Soviet occupation lasted until Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler invaded Russia on June 22, 1941. However, civilians were not the only casualties. The Soviets captured Polish military units and groups of soldiers no longer under command. The NKVD separated the enlisted men from the officers, transporting them to holding camps in the Smolensk area. There, in Katyn Forest the NKVD murdered more than 4,000 officers. Arms tied behind their backs they were shot in the back of the head and buried in mass graves.
The graves in the Katyn Forest were discovered by the Nazis in 1943. They blamed the Soviets for the massacre. The International Red Cross investigated, and found the Soviets responsible.
This created an uncomfortable situation for the Allies as the Soviets were now an ally against the Nazis. When the Red Army retook the area, the Soviets exhumed more bodies and blamed the Germans. They made another futile attempt to point the finger at Germany during the Nuremberg trials.
We now know many more were executed on Stalin's orders than previously thought. According to a declassified 1959 report by Aleksandr Shelepin, head of the KGB, 4,421 Poles were murdered in the Katyn Forest; 3,800 in the Starobelsk camp; 6,311 in the Ostashkovo camp; 7,305 in camps and prisons in Poland's Eastern Provinces.
In the end, Stalin was successful in extending Soviet borders to the west with the acquiescence of Great Britain and the United States at the Yalta Conference in 1945.
As yet, no one was punished for the murder of more than 25,000 soldiers and civilians or for the deaths of thousands as a result of deportations.
Russia is perceived as a victim and rightly so for it suffered horrendous losses. But time has come to acknowledge that it was also an aggressor in the Second World War.
- Gettlich was born in a Nazi prison in the Warsaw Ghetto, is past secretary general of the Canadian Polish Congress (THE TORONTO SUN, Wednesday, September 2, 2009).
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Dwie fotografie: (1) Uczestnicy miedzynarodowej czesci obchodow 70. rocznicy obchodow II wojny swiatowej na Westerplatte; (2) Lech Walesa sklada kwiaty pod brama historyczna Stoczni Gdanskiej.
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