Address by the President in Warsaw during the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II
Honourable Veterans, our dearest Defenders of the Home Country,
Distinguished Mesdames and Misters Presidents,
Honourable Speakers of Parliaments,
Honourable Prime Ministers and Chancellor of Germany,
Honourable Members of Parliament, Senators,
Generals, Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Soldiers,
All Distinguished Attending Guests,
Residents of Warsaw,
All our Friends and Allies!
Fifty million, and if we count it a little differently, almost eighty million human lives were claimed in that terrible armed conflict that began 80 years ago. Eighty million, if we count not only all the people who were killed, murdered, but also those who died of hunger, disease and poverty a result of the war : 3% of the world's population at that time. Looking at Europe, one could say: a great European country, its population suddenly disappeared in six years and left the land empty. It is hard to imagine all of that today - the greatest historical cataclysm and the armed conflict producing the highest toll of lives in the history of mankind to-date.
See also: President: We remember and will remember We remember! We have to remember! And that is why we are here today. I would like to thank all of you - our distinguished guests from all over the world - for accepting our invitations, for coming to Warsaw, sometimes from as far as the other hemisphere, to be here together, to show the world that we do remember. Someone of a younger age, or someone maybe somewhat arrogant - will ask: why do we remember, why do we remember it all?
There is a Polish song, very popular, written soon after the end of World War II, whose lines at one point go as follows: "New children will be born to us. And look: they will laugh wondering that we still remember this vile time, a time of storms…” We remember and will remember with the sense of gratitude for all those who fought, gave their lives for the free world, in defence of the world against Nazi totalitarianism, fascism and terror, so that people could live free, decide for themselves and enjoy their happiness.
Today we honour and pay greatest tribute to all the victims of World War II. We bow our heads deep and kiss with gratitude the hands of veterans, the great defenders of our Home Countries - those who fought for our freedom and yours on all fronts of the world that time. Dear Veterans, Dear Soldiers of Our Freedom, we thank you wholeheartedly for this, wherever you are in the world now!
But there is also another reason: mankind has evidently not yet learned the terrible lesson well enough. After all, ethnic cleansing has been still happening in this world - and not so long ago - and genocide is happening now, in our modern times. After all, it was not so long ago that it happened in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda. This is why we need to remember so that such events, suffering and bestiality should never happen again in the world. That is also why we must remember and act as we draw conclusions from those events.
Finally, in the third place, there are some nations for whom the war had a special dimension, which left its mark, a completely indelible mark in many places. The ones whose souls are still scarred, the marks visible in many places – of unhealed architecture, of the beauty which was lost to the cities destroyed during the war, which could not be rebuilt to original design, be it because of lack of resources, be it because of the trauma of the war.
The nation to which I belong - the Polish nation - is one of such peoples. It was here that World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany assaulted Polish military garrison at Westerplatte, but also attacked a town deep in its sleep, undefended and completely unprepared, in which there were no military units, no military installations, in which ordinary people simply slept peacefully. A small Polish town - Wieluń. Bombed all across, 75% of it destroyed by several air raids performed on September 1, 1939, starting from 4.40 a.m. 1,200 people died almost instantly.
What followed was war, which for us entailed unceasing fight; the war in which we never gave up as a nation any time, though Poland disappeared from the map, first as a result of the Nazi Germany attack on us, which pushed the Polish army to the east, and then in the aftermath of the treacherous attack by the Soviet Union on 17 September, the Soviet Union which turned out to be an ally of Nazi Germany. Polish troops found themselves entrapped. And then everyone realized we could not manage single-handed.
I won't go back to the fact that we were counting on the help of our allies of the time. And even though they declared war, the actual help didn't come. Had it been the case, maybe history would have turned out differently. But Poland disappeared from the map and many Polish soldiers were taken prisoners of war - both German and Soviet. The Soviet captivity is one that was particularly ingrained in the memory of our nation, because the Soviets brutally murdered over 22 thousand Polish officers - prisoners of war - with a shot in the back of the head in Katyn and other places.
