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Poland Up In Arms Over Erika Steinbach Statements

As the German people address await crucial and numerous decisions from their leaders, the government here seems to drift farther apart still. The latest conflict between officials stems from comments made by Erika Steinbach about Poland’s part in the onset of WWII. An undersecretary of foreign affairs in the Merkel cabinet waded in today condemning Steinback’s comments. At a time when good relations between EU members seems crucial, the EU seems more like a powder keg than a unified continent.

Erika Steinbach, a stalwart and powerful member of Merkel’s CDU, went on record earlier this week basically claiming that Nazi Germany was at least partially provoked by mobilization in Poland in March of 1939. Germany invaded their neighbor in September, igniting the most devastating conflict in human history – World War Two. Where the facts are concerned though, Steinbach as right on several counts – read on.

Steinbach, who heads an organization called the Federation of Expellees, is no stranger to controversy or speaking her mind. The career MP from Frankfurt was actually born in Nazi occupied Poland during the war, and has spent a career trying to alter the situation for many thousands of Germans expelled or displaced during and after WWII. She made this comment to Die Welt which ignited the current firestorm of criticism from the Poles, opponents, and now even some of Merkel’s own:

“Unfortunately, I cannot change the fact that Poland had already mobilized in March 1939.”

Steinbach later went on to explain that her detractors and even the media had “purposely” misunderstood her statements, making the situation more volatile than it ever should have been. Cornealia Pieper, the senior foreign affairs official who condemned Steinbach’s comments, went so far as to call them “dangerous” and tantamount to retelling history. Steinbach and the Federation of Expellees have been accused many times of trying to rewrite the history of Germany in WWII.

It should be noted here that Ms. Steinbach is both an honored civil servant as well as a world renown human rights activist.  We are not talking about just some hot headed, extremist, loud mouth in this case. As a matter of historical accuracy we looked into Steinbach’s assertion and found her to be correct on at least Poland’s early mobilization. And too, Poland has no lost love for Steinbach either – any comment at all by here is sure to inspire contempt.

The German attack on Poland in September of 1939 was anything but a surprise like Pearl Harbor. It seems clear too that Hitler’s forces would have attacked in any event too, unless of course diplomacy hammered out some Polish-German alliance at the last moment. It could very well be the Nazi’s struck early too because of Poland’s and Marshal Rydz-Smigly’s secret mobilization. Revising history, this is something the victors always do – Steinbach and others live under this politically correct dogma.

As for the wisdom of Frau Steinbach’s recollection of this historical face – taken to mean she suggested Poland was at fault – clearly no sane politician or historian would utter this. We are not psychologists here, but it is also widely accepted that Germany’s part in all the evil of WWII has been “written” by the victors too. Just as WWI saw a degree of injustice toward Germans, the end of WWII and the partition of the country held its evils. Perhaps the great spot of the Holocaust also covered a host of sins of less magnitude against the German people? Steinbach? Well, there has to be something said for any politician who utters or even gets close to the truth.

Political footballs being what they are, it is easy to expect Steinbach to be chastised so, maybe she should be? However,  stating facts should never be cause for punishment, no matter how unpopular the truth is. What is really dangerous here is the ever growing comparisons and mentions of Nazis and the far far right. Tension of 100 sorts these days, tossed on old wounds – this cannot be a recipe for good relations.


 

As former Secretary of the Human Rights Committee and Chief of the Petitions Department at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I am very familiar with the suffering of both Poles and Germans in WWII. Erika Steinbach’s statements must be taken seriously and the pattern of intimidation against her and the Bund der Vertriebenen is tantamount to an attack on freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. 71 years after the outbreak of WWII it must be possible to discuss the facts in a sedate manner and the ad hominem attacks against Steinbach are in themselves a violation of human rights. Since my retirement from the UN I have taught both international law and world history at various universities. I find it repugnant that a politicial or an historian should be mobbed simply for not going along with simplistic explanations of the war and post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies.

Source:
Everything PR - 9 September 2010,
http://www.pamil-visions.net/poland-reaction-to-erika-steinbach/218464/

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