German historians et al. sign a declaration noting Stalin's direct involvement in the start of World War IIHistorians in the News
The declaration is an appeal to Europe to not forget, while celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, the circumstances in which the continent was originally divided seventy years ago.
'We are aware, and this is a painful awareness, that without the German-started World War II neither the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe nor the division of Europe and Germany would have happened,' write the German intellectuals. Rather than identifying 1 September 1939 - the day of the German invasion of Poland - as the beginning of the tragedy, they point at 23 August 1939, when the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed in Moscow. In it, the Third Reich and the Soviet Union divided Central Europe between themselves. 'It was an ill-fated pact,' reads the declaration.
The declaration was initiated by Marianne Birthler, head of the Stasi Records Authority and the Foundation for Research into the DDR Dictatorship, and former DDR dissident, Wolfgang Templin. It was signed by nearly 140 persons, including, among others, ex-president of the Bundestag, Prof Rita Süssmuth, the first head of the Stasi Records Authority, Joachim Gauck, historians Arnulf Baring, Dieter Bingen and Heirinch Winkler, journalists and politicians.
The declaration is unprecedented. To avoid being accused of historical revisionism - diminishing German responsibility for WWII - Germans seldom speak about Russia's responsibility for the war. Politicians usually steer well clear of the subject in order not to damage relations with Moscow. Yet the declaration leaves no doubt about what communism meant for eastern Europe.
'In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and part of Germany, all weakened by the war and Nazi rule, the Soviet Union introduced a new regime. That had disastrous consequences for society, the economy and culture, as well as for the masses of people who were persecuted or lost their lives because they stood in the communists' way,' reads the declaration.
Markus Meckel (SPD), one of the signatories, assures Gazeta that no one wants to whitewash Nazi Germany. 'But we need to remember that there was another totalitarianism which also committed crimes and left scars on central Europe's collective memory. People in the West have to finally acknowledge this,' says Mr Meckel.
Moreover, the German declaration comes at a time when a group of Russian historians, acting on the Kremlin's orders, is trying to defend the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. They are arguing that Stalin wanted to buy himself time to prepare for the war against Germany, that he was forced to sign the pact by the inflexible position of Poland which didn't want an alliance with Russia. Some have gone as far as to suggest that it is Poland that bears responsibility for the wear because it refused to meet Hitler's 'moderate' demands and surrender the 'Gdańsk corridor.'
Mr Meckel adds that the declaration is also an appeal to Russia to start an honest debate about the past. 'They should finally confront the vision of history of the Poles or the Balts,' says the SPD deputy. The signatories Gazeta has talked to hope that chancellor Angela Merkel speaks in a similar tone during the 1 September celebrations on Westerplatte, Gdańsk.
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John J. Kulczycki - 8/23/2009
Too bad that the last two paragraphs of the original article were cut off:
"The German declaration is also a homage to the democratic opposition in Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. 'We will never forget that it was especially the Poles who, fighting for our freedom and theirs, dealt the first blows to the communist regime,' reads the declaration.
The anniversary of the outbreak of World War II will also be celebrated by Germany's Catholic bishops. Together with Polish priests they will hold a mass on 30 August in Berlin. A joint declaration may be issued."