It was a terrible hecatomb of the Polish intelligentsia, it was a terrible hecatomb of our nation. It was like resection of our finest sons from the Polish national tissue, from the Polish national tissue in the broad sense of the word. Because I think at this point about the citizens of the Polish state, strictly speaking, of very different nationalities: Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Ruthenians - all of whom were officers of the Polish Army. All of them were given an equal treatment, all of them were brutally murdered. Many people, including soldiers, were deported deep into Russia, found themselves in Siberia under dramatic conditions, dying in the Gulags under the burden of backbreaking work. It is difficult to describe it all today, but it was just terrible.
And the country disappeared, what followed was German occupation, the General Government was created and the whole nation was subjected to absolute terror. Actually, nobody would ever know when their final hour would come. In the streets of the cities there were round-ups, ordinary innocent people were packed onto trucks, taken to concentration camps, prisons, and sent to forced labour in Germany. They were tortured, tormented, families were separated, children taken away from parents. Polish citizens of Jewish nationality were imprisoned in ghettos. They were marked, branded, treated like non-humans, murdered, starved, and finally subjected to the absolute massive extermination. Primarily in concentration camps, in death camps, which the Nazis built also on the lands that were ethnically Polish, where the Polish state once had been, before they began to occupy them.
The most famous of these death camps was the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. A camp in which one million one hundred thousand Jews from all over Europe, especially from Poland, were murdered during World War II. A camp in which 140 000 Poles, 23 000 Roma and Sinti, 20 000 prisoners of war from the Soviet Red Army and 15 000 people of various nationalities were murdered, brought to the camp from various countries, practically from all over occupied Europe.
It is hard to imagine it today, one could say that the Germans humiliated us, Poles, this way, leaving their extermination machinery to operate on our land. Today, however, we are its depositaries, and we are taking care of it so that it can bear witness to the world, so that people, especially young people, can come and find out what man could do to another man and what a totalitarian regime means. What cruelty and disrespect for the fundamental rights of others, for their dignity, means. These German Nazi concentration camps, these mementoes of those terrible days of the World War II must remain and will continue to exist.
And another element of this memory is also our duty to take care of them and encourage young people to go and undergo this terrible experience, so shocking, which entails the visiting a death camp and seeing this terrible story with their own eyes. But also seeing the historical truth. The historical truth that is so important and that has a liberating power. But I want to emphasize once again that my nation, so heavily tried, never gave up.
There was a Polish underground state, there were 360 thousand soldiers of the Home Army, the Polish underground army, operating despite the occupation, operating under cover. There were partisans who fought in the forests, there were young people who were training, who later stood in arms here in Warsaw in 1944 to confront the Germans. Although they had too few weapons, although many of them started their fight with their bare hands, they wanted revenge so much, they wanted freedom so much, they so intensely wanted the occupants to be expelled from here that they were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to achieve this goal. They were crushed.
Stalin stopped his troops on the Vistula line and waited for Hitler to bleed out the uprising. Warsaw went through a nightmare. During three days in Warsaw's Wola district the henchmen in SS uniforms murdered 50 thousand people, 50 thousand innocent civilians. Unarmed people, people who were not affiliated with any armed formation, people who are not active in the armed underground. Ordinary residents of Warsaw; a total of 200 thousand civilians died during the uprising. They are part of this terrible toll of 80 million victims of World War II, including more than 50 million civilian victims. We are as a nation, as a society, as Polish citizens, part of these terrible numbers. It is also our great legacy, but it is also our great trauma.
But Poles fought on all fronts, Poles came to form a Polish army that fought alongside the Allies in the west, defended the skies of Britain as the Germans bombed London, fought in the Battle of Britain, they were some of the few to whom so much was owed by so many. Outstanding Polish pilots proved their class and heroism. We will always remember that. Polish soldiers fought at Monte Cassino, captured this great fortress-convent, fiercely defended by the Germans. Then they liberated cities in France, Holland, Belgium, and from the opposite direction, Poles from the Far East, just those who had been deported to Siberia, were also moving ahead with the Red Army.
