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Germany Is Guilty – but Russia and Poland Both Bear Responsibility, Too

15 28 10

The harsh exchange between Vladimir Putin and Polish President Andrzej Duda marking the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz reflects the wide rifts that World War II left behind in the politics and history of Europe – even more than seven decades later.

There is no doubt about the Soviet Union’s decisive role in eradicating the Nazi regime, but it’s also clear that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was signed on August 23, 1939, enabled Germany to invade Poland nine days later. Russia is now trying to remove this stain, which is what brought Putin to make every effort to accuse Poland of sharing in the responsibility for the outbreak of the war.

But as far as Poland is concerned, it fell victim to a double aggression: the German invasion on September 1, 1939, and the Soviet invasion on September 17. Both led to the elimination of the Polish state, which reminded the Poles of the partitions of their country in the second half of the 18th century. The Poles have also brought up the murder of around 20,000 Polish prisoners of war at Stalin’s command in the Katyn massacre of 1940, and the Red Army’s failure to intervene during the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupiers in 1944.

The two sides relate only to events that are convenient for them in the historical argument, and it’s clear we can’t rely only on politicians’ positions in such charged disputes. It’s not easy to step back and try, with intellectual honesty, to reconstruct these tangled events. The shadow of the Holocaust hovering over everything makes the discussion even more difficult – but it’s impossible to ignore.

On September 22, 1939, when the two invading armies met at Brest-Litovsk in eastern Poland, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht and Red Army held a joint victory parade. Incredible pictures show the new friendships between soldiers of the two armies, while on the reviewing stand are – in brutal and unimaginable irony today – Germany’s famed “panzer leader,” Gen. Heinz Guderian, and the Soviet Jewish General Semyon Moiseevich Krivoshein. Can we imagine what they really thought of each other?

The Third Reich and the Soviet Union also conducted prisoner exchanges at Brest-Litovsk in which Moscow handed over to the Gestapo dozens of German communists, including many Jews who had found a refuge in the “socialist homeland” after the Nazis rose to power. It’s hard to describe a more shameful and disgusting deal than this.

But the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has a much broader context, and it can’t be viewed separately from Poland’s policies before the war. One shameful act by Poland is linked to its response to the Munich Agreement, which was the apogee of British and French appeasement of Hitler. In that pact of September 1938, the two Western democratic........

© Haaretz