German Innocence. How Germans camouflage their nationalism today

Has Poland really deserved its place in the EU and the civilised West? Was this exclusive club membership the result of past wrongs inflicted by the Third Reich?

Not everyone in Poland supports the notion that the Germans should pay reparations. You could mention for instance Stefan Chwin, writer and critic, interviewed in Przegląd magazine.

In the interview by Robert Walenciak, in the admittedly post-communist periodical open to pro- Russian and anti-Ukrainian opinion, he stated that although his family suffered greatly during the Warsaw Rising of 1944, he doesn’t think it right to demand reparations from the Germans. We need to remind ourselves whether Polish claims are realistic. Chwins’s argument lies elsewhere.

He thinks that the Germans have changed. They have nothing in common with their Nazi forebears. Legally however they are the heirs of the Third Reich, ”a principle that was accepted for pragmatic, political and economic reasons”. But this has ceased to be relevant.

Most Germans were born after the second world war. Chwin cites the example of the translator of his book from Polish into German. The current social structure is visible. She is multi-national in outlook and has much of the Turkish-Islamic heritage.

On reading the interview with Chwin, one comes to the conclusion that because of the traumatic experiences of his family, his statement about reparations acquire a degree of credibility. He is a person who can feed on deep German wrongs and expect some compensation. But instead, he takes the opposite stance.

His stance is reflected by that of Gazeta Wyborcza’s Paweł Wroński. He wrote earlier whether the “reparations took the form of membership of the European Union and the civilised West”. Membership was achieved we must remember, thanks to the German state. It’s a crystalline democratic and law-abiding one, and one that was the exemplar of reconciliation to its own shameful past.
Celebration of the 2015 S.B. Linde City Partnership award between Toruń and Göttingen. Pictured Stefan Chwin (left)and the mayor of Toruń Michał Zaleski (second from left) and the chief mayor of Göttingen, Rolf-Georg Köhler (right), photo PAP/Tytus Żmijewski
So does Wroński really believe that Poland did not deserve belonging to the EU and the civilised west and that exclusive club membership was a consequence of the wrongs inflicted by the Third Reich? Does he believe that the Germans could in this way could settle their accounts and that the Poles ought to be grateful? You could interpret his words in this way. If this is what he meant then this naïve servile relationship with our neighbours is outright compromise.

  Germany supported Poland’s entry into the EU not because of guilt over 1939-45, nor from altruism. It was simply in their interests. Poland, although a large market, is necessary for Germany in the EU, and to profit from this.

As to the motivation of German politicians in integrating the “Old Continent”, we can see in the European negotiations how they fought for the privileges of integration of old East German (GDR) areas. They did not consider the countries of the east, including Poland, at all. So they were devastated economically by the GDR style-socialist.

The camps that Chwin and Wroński are in represent an idealised vision of Germany. Reach for the book by Samuel Salzborn, published by the Pilecki Institute last year “Collective Innocence. Expulsion of the Shoah in German memory”. The title itself speaks volumes. The author is a German political scientist. Since 2020 he has been employed in the Berlin province as advisor on antisemitic affairs.

Salzborn, relying on data from multiple sources postulates, that German exculpation and regret about the crimes of the Third Reich are but a fiction. Only a handful of thinkers tackled the painful experience of the Nazi past. They did not have any punch within German society. But in mass culture, and in popular culture especially, there is a climate of self-victimisation, portraying the German nation as a nation also equally damaged by the second world war. This is the reason why the matter of the German expellees figures in German public debate.

We should agree with about Chwin’s observations, abstracting from what Salzborn states. He is right when he says that “today’s Germans, who are to pay us, are absolutely the opposite of the Germans of the Third Reich”.

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It’s obviously a good thing that contemporary Germany no longer embarks on bloody conflicts and opts for a peaceful resolution of any disagreements. But Germans, not overt chauvinists by any means, operate beyond the mainstream currents and constitute problems for Poland.

The problems lie in the liberal urban classes praised as anti-fascist by Chwin. These are convinced that Germany is a “moral power” and is the champion of “Europeaness”. This camouflages German nationalism that Chwin does not, or does not want to see.

Naturally Adolf Hitler stopped being a German hero together with the disaster of the Third Reich. But the Germans started instead to reach for anti-Polish role models such as Frederick the Great or Otto von Bismarck. This does not conflict with the posture which they adopt of being European- a modern and progressive people, who despise any kind of barbarism. If we add to this the multi-ethnic diversity of the German society, it becomes an alibi against any accusations of nationalism.

This is how to conduct an effective policy of promoting the national interest. The “anti-fascist paradigm” is very valuable in this respect. In particular when the Poles with their complexes who admire the Germans, accuse their fellow of xenophobia.

–Filip Memches

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

–Translated by Jan Darasz
Main photo: Fot. STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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