They wanted to claim their Poland back, they wanted to defeat the Germans. They were up to anything. They were shedding blood on the eastern front, fighting for the Polish lands, fighting for Kolobrzeg, then fighting for Berlin and they had the great privilege of hoisting the Polish white and red flag on the Brandenburg Gate. Afterwards, their fates took various courses. Many of them did not return to Poland because, unfortunately, we were not the beneficiaries of that great victory. We found ourselves under another occupation, this time a Soviet one. So we can say that in a sense the World War II, in the context of its political ramifications and the political consequences of that first September of 1939, did not end until 1989.
So it lasted much longer than in other places in the world. Since what can we say about ending the war, and about victory, when one does not live in a truly free country. When you do not live in a truly sovereign country, when you do not live in a truly independent country? When you are not fully free.
However, we would like to thank our allies from the free West and from across the Atlantic for supporting us in those difficult times and for the fact that, thanks also to their stance and their assistance, the people of Solidarity, of that great freedom movement, were able to win. It was our great satisfaction that, thanks also to our perseverance and our fight for freedom, the Berlin Wall would also fall later on. The Germans were also able to experience their reunification as part of a great free Western community, a community of democracies.
Today we are together in the European Union, today we are together in the North Atlantic Alliance, today we are united by all the best bonds existing in the free world.
I bow my head once again before all the heroes of the World War II, especially its heroes - my fellow countrymen, my fellow citizens, those who died and those who survived, fighting for a free, sovereign and independent Poland, fighting for a free Europe, fighting for our freedom and yours.
I bow my head before you and pay tribute. You are wonderful and we thank you wholeheartedly for being with us today and for bearing witness to the fact that it was worth standing up with courage and fighting for freedom. And never to surrender, even under most trying of circumstances.
Hail and glory to the heroes!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to return to the end on the note I mentioned before: that today, unfortunately, there are still acts of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and even genocide all over the world, despite the progress of civilisation and despite that terrible lesson. That we have recently seen even in Europe their re-emergence of imperialist tendencies, to attempts to change borders in Europe by force, to assault other countries, taking in possession their land, enslaving their citizens.
Well, that should be a learning lesson, pointing to one thing: perhaps World War II would have never happened at all, had Western countries strongly opposed Austria's Anschluss, if they had put a firm stop to Hitler's imperial aspirations, his manic visions. If they had protested strongly against the treatment of Jews in Germany before World War II, if the international community had firmly defended Czechoslovakia, perhaps there would not have been an attack on Poland, and perhaps there would not have been World War II. Had the leaders those days back then had been firm, determined, and not afraid of the imminence of yet another war. Because as a result, even more terrible war broke out that the previous one.
This is a great lesson for us as leaders of Europe and the world today, and a great lesson for us as members of the North Atlantic Alliance and as members of the European Union.
Such activities cannot and must not be put on the agenda. There must be sanctions, decisive steps must be taken, and it must be clear that any military aggression will be met with an absolutely firm, decisive and powerful response.
These are the challenges of our time. And that is why I appeal to you: business as usual and turning a blind eye is not a recipe for peace. It is a simple way to encourage aggressive personalities. This is a simple way to give de facto consent to further attacks. You know that this is happening. In 2008, Georgia, in 2014, Ukraine. The borders are still being pushed, the occupation, prisoners of war, military provocations. We have to be determined. We cannot allow armed aggression to continue, because it is our responsibility to our societies and to the societies of Europe and the world. May the drama of World War II, which was experienced by the whole world, never be repeated.
Hail and glory to the heroes of World War II!
Eternal memory to the Fallen!
Long live the free world!
Long live the Euro-Atlantic ties!
Long live democracy!
Long live freedom!
Long live all people of justice, peace and freedom!
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen! Thank you!