A celebration of German-Polish friendship

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25th anniversary of Polish-German reconciliation mass A celebration of German-Polish friendship

In Poland, Federal Chancellor Merkel attended the 25th anniversary of the Polish-German reconciliation mass. At the Kreisau estate, she and the Polish Prime Minister Kopacz recalled the Peaceful Revolution of 1989.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel walks through the "Courage and Reconciliation" ("Mut und Versöhnung") exhibition.

Walking through the open-air exhibition "Courage and Reconciliation" ("Mut und Versöhnung").

Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

The fall of the Berlin Wall opened the door to a comprehensive reconciliation between the two countries, said Merkel.

In her speech Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed: "The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall opened the door to a really comprehensive reconciliation."

At the Kreisau estate, where the resistance fighters of the Kreisau Circle (Kreisauer Kreis) had met regularly, the Federal Chancellor attended a ceremony organised by the "Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe". Together with Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, she took a walk through the new open-air exhibition "Courage and Reconciliation" ("Mut und Versöhnung").

Lessons from history

Kreisau - a name that stands for understanding, reconciliation and partnership, said Merkel. It is a "place of German resistance and freedom of speech", she reminded her audience in her speech. In the middle of the Second World War discussions were held here about the post-war vision of a free Europe of people with equal rights, she said. "With the Polish-German reconciliation mass held three days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this was felt most directly in that historic hour."

On 12 November 1989 Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki met at the Kreisau estate. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall they held a reconciliation mass together in the courtyard of the historic manor house - what was at that time still an agricultural production cooperative. The embrace by the two heads of government afterwards was a symbol of reconciliation. This gesture of peace was regarded as a new beginning for Polish-German relations. The visit ended with the signing of a joint declaration.

The mass is "a milestone along a path that had previously been so difficult to tread", said the Federal Chancellor. It was preceded by the German occupation of Poland and the systematic annihilation of Jewish life in Europe - "the breakdown in civilisation that was the Holocaust". Merkel made it clear that Germany is "aware of its everlasting responsibility for this atrocity."

Remembering for reconciliation

The expulsion of millions of Germans from modern-day Poland must be seen against this historic backdrop, said Merkel. "Expulsion is a terrible injustice - one that would have been inconceivable were it not for the crimes committed by Germany under National Socialism that preceded it", stressed the Federal Chancellor.

For this reason Germans viewed the courage and freedom fighting of people in other former Eastern bloc states "with great respect and deep gratitude". Poland, which has "experienced unspeakable suffering at German hands", is owed special thanks for its courage and pioneering spirit during the political transformations of 1989.

Common responsibility in and for Europe

The Federal Chancellor drew positive conclusions about the past decades. "25 years after the Kreisau reconciliation mass we have achieved a lot which Germans and Poles could only dream about a quarter of a century ago: Germany is reunited. We live freely and peacefully with all our neighbours. Poland is free and a member of Nato and the European Union."

Ten years after Poland joined the EU, cooperation is closer than ever before, stated Merkel, naming the Weimar Triangle of Germany, Poland and France as an example. In addition, on 1 December Donald Tusk will become "the first representative of a former Eastern Bloc state to head the European Council."

Poland and Germany stand up for freedom and security, said Merkel. The importance of this is shown "especially and also in view of the crisis in Ukraine, whose territorial integrity is being violated continuously", stressed the Federal Chancellor. She clarified that: "For us, the rule of law applies - not the assumption of a supposed right of might. For us, neighbours are partners not spheres of influence."

Defending the good fortune of unity in freedom

The past teaches us, said Merkel, "that our path in Europe must be a path of partnership and a peaceful balance of interests." Europeans today are fortunately united, but this is something that "must be defended time and again."

Working together on this makes me very happy, said the Federal Chancellor "also because we share the wonderful experience of 25 years ago: change for the better is possible. This should give us motivation for further cooperation - for the benefit of our two countries, for the benefit of Europe and its people."

At the end of her visit, the Federal Chancellor attended an ecumenical service in the evangelical Church of Peace in Świdnica in Lower Silesia. Like the Church of Peace in Jawór, the Baroque wooden structure of the Church of Peace in Świdnica has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2001

The Kreisau Circle (Kreisauer Kreis) was a civilian resistance group during the National Socialist era. They discussed plans for political and social reorganisation following the assumed collapse of the Hitler dictatorