August 18, 2006 Friday 2:05 AM EST
Controversial Berlin exhibition sparks Polish ire =
Clive Freeman, dpa
DPA CULTURE, ENTERTAINMENT Germany Culture Poland FEATURE:
Controversial Berlin exhibition sparks Polish ire = Clive Freeman,
Wilfried Rogasch stands in the foyer of Berlin’s Kronprinzenpalais
shaking his head in disbelief at the hostile reactions in Poland to
the exhibition he has organised.
It depicts the plight of millions of European refugees, among them
many Germans, who either fled or were expelled from their homes at
the end of World War II.
When it opened last Thursday, the Polish government and a large
section of the Polish media were quick to criticise it. Warsaw’s
mayor Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz even cancelled plans to visit Berlin.
Rogasch told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa, he was surprised by the
"hysterical reaction" in Poland. "Even without seeing the contents of
the show the Polish premier, foreign minister and culture minister
had decided it was, anti-Polish," he said.
At the heart of the current dispute is a campaign spearheaded by German
expellee groups aimed at creating a centre in Berlin remembering the
mass expulsions of 12-14 million ethnic Germans from several countries
of Eastern Europe after World War 11.
Rogasch frankly concedes that the Berlin exhibition, which lasts for
three months, is the "first step towards a permanent documentation
centre here in Berlin."
There has been a fiery debate over such plans, with German Nobel
Literature Prize winner Guenter Grass – himself now in the news over
his admission he was a teenage member of the wartime Waffen SS –
warning three years ago that the creation of a centre in Berlin would
open old wounds with Germany’s eastern neighbours.
As a result of the controversy caused by the current exhibition,
Rogasch said he had returned several exhibition art loans back to
Poland in order, as he put it, to "avoid curators there any possible
He added: "It was my decision. They did not ask that l should do
so. So, yes, I am disappointed. I saw myself as a bridge-builder
between Germany and Poland, not as a trouble-maker."
The curator also praised several Polish museums for "standing firm"
during a trying period.
"Pressure has been put on these institutions by the (Polish)
government, and by a large proportion of the Polish press," he claimed.
"I find this quite outrageous in a country which belongs to the
European Union, and in which scientific and cultural institutions
should be independent of the prevailing government.
"We are all members of the International Council of Museums, which
is a part of UNESCO. As such, museums should be able to decide freely
with whom they co-operate and to whom they send loans.
"No sitting government has a right to put pressure on these
institutions, which has been the case in a way I never would have
expected," he added, with irritation.
Rogasch says while the Berlin exhibition involves the fate of 12-
14 million German refugees who either fled or were ousted from their
homes in Poland, Czechoslovakia and several other countries in eastern
Europe after World War II, it also clearly defines the traumatic
experiences of millions of other expellees from other countries.
Entitled "Forced Paths – Flight and Expulsion in Europe During the
20th Century", the exhibition fills three rooms of the newly revamped
Palais building on the Unten den Linden.
In the biggest hall, nine mass expulsion episodes get pin-pointed,
ranging from the Armenian massacres in 1915 to the German persecution
of the Jews between 1933-45, and the ethnic cleansing terror in
Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s.
Supporters of the centre, like German Expellees’ leader Erika
Steinbach, who is a conservative (CDU) deputy, argue that it would
serve as a warning against future expulsions.
To its advocates, the centre is deemed a natural development, an
effort to remember and understand an often forgotten fact: That, in
the two years after Germany’s World War II defeat in 1945, millions
of ethnic Germans were forced to leave countries where they and their
ancestors had lived in some cases for centuries, and resettle in
But in Poland, such talk provokes considerable uneasiness. Most
critics in Poland worry the planned Berlin centre could be misused by
historical revisionists to marginalise or cast aside Nazi Germany’s
responsibility for the colossal civilian suffering which occurred
during the Second World War.
Wladslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and former Polish foreign
minister argues that if a centre is created then it should be
located in Wroclaw, which prior to World War II was for hundreds of
years the German city of Breslau.
Wroclaw was almost entirely destroyed during the war, when it was
bombarded and eventually over-run by Soviet troops after a desperate
14 week German defence that lasted until four days after the fall of
Berlin in the spring of 1945.
Subsequently it became a classic "refugee city." Those who settled in
Wroclaw after the war were Polish refugees from the eastern city of
Lvov, which at the end of World War II became Soviet Ukraine’s Lviv,
where mainly ethnic Ukrainians resettled.
Rogasch, who has made numerous visits to museums in Poland in recent
years for talks with fellow curators, insists that Germany has
since the 1939-45 conflict worked painstakingly at documenting the
"outrageous criminal aspects of Germanys history."
"Now," he says, "this country has every right to focus on groups
whose German members were also victims 60 years ago. Now they are
in their 70s or 80s. Then, they were children. So they would neither
have voted for Hitler or known anything about the concentration camps."
"We cannot deny such groups their personal right to remember that
they were victims – victims of Nazi dictatorship and also of Stalinist
expansionism," says Rogasch.
Aug 1806 0205 GMT