Poland marks 80th anniversary of invasion
The heads of state of Poland and Germany are marking 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War in the Polish city of Wielun, where the first bombs fell.
Polish President Andrzej Duda and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered speeches to remember the war that killed more than 50 million people, including nearly 6 million Poles and 6 million Jews, half of whom were Poles, in the Holocaust.
“It is the Germans who committed a crime against humanity in Poland. Anyone who claims it is over, that the national-socialists’ reign of terror over Europe is a marginal event in German history judges that for himself,” Steinmeier told the event.
He admitted that too few Germans knew about the tragedy of Wielun.
Before dawn on September 1, 1939, the Luftwaffe attacked the defenceless city that had no military significance. Around 1,200 people were killed.
The first bombs fell on the hospital, which had a red cross on its roof. About 75 per cent of the city centre was flattened.
Both presidents stressed their commitment to Polish-German reconciliation.
Steinmeier’s presence in Wielun was a form of “moral compensation” and facing the truth “has the power to bring forgiveness and the power of building friendships”, Duda said.
“I saw dead bodies, the wounded… Smoke, noise, explosions. Everything was burning,” said Wielun bombing survivor Tadeusz Sierandt, 88.
Hitler’s attacks on Poland led Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany and on September 17 the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east.
US Vice President Mike Pence, Steinmeier and Duda will later deliver speeches in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the Warsaw event but no other major world leaders are expected.
Donald Trump cancelled at the last moment so he could monitor the arrival of Hurricane Dorian.
French President Emmanuel Macron and embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are not there and Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited, unlike 10 years ago, because of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Duda said the anniversary was relevant to modern Europe as he met his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, yesterday (Saturday).
“We must stress how very important it is that no one, in Europe or in the world, is allowed to change borders by force,” Duda said.
Around 40 foreign delegations, a few of them led by heads of state.
Poland in September 1939. Picture credit: Wikimedia