Source: Gazeta Wyborcza 4-5 August 2007
Author: Bartosz T. Wieliński in Berlin
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview
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For over a week the Polish and German media have been heating up the debate over German art works, that Poland acquired after the Second World War. It is for instance the so called ‘Berlinka’: the collection of old prints and manuscripts (by Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart, inter alia), and a collection of aircrafts from the beginnings of air travel. During the war the Germans relocated them to Silesia region, where after 1945 they were found by Polish authorities, gaining control over the Recovered Territories.
Since 1992 their return is being negotiated. Today Warsaw refuses to return them saying that these collections are a compensation for the Polish works of art destroyed during the war by the Germans. Polish experts estimate these losses at 20 billion dollars.
Last Friday the German Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily wrote, that Polish stubbornness is unlawful, and reminded that Poland had broken off the talks in 2005. FAZ called the German government to be more firm in demanding the return of their national treasures. Later the German press referred to these works of ar as “loot” or “hostages”. Yesterday Anna Fotyga, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, called these remarks a “Cold War relic”. While the Polish Government’s Plenipotentiary for the Polish-German relations said that these claims made by Germany are ‘a defeat of the peculiarly understood reconciliation, forced by the scriptwriters of the Polish foreign policy in the early nineties.’
with Prof. Tono Eitel, German diplomat and main negotiator of the return of the German art works
Bartosz T. Wieliński: Why do the Germans call Berlinka a “loot”? Poland did not steal it.
Toto Eitel: I don’t see anything wrong with that. When as a result of war some goods are taken oven and relocated, they are called loot. Berlinka is a “looted art”. There also exists another term “stolen art” – but this applies to the works of art that the Germans have stolen from Poland during the war.
No one had stolen Berlinka or the collection of air crafts. Poles have found them on the lands granted to Poland after the Seond World War. They did not destroy it, but have taken care of it. Why do you want them back?
Because that’s what the international law says. The Hague Convention of 1907 forbids confiscating art works. These belong to Germany, Poland couldn’t have taken it then. Nowadays only Warsaw and Moscow refuse to agree with that argumentation. The Berlinka collection has an exceptional value for the Germans. If these were paintings, sculptures, no one would have made so much fuss about it. But this is about the manuscripts of our most wonderful artists, including the manuscript of our national anthem. This is our national heritage, and it just belongs to Germany.
Beethoven’s scores and Goethe’s manuscripts are Europe’s heritage. Does is matter in which European country they are placed?
I disagree. Beethoven was a German, he was writing in German. His manuscripts should be placed here. How would you feel if the manuscripts of Sienkiewicz or Mickiewicz were in German storage? Poland would be demanding them back, as firmly as we do.
The Germans seem to forget that they had themselves been destroying Polish collections. The SS were burning the collections of the libraries of Warsaw for days.
We are not forgetting. We have always been saying that destroying the Polish culture the Germans have committed terrible crimes. However the attitude of Nazi Germany, the large-scale disregard to international law, cannot be an example for other countries. The Ukrainians have returned our works of art, and we had been plundering and exterminating them too. Kiev acknowledges that this is the law.
Poland thinks that Berlinka and other German collections are substitute restitution. You have destroyed our works of art worth of 20 billion dollars – we are taking yours then. That’s fair.
I don’t agree with this opinion. There isn’t such solution in the international law. Besides, Poland had renounced her claims of restitution from Germany in 1953, which was repeated in the treaty of 1970.
But it was the Soviet Union that forced Poland renounce these claims! And it was Moscow, who received compensation money from Germany after the war. Passing only some leftovers to Poland.
But you can say Poland received one fourth of the territories of the German Reich. I cannot accept the argument that what was signed during the communism doesn’t apply today. Thank God that system collapsed, but the Polish state continues to exist, and law is law.
Most of the 180.ooo German works of art taken over after the war are in Russia. Russia doesn’t want to give it back to you either, nevertheless German press only attacks Warsaw. Why?
Because people can’t understand why we are not able to come to an agreement with a country that we are in friendship with, with which we are in NATO and the EU. We can’t come to an agreement although we’ve been negotiating for 15 years now.
Did you come to any joint conclusions during the negotiations?
No, although we continued the talks. Once in Poland, once in Germany. Unfortunately in 2005 Poland broke off the talks. We were not given any reasons. The subject was just cut.
Maybe because Germans all those years have been demanding everything, that Poland refused in advance. Wouldn’t it be better to found an institution, for instance in Wrocław, a European city with a Polish-German history, and deposit Berlinka there?
Why not? Such solution was never excluded. But both parties need to seek the solution together. And for the last two years Poland doesn’t want to.
C O M M E N T
by Włodzimierz Kalicki
Gazeta Wyborcza daily
A burgler breaks into our house. Whatever he was capable of carrying – he had taken out and stolen. At the end he set fire to our house, and the rest of our treasures perished in the fire. When he was running away, he lost his coat.
Years gone by, he comes with a generous proposal: if you can still find in my apartment anything that I stole from you, I can give it back to you. But on one condition: you’ll give me back the coat I lost. And don’t mention the things I burned – that doesn’t exist any more.
A farce? Not only. This is the newest line of German argumentation: if Warsaw gives us back Berlinka and air crafts collections, we’ll give them back whatever we still have in our storages of the things we robbed from Poland.
What about the treasures of the Polish cultural heritage, that – in large part – were being destroyed in a planned, organised fashion? German negotiator thinks that it doesn’t have anything to do with the return of Berlinka.
Poland will not agree for that.
Any potential return of Berlinka is possible only as a response to Germany’s compensation for destroying Polish cultural treasures. The compensation could, for instance, have the form of a foundation. A foundation seeking, around the world, and buying off, the works of art that were stolen from Poland by the Germans; a foundation that would also promote Polish-German joint cultural initiatives.
Nudging one another will not bring us closer to solving this problem. Only a reasonable compromise, that the public opinion in Poland and Germany will accept, will let this outrageous row end. The outrage is evidently caused by Germany.
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