Where are the executioners and where are the victims
Why did the numerous crimes, especially against the rural population, investigated by Polish prosecutors most often end in discontinuation in Germany?
"History of One Crime" is the latest film by the excellent documentary filmmaker Mariusz Pilis. This time the author shows the details of the massacre perpetrated by the Germans, in March 1944, against the family of Wiktoria and Józef Ulm in Markowa and the families of their Jewish charges, the Shalls and Goldmans. The crux, however, is the story of Eilert Dieken, who commanded the course of the action.
He was the commander of the gendarmerie post in Łańcut, and he took the decision to murder not only Wiktoria and Józef Ulma, but also all their children, personally, "so that the community would not have any trouble with them", according to witnesses. Was he promoted to the rank of lieutenant in September because of this action? After the war, he returned to his home, i.e. to Esens in Lower Saxony, on the North Sea. And he continued to work in the police. And what's not allowed? After all, he didn't even belong to the SS or the NSDAP, so what's the point?
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My sarcasm does not come from nowhere, it is simply a "tired" commentary on already many years of experience and observation. Now, in addition, cumulated after the indiscriminate attacks on Poles who are alleged to have been collaborators with German criminals.
The Pilecki Institute, Berlin branch, together with the director, reached Eilert Dieken's private archive (sold by the 'cleaner' of a renovated tenement in a plastic box) and found his decorations - the Iron Cross and documents. In the archives was Eilert Dieken's 'denazification' documentation from 1946 and 1949 - explaining that there was no contraindication for him to work in the police. Dieken lived to a just age surrounded by the respect of his neighbours and the love of his family. He died peacefully in 1960.
In Mariusz Pilis' film, this is told by his eldest daughter, an elderly lady now, who - I feel like commenting on this very word, of course - knows and understands nothing. After all, Vatti was such a wonderful man, kind to others, he wanted good things for everyone, she knows something about it, because she was his most beloved daughter.
Just like in Jan Krzysztof Kelus's song 'On death penalties and temporal rewards'. There, in turn, the former head of the district Security Office, already "an old man bent over, plants flowers in the warm earth /.../ warm earth, a red-haired spaniel sleeps under a tree.... - How can he plant flowers - asks Janek And I don't know." Well, exactly, how can he plant flowers? We still have so many different difficult, most difficult, issues - unsettled. Some, very rarely, far too rarely, begin to clarify themselves, to make history, to enter education. With great, often incomprehensible difficulty, such as the difficulty of raising funds for this film.
In 2015, the director was refused funding by the Polish Film Institute (PISF); I wrote a column about it in the weekly "Idziemy" at the time under the title "Shame and so much". Three PISF experts wrote in their justification that 'the construction of the museum does not seem dramaturgically exciting, nor does the beatification plot'. They also wrote that "in the explication, the director describes that the protagonist is the Ulm family, while there are also many other threads in the script, which in this case gives the impression of a lack of decisiveness rather than a multidimensionality of the theme".
"Not only does the film tie in with these threads, but there are several others," the director comments today when I compliment his work. "I think Divine Providence itself was watching over me and I made pictures that I couldn't even dream of at the time."
At that time, the Museum of the Righteous in Markowa was not yet ready, and experts probably had no idea about the beatification. Now, the date of the ceremony has long been set for the 10th of September, so the film comes out at a time when it is most needed. It could be argued that all is not as bad as all is well. I, however, think, already without sarcasm, that several films on these topics could have been made since then, and would certainly have been useful. Maybe then it would be more difficult for some pseudo researchers to throw around the lie that after the death of the Ulm family, the villagers murdered other Jews who were in hiding, when in fact the Markovians kept at least twenty until the end of the war. This is what Mariusz Pilis talks about in the film.
After being refused funding by the Polish Film Institute, the director began to raise the funds himself. When he received the award from the Association of Polish Journalists (for another film) in March this year and we met in person, he told me that he still recalls that moment with disgust. Well, it is not the only strange and incomprehensible story associated with this film institution. And more than one of shame.
How are they doing?
After all, the situation is different from 1974. It was then that Krzysztof Kąkolewski began to publish in the weekly magazine "Literatura" his absolutely extraordinary interviews-reportages with Germans who had never been punished for their wartime criminal deeds and who held various responsible positions in the army, police, science or management. The reportages were published in 1975 under the title " How are you doing?" by the Czytelnik publishing house. The book was a real bestseller for many years, even though its message was extremely pessimistic: here are the representatives of Hitler's elite, thirty years after the war, doing well, still representatives of the elite - only now " just" German, professionally fulfilled, with magnificent houses and gardens. And they are astonished by the questions of a Polish journalist about their responsibility for wartime deeds, often crimes.
One of Kąkolewski's interlocutors is Heinz Reinefarth, a lawyer and former mayor of the resort of Westerland on the supposedly beautiful island of Sylt (North Sea). But he was also an SS general responsible for numerous war crimes, directed to crush the Warsaw Uprising and dubbed "the executioner of Warsaw" - responsible for the "slaughter of Wola", i.e. the murder of nearly 50,000 inhabitants of that district in a matter of days. He had been a member of the Landtag since 1958, had a general pension, and died in 1979 at the age of 76.
In 2014, during the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, on 5 August in Wola, representatives of the municipality of Sylt laid flowers at the Monument to the Murdered Residents of Wola. Petra Reiber, mayor of Westerland, said that on 31 July "we unveiled a commemorative plaque on the Westerland town hall with the following content:
Warsaw, 1 August 1944
Soldiers of the Polish Underground State join the fight
against the German occupier.
The uprising is suppressed by the Nazi regime.
More than 150,000 people are murdered,
There are countless numbers of injured and abused men, women and children.
Heinz Reinefarth, mayor of Westerland from 1951 to 1963,
was, as a combat group commander, jointly responsible for this crime.
Ashamed, we lean on the victims with the hope of reconciliation.
On the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising
Sylt / Westerland 2014
Eilert Dieken, commandant of the German gendarmerie post in Łańcut. Photo: Institute of National Remembrance
Now Mariusz Pilis's film features the mayor of the town of Esens, Harald Hinrichs, born - as the director tells me - ten years after Eilert Dieken's death, so from a different generation to the one that surrounded the respected policeman. We see in the film that Mayor Hinrichs arrives in Markowa already rich in knowledge of what happened here - he is brought by the director himself, who found him in Esens and explained who and what he was looking for in his town. "I went well prepared, I had photos of the Ulm family and documentation from Markowa," says the director.
In the film, the mayor speaks with shock about the unknown past of a respected police officer from Esens. And he declares that he will hang a plaque on the former police building explaining who Eilert Dieken really was.
If Esens is to some extent inhabited by Catholics - the director saw two Catholic churches there - then the information on the plaque that the murdered Viktoria and Josef Ulm are now blessed by the Catholic Church might appeal to some of them? And maybe even Mayor Harald Hinrichs will come on 10 September for the beatification?
Did it have to be Swiss?
The vision for the plaque was presented to the mayor by the director. He was inspired by a story from Westerland in which residents finally found out who ruled their town.
But it was not Krzysztof Kąkolewski's book that caused a plaque to be hung in Westerland on the island of Sylt explaining who the former mayor of that town Heinz Reinefarth was. This was done by a young historian from Switzerland, Dr Philip Marti, who also 'discovered' Heinz Reinefarth. - First in his master's thesis as a solid military man," recalls Mariusz Pilis. - Later in his doctoral thesis with the question 'how was it possible'. And he published the book "Fall Reinefarth"
Philip Marti will also be seen in the film. - It was this young man who prevailed in the discussion in Vetland, because the issue of the plaque was not at all obvious there," says the director. And we both conclude - again with sarcasm - that it was very lucky for us that it was the Swiss who convinced the Germans about the plaque. Because the Poles wouldn't be listening? And after all, it is not as if the Poles did nothing about these matters. The Polish side repeatedly applied for Reinefarth's release - without success.
When Krzysztof Kąkolewski was preparing for his reportages with war criminals, he collaborated with the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, as he recounts in his introduction: "after two months of deliberations and consultations at the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, we first selected twenty candidates out of a hundred and twenty, from which we finally selected eight figures. Almost all of them were still relatively young, around sixty years of age; at that time, despite their young age, they already held high positions in the SS and the judicial apparatus, with a dazzling future ahead of them. It has come true, albeit in a different version. All those elected hold high social positions: they are lawyers, professors, one is director of an institute and one is a member of the Bundestag. All have survived, mostly in the 1940s, court proceedings and have been released, an appeal in these cases is no longer possible. Despite the great crimes, none was a primitive murderer, only three saw the victims with their own eyes, but none touched them with his hand."
Eilert Dieken, although in charge of the action in Markowa, was never held responsible either. And many, many other German commanders, posts chiefs and others were never held accountable for their crimes, to mention only the murder of the Kowalski family from Ciepielów, also killed because they helped a Jewish family.
However, during those communist years, was the Polish side, the then Polish side, surely fully treated as a subject of international law? If Soviet propaganda was able to manipulate international - legal - public opinion so much that it withdrew the Katyn massacre from the Nuremberg trial, then probably it was able to twist, turn, hide and blur other matters as well. For how to explain the various impossibilities in explaining war crimes committed against Polish citizens? Why were numerous crimes, especially against rural populations, investigated by Polish prosecutors most often concluded in Germany with a dismissal?
Even the best reportage books and films will not take care of this, although they are the ones that move viewers and readers. What is needed is systemic work, procedures and money. Today, researchers from the Pilecki Institute are taking on these matters. "They are doing a great job, although now it is no longer about the punishment of the criminals," says Mariusz Pilis.
Above all, it is about the right proportions: in research, in science, in textbooks. It is about clear boundaries: where there is the executioner and the criminal, there is the victim. And it is about memory, without which nothing can be done.
– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: Karl Hermann Frank, Higher SS and Police Commander of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (centre) during a visit to a television studio in Prague. To his right stands SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth, responsible for numerous crimes committed by German troops during the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising. Both recognised as war criminals. Photo: ullstein bild / - / Forum