Poland marks WW II outbreak

Poland marks WW II outbreak

Poland marks WW II outbreak

In the ceremony at the Westerplatte peninsula, the site of Nazi Germany’s opening assault on Poland, political and religious leaders spoke of the struggle against Hitler’s forces.

It began at 4.45am, the time at which the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein shelled a tiny Polish military outpost to spark the beginning of the war, which lasted for nearly six years and caused the deaths of more than 50 million people.

“Westerplatte is a symbol, a symbol of the heroic fight of the weaker against the stronger,” said the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski. “It is proof of patriotism and an unbreakable spirit. Glory to the heroes of those days, glory to the heroes of Westerplatte, glory to all of the soldiers who fought in World War II against German Nazism, and against Bolshevik totalitarianism.”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned of the dangers of forgetting the war’s lessons.
“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,” Tusk said.
“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. We remember because we know well that he who forgets, or he who falsifies history, and has power or will assume power, will bring unhappiness again, like 70 years ago.”

Around 20 European leaders and officials including German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his French counterpart Francois Fillon and British foreign secretary David Miliband will take part in a larger service on Westerplatte.

Tuesday’s meeting takes place amid swirling tensions over who —apart from Hitler —was responsible for starting the second world war. Over the summer the Baltic states, led by Lithuania, blamed Hitler and Stalin equally for the conflict. The claim provoked a furious reaction from Moscow, with the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev dismissing it as “quite frankly, a flat-out lie”.

Russia will release documents from the secret archive of its foreign SVR intelligence service which are likely to blame Poland. The Kremlin says Poland was a willing accomplice to Hitler’s partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

In a letter to Poles published in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Putin struck a conciliatory tone. He described as “immoral” the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, which saw Hitler and Stalin carve up eastern Europe under a secret deal. While Poland’s relations with Russia remain tense, Putin called for “joint grief and forgiveness” in the hope that “Russian-Polish relations will sooner or later reach such a high level of true partnership" as Russian-German ties.