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Germans talk more openly about wartime suffering

Berlin — A new center dedicated to expulsions in Europe is another example of how Germany is dealing more openly with the suffering of its citizens during and after World War II.

To be opened in Berlin, the documentation centre examines what Bernd Neumann, Germany’s secretary of state for cultural affairs, called "a painful chapter in German and European history."

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet gave the go-ahead Wednesday for the 30-million-euro (46 million dollars) project intended as a "visible symbol against flight and expulsions."

At the heart of the scheme is a permanent exhibition recalling the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe during the confusion immediately after the end of war.

It will detail the personal experiences of some of the 14 million Germans forced to leave their homes by the Polish and Czech governments in reprisal for Nazi aggression.

In addition, there will be documentation about other people whose expulsion was perpetrated by Germans, such as the 1.5 million Poles forced to flee Soviet-annexed eastern Poland after the war.

Both Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic had feared the center would focus on the more than 1 million Germans who died during the exodus and paper over Germany’s responsibility for the war.

But its planners say Nazi crimes committed in the two countries as well as in Central Europe and the Soviet Union will also be "sufficiently documented."

More than 60 years after the end of the war, the project is intended to foster reconciliation while keeping alive the memory of those who suffered as a result of expulsion.

The scheme had burdened Polish-German relations since it was first proposed in 2000 by the League of Expellees, which represents around 2 million displaced Germans and their descendants.

Poland dropped its long-standing objections after liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk took over from the hard-line government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski last November.

The final obstacles were ironed out last month when Neumann met with Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor entrusted by Tusk with the task of improving relations with Germany.

Long a taboo, the idea of Germans being portrayed as victims was broached by Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass in his 2002 novel Crab Walk about the wartime sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

The ship was carrying refugees escaping from the Red Army when it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea in January 1945 and went down with the loss of 9,000 lives.

Around half the victims were women and children. A three-hour television drama on the sinking was shown last month, provoking critical comments in the Polish press.

The conservative daily Dziennik said the film made no mention of the fact that most of the action took place in occupied Poland or that many of the local population were expelled and even murdered.

The film followed an earlier television drama Die Flucht (March of Millions), which depicted families forced to flee occupied Poland from the advancing Russian forces.

Before that the television series Dresden portrayed residents of the eastern German city who were caught up in the Allied carpet bombing during the final months of the war.

Nazi German forces invaded Poland in September 1939, triggering World War II. A After Germany’s defeat, Poland’s borders were redrawn and shifted west, causing many Germans to flee.

DPA with Expatica