“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has
forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
“Freedom is the capacity to assert one’s will against the willfulness of others.”
William of Ockham
Over the past weekend, I caught a lovely news story.
In between the nerve-racking updates about Hurricane Dorian here on the east coast—
the hurricane that just doesn’t want to go away—
to the sorrowful story coming out from the west coast about the tragic boat fire in the
Pacific claiming nearly 40 lives, to another sorrowful mass shooting…
finding a news story that read of hope, if not simply civility, was greatly welcomed.
Below, I’ve simply cut and paste the AT&T news story.
My take on it all follows…
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for Poland’s forgiveness
80 years after the start of World War II.
“I stand before you, those who have survived, before the descendants of the victims,
the old and the young residents of Wielun, I am humbled and grateful,”
Steinmeier said during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun,
the site of one of the first Nazi bombings in the country on September 1, 1939.
“I bow to the victims of the attack in Wielun,
I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness,” he said.
Nearly 6 million Poles died during World War II,
which remains the bloodiest conflict in history.
More than 50 million people were killed in the conflict overall,
including some 6 million Jews, half of whom were Polish.
At a ceremony in Warsaw, Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke of the atrocious history
suffered by Polish people during WWII and the “trauma” that they still carry today.
The Polish President remembered the fallen and thanked the soldiers
“who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom.”
In an address on Sunday morning in Westerplatte, Gdansk,
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke of the huge material, spiritual, economic
and financial losses Poland suffered in the war.
“We have to talk, we have to remember about the losses we suffered,
we have to demand the truth, we have to demand compensation,” Morawiecki said.
War reparations remain a contentious issue in Poland —
since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS)
party has revived calls for compensation, Reuters reported.
Germany made the last payment on reparations in 2010.
US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Warsaw on Sunday at the commemoration ceremony
to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Two days later, on September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.
“During the five decades of untold suffering and death that followed the outbreak of World War II,
the Polish people never lost hope, they never gave in to despair,
and they never let go of their thousand-year history,” Pence said.
“In the years that followed this day 80 years ago,
their light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” he added.
The nation of Poland has a great deal to teach the rest of the world about perseverance
as well as the ability to forgive…just as it seems a German leader has a few things to teach
all of us about the never-ending ability to ask one who has been tragically wronged, to forgive.
But you’d need to understand a bit of history first to truly appreciate this story.
I’ve touched on Poland and her history before in a few previous posts,
but it seems the importance of revisiting has resurfaced.
Poland sits in a pivotal location geographically.
According to the renowned author and biographer, George Weigel, in his international bestseller
Witness to Hope / The biography of Pope John Paul II,
Poland’s location at the crossroads of Latin and Byzantine Europe, it’s geography,
and its repeated experience of invasion, occupation, resistance and
resurrection gave rise to a distinctive Polish way of looking at history.
Poland sits in the middle of Europe—in between the majority of Europe to the west
and Russia along with her broken minions to the east.
Poland has, down through the centuries, proven to be a historical bulwark.
She has literally been the defending line between tyranny and democracy for centuries.
And she has never complained about her pivotal lot.
I am reminded of the verse from the book of Luke:
“From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.
“Polish history is generally taken to begin with the baptism
of the Piast prince Mieszko I in 966. Mieszko’s choice for Latin Christianity
over Eastern Christianity, which had been formed in the orbit of Constantinople,
decisively shaped Poland’s history for more than a millennium.”
By Mieszko’s choice, a Slavic land and people would be oriented toward the Latin West.
These Roman Slavs were a bridge between Europe’s two cultural halves;
they could “speak the language of two spiritual worlds.”
Poland’s Catholicity and its geographic location led to a certain catholicity
of cultural temperament.
Tartars and Swedes had laid waste [to] the country; the Austrians had stripped the
Old Town of its fortifications and walls (Kraków); occupying powers of varying degrees of
ferocity had displaced the kings and queens of Poland from the royal castle,
atop the “Polish Zion.”
Now, on September 1, 1939, Wawel Cathedral was about to experience something beyond the
imagining of those who had worshiped beneath its gothic vault for centuries.
Poland, as a nation, has been erased numerous times from the known geographical
maps of human history.
Meaning, she was eliminated as a nation…
absorbed by her greedy neighbors on more than one occasion…
actually being erased for over 100 years from any historical map.
Yet the Polish people and their spirit as a unified people, has always remained.
Weigel notes “Poland is not always appreciated this way.
Indeed, the suspicion seems widespread that the Poles
must, for some reason or other, deserve their bad luck.
Yet Poland’s curse is neither in the stars nor in the Polish people.
It’s the neighborhood.”
“For more than a thousand years, the Polish people and their state have inhabited an enormous
flat plain bounded by large, aggressive, materially superior neighbors.
…The Germans were always to the west, and almost always aggressive.
German-Polish enmity followed and peaked in World War II,
when the Nazis sought to eradicate the Polish nation from history.
World War II, which the Poles sometimes describe as the war they lost twice,
was an unmitigated disaster for Poland.
Six million of its citizens our of a prewar population of 35 million,
were killed in combat or murdered– a mortality rate of eighteen percent.
The nation was physically decimated.
Poland became the site of the greatest slaughters of the Holocaust.
And, at the end, another totalitarian power seized control of Poland’s political future.
Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, would live under and eventually be formed by
these two occupying and oppressive regimes–two regimes that would each lend an
unknown hand to the building of a formidable world leader and in turn their own
nemesis and foe.
According to Wikipedia:
On 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles literally believed to
be a miracle.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Kraków, was elected pope at the Vatican,
taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying
effect on what was at that time one of the last idiosyncratically
Catholic countries in Europe.
When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people came to welcome
him in Warsaw; in the next eight days, about ten million Poles attended the
many outdoor masses he celebrated.
John Paul clearly became the most important person in Poland, leaving the regime
not so much opposed as ignored. Rather than calling for rebellion,
John Paul encouraged the creation of an “alternative Poland” of social
institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came,
the nation would present a united front.
On 27 October 1991, the first (since the 1920s) entirely free Polish parliamentary
election took place.
This completed Poland’s transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal
democratic political system.
And so despite the centuries of war, siege, occupation, death, murder, and even obliteration…
Poland has remained…just as she continues to remain.
And so we are fortunate in that we, as a world, may watch as a one-time warring
and occupying nation sincerely offers a very humble and visceral apology.
Words that cannot erase the pain, suffering, loss or unfathomable human tragedy…
but words offered by a nation who can admit to the sins of her past…
which in turn now offer hope to a renewed future for us all.
Forgiveness, Hope and Healing—all offered to a very troubled and very needing world…
We continue to hold on to Hope…
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.