Germany was right to apologise to Poland

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

On 1 September 2019, the day that marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, gave a speech in Warsaw, Poland. In this speech, he apologised to the country and asked for forgiveness for the ‘‘German crime’’. This measure was necessary; despite opinions that the president shouldn’t have to apologise for something that occurred so long ago, and by a party that no longer holds any respect, let alone power.

The lasting effects that the war had on Poland is why it was so important that Germany recognized its part in, as Steinmeier put, the “horrific war” and offered an honest and heartfelt apology. On September 1st, 1939, the German Luftwaffe bombed Wielun. Thousands of people died, this attack was aimed to induce terror into the civilian population. Two days later, war was declared between Germany and Poland. Hitler and the Nazis killed around six million Polish citizen and the nation suffered awful crimes against humanity and severe damage. These lasting atrocities demonstrate why it was so important for Germany, on such a significant anniversary, to apologise and accept blame for their momentous part in Poland’s past.

In Steinmeier’s speech he stated that “this was Germany’s crime” and offered an emotional and somber apology to the Polish nation.

There is an argument as to whether it is required for a man who wasn’t even born until over a decade after the war ended to apologise for events that he, personally, had nothing to do with. However, when somebody becomes the president of a country, they choose to accept the responsibility to consider that country’s past. This means that is not simply Frank- Walter Steinmeier expressing his sorrow and remorse for Poland; it is the country’s president, the face of Germany. By becoming the president, Steinmeier has taken on this responsibility and is in charge of building and maintaining relationships. This means that considering, and apologising, for Germany’s past is crucial and is the duty of the president.

It is important to consider that this speech occurred on the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. Although Germany has come a long way in moving past the war and is now a country that shouldn’t be judged for its past, on special occasions it mustn’t forget it. Steinmeier asked Poland for forgiveness; and rightly made no effort to underestimate the atrocities committed by Germany. This doesn’t mean that Germany should continue to be punished or treated with distain because of the war. The Nazi party is now outlawed in Germany and Steinmeier’s emotional display of sorrow demonstrates that the country has moved far away from the politics that took place surrounding the war. However, something as simple as a heartfelt apology and a request for forgiveness is significant in drawing a line under the past and ensuring good relations with Poland.

In a world where there is so much conflict, it is essential that peace is kept wherever possible. Poland and Germany are now European Union allies and partners; their good relationship is significant and incredibly important. Germany’s apology and Poland’s acceptance demonstrate that, despite their past, they are able to exist alongside each other without hate or tension. It is the responsibility of both these countries to maintain this positive relationship and therefore it was essential that Germany gave the speech it did on such an important day for Poland. It should not be the case that German citizens have to apologise and be discriminated against for something that happened before most were even born, but Steinmeier, as president, held the crucial responsibility of putting forward the country’s remorse.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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