Polish PM: Europe must not allow Russia to rewrite its history.
Mateusz Morawiecki is the prime minister of Poland.
WARSAW — As the world commemorates 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, Russia is trying to rewrite history. Far from being a “liberator,” the Soviet Union was a facilitator of Nazi Germany and a perpetrator of crimes of its own — before and after the liberation of Auschwitz.
Given that the European Union was born from the ashes of World War II, we must guard against false narratives like those being peddled today.
For Western Europe, this tragic period of European history came to an end in 1945, with the defeat of Germany’s Nazi regime. But for many European nations, the declaration of peace did not mean the end of the tragedy, only the beginning of a new one.
Soviet occupation, which was to last for another 45 years, cost millions of lives and robbed Poland and Central Europe of their independence and chance for normal economic development.
During its occupation, the Soviet regime also peddled a distorted version of history and World War II, which claimed the USSR “liberated” Europe from Nazism and ignored Moscow’s real role in the conflict.
The Soviet Union did not “liberate” Warsaw, as Russian authorities are now claiming.
That false narrative is being rehabilitated and instrumentalized again today, as Russia attempts to burden Poland and other European countries with responsibility for cooperation with German dictator Adolf Hitler.
In trying to present the Soviet Union as the world’s savior from Nazism, Russian President Vladimir Putin neglects Moscow’s military aggression not only against Poland but also against the Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — in June 1940, and its decision to provoke a “winter war” with Finland from November 1939 to March 1940.
Not only is this Stalinist version of history factually inaccurate, it insults the memory of millions of victims of Communism.
In reality, it was the alliance between Nazi Germany and the USSR in 1939 that paved the way for the start of World War II. The Third Reich would not have been able to rebuild German military capability without the Soviet supply of natural resources and military cooperation. It would not have been able to defeat Poland and France so easily, nor would it have had so much freedom in preparing the devastating machinery of the Holocaust.
The Soviet Union did not “liberate” Warsaw, as Russian authorities are now claiming. The Red Army stared on idly at the agony of Warsaw. The city’s two uprisings — the first in the Jewish ghetto in 1943, the second in the entire city in 1944 — were evidence of the ruthlessness of German crimes. But while the people of Warsaw waited hopefully for help, Joseph Stalin never ordered the Red Army to intervene.
And while the Red Army did eventually liberate Auschwitz, the camp could have been liberated half a year earlier. In the summer of 1944, the Soviet army stood 200 kilometers from Auschwitz, but the offensive was halted, allowing the Germans time to retreat and organize death marches until January 1945. Rescuing Jews was never a priority for Stalin and the Red Army.
In post-war Poland, Soviet propaganda dictated the narrative of World War II. The truth remained buried, because it conflicted with the Stalinist propaganda of “liberation.” As such, the true story of the double occupation of Poland could not be told by Poland until 1989.
Renewed attempts to paint Poland as a perpetrator, rather than a victim, can’t be tolerated.
The truth about World War II and the fate of Central and Eastern Europe is an integral part of Europe’s tragic heritage.
The Polish losses caused by World War II are among the highest in the world: 6 million Poles were killed, including 3 million Polish Jews. The country was completely ruined.
Despite the potential for severe punishment, Poles created Żegota, an underground organization to help Jews under German occupation. The Polish government in exile in London tried with all its might to tell the world the truth about the inconceivable evil of the Holocaust, whose symbol remains the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. In Poland, collaborating with the Germans or denouncing Jews in hiding was punished with the death sentence by the Home Army, the underground army of the Polish state. And these sentences were regularly carried out.
The truth about World War II and the fate of Central and Eastern Europe is an integral part of Europe’s tragic heritage. That’s why a united Europe must forcefully oppose the falsification of 20th century history.
Russian historical propaganda regarding World War II is an unworthy lie and a deceitful attempt to blame others for the Soviet Union’s actions. It is evidence the country has never reckoned with the true costs of its totalitarian legacy.
The European Union was built to ensure the tragedy that took place in the first half of the 20th century could never happen again. We can’t afford to let others rewrite our shared history.