'No pity for Germans'

Conservatives are pushing for a refugee memorial centre to be built in Berlin to mark the plight of Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after the Second World War. But as Mary Sibierski writes, the plans have met with stiff opposition from Germany?s eastern neighbours and raised the risk of reopening old wounds.

Marek Edelman, one of the few surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, has criticised a German plan for the creation of a War Refugee Centre in Berlin as "purely political", "nationalist" and "chauvinist".

"In the German sub-conscious there still flickers a conviction that such a great nation deserves Lebensraum ? a great space to exist," says Edelman in "No pity for Germans", an article published Monday in Poland's top-selling Gazeta Wyborcza.

"The proponents of the Refugee Centre want to use this feeling to win their political interests," he says, adding "It's politics ? about votes."

"If the idea comes from the milieu of (Germany's) Association of Expellees, it means this is a camouflaged return to the idea of 'Drang nach Osten' (Push to the East)," says Edelman.

"Nationalism is still alive," he argues, "Especially in Germany: not so long ago national policy was based on nationalism."

"This does not pass without a trace. This is why re-heating this mood there is so dangerous," Edelman argues.

Previously Edelman insisted that Germany's post-war refugees were the result of Nazi Germany's aggression against Poland and other eastern neighbours. Hitler's attack also created millions of other war refugees and was responsible for genocide against six million European Jews, he noted.

"Causing refugees is bad enough," Edelman said. "But genocide is worse."

Conservatives in Germany, backed by powerful lobby groups for ethnic Germans ousted from Poland and Czechoslovakia after World War II, are pushing for the Refugee memorial centre to be built in Berlin. Supporters of the centre, like German Expellees' leader Erika Steinbach, argue it would serve as a warning against future expulsions.

But a fiery debate over the plans broke out last month when 65 prominent Europeans, including Germany's Nobel Literature Laureate, Guenter Grass, issued an open letter in which they warned that German plans to locate a centre in Berlin would re-open old wounds with Germany's eastern neighbours.

Indeed, plans for the centre and the proposed Berlin location, in particular, have provoked strong protest, especially in Poland.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and former Polish foreign minister and other Polish influential voices argue that if such a centre is to be established it should be built in what was German Breslau prior to World War II, as a result of the post-war re- drawing of borders which became Polish Wroclaw.

Among those to settle in Wroclaw after the war were Polish refugees from the eastern city of Lwow, which at the end of World War II became Soviet Ukraine's Lviv, where mainly ethnic Ukrainians resettled.

Prior to the Second World War there were an estimated 11 million ethnic Germans living on the territory of what is now modern-day Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic Republics. An estimated two million perished during the fall of Nazi Germany and its immediate aftermath.

A member of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), Edelman, 81, was one of the few leaders of the doomed 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to have survived what was the first armed rebellion by urban partisans against Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.