A confusing (hi)story. The Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists.

The monument in 1972, just revealed

Nowadays, we may think it is situated in a somewhat desolated corner of the Volkspark Friedrichshain. That means – in three years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never spontaneously bumped into it. Only groups of skaters seem to be interested in the monument, albeit for grinding and sliding – not for its history. Back in the days of the GDR, this East Berlin park was the centre of notorious memorials for historical revolutions and their heroic sacrifices. Of course, the communist regime never let go of turning a memorial into a piece of propaganda. And well, propaganda can serve a certain function – also a diplomatic one. All together, it came to a memorial for the Polish soldiers and German anti-fascists at the foot of the hill.

Relations between the GDR and Poland were getting better in the early 1970s. In May 1972, a memorial was erected. War veterans from both countries were there, albeit not them who fought for the Wehrmacht. Only anti-fascist veterans who were acceded by the communist parties were present. The celebration was supported by a fanfare music group. It was time for GDR’s leader, if not dictator, Erich Honecker to reveal the monument for the anti-fascist heroes in presence of his Polish equal Edward Gierek. Supported with the slogan “For their and our freedom”  -in both Polish and German- a relief print of a Red Army Soldier, a Polish soldier and a German anti-fascist are fighting as equals against the Nazi’s. Of course, the real deal are the two fourteen meter high pillars, with GDR’s and Socialist Poland’s symbols on their sides. Together they form one staff to carry a bronse banner of victory. Initiated by both a German as a Polish groups of WWII’s veterans, the monument was created by a bi-national artist collective. The 220.000 kilo’s of Polish granite was meant to be forever.

Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

Initiated by the Polish embassy in 1995, another information panel is revealed. It states that this memorial only remembers the acceded heroes from 1972: which are not all the heroes. The Polish soldiers who were acceded by 1972 were only them, who fought against the Nazi’s in the underground army and battalions which were formed in the Soviet-Union – the panel adds another couple of groups of Polish soldiers. First of all, them who fought against the German invasion of September 1939: with the outbreak of WWII. Moreover, the soldiers were memorised who fought together with the Allieds in Western Europe. They did so, in name of the Polish government – which went into exile and was situated in London. Also, the heroes of the Polish resistance were to be commemorated since 1995. With the latter, one can think of the partisans and the ones who fought in the uprise in Warsaw. In the additional information, (wo)men who fell during the War as Polish forced labourers, Prisoners of War or all German resistance are honoured as heroes too.

Za naszą i waszą wolność. Für ihr und unsere Freiheit. (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

The gap between the initial function of the monument -which was fairly propagandistic- and the added information is considered to be too wide. For this reason, Markus Meckel -a socialdemocratic politician and theologian- recently pleaded for a renewal of the monument. The slogan “Za naszą i waszą wolność.” (“For their and our freedom”) -which has been a slogan in Polish battles since the 1830s- will stand central here. Meckel, himself a notorious dissident in the GDR, doesn’t forget to honour the Solidarnosk (Solidarity) movement – which contributed to the historical overthrowing of communist regimes in favour of freedom and democracy. At last, Meckel is thankfull for the Polish agreement of German unification in 1990. For any further remembrance, both Polish and German experts have to come to an agreement in the new educational message.

All summed up, the memorial to Polish soldiers and German anti-fascists comes to me as one of the most outdated ones I’ve seen in a while. The gap between the idea in 1972 and  the changes in 1995 is so big, while the monument remained untouched. For being so outdated, the memorial is a bit confusing. It almost leaves the impression that we are remembering a memorial here. Although the meaning has officially been changed in 1995, it still surprises me to see GDR’s coat of arms in Berlin’s urban jungle. So, I fairly support the idea of making it more easy for visitors to find more information about the Polish struggle in WWII. Perhaps I am myself not that interested in the military history, although the Polish military history is nothing less than a sum of tragedies. The more, I think that the nearly six million Polish casualties -mostly civilians, among them 3 million jews- should be memorised. Till then, I fairly understand that this memorial is not taken that serious by the youth – being thankful to the GDR for leaving behind this skaters friendly heap of granite.

Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists (Berlin-Friedrichshain, December 2013) No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

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