Poland demands return of bell from exhibition
17 August 2006
BERLIN – Poland’s coastguard has cancelled the loan to Berlin of a ship’s bell recovered after the world’s worst maritime disaster, the 1945 sinking of a liner carrying 9,000 German civilians, exhibition organizers confirmed Thursday.
The bell was on display at a newly opened Berlin exhibition devoted to 20th century refugee expulsions including the flight of Germans from eastern Europe. Many Poles say it is offensive to their own war dead to memorialize Germans’ suffering.
The liner, the Wilhelm Gustloff, was sunk in the Baltic by Soviet torpedoes as it carried refugees westward. Treks overland by starving refugees were strafed and huge numbers of civilians slaughtered.
A spokesman for the “Forced Routes” exhibition, mounted by the former refugees’ own foundation, said a coastguard official had verbally made it clear that the bell must be sent back, but organizers would wait for a written cancellation of the loan agreement before taking the Wilhelm Gustloff bell out of the show.
The show is taking place in a rebuilt palace, the Kronprinzenpalais, on Berlin’s main avenue, Unter den Linden.
Amid controversy, Warsaw’s Municipal Museum demanded last Friday that two loaned items be sent back.
In Gdynia, Poland, coastguard spokesman Tomasz Sagan said his agency felt it had been deceived, as it was told beforehand that the exhibition was being organized under the aegis of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
However the exhibition was solely under the aegis of the German Federation of Expellees and its president, Erika Steinbach, he told Germany’s 3Sat television channel in an interview. The owner of the exhibition is a trust chaired by Steinbach.
Sagan said the coastguard had requested that the bell be back in Poland by the end of August or the start of September at the latest. The coastguard would then donate it to a Polish museum.
The exhibition has roused passions in Poland, where Steinbach is perceived as a potential invader and uncontrite for the Second World War. Many Poles defend the post-war expulsions as a just punishment to Germany.
Subject: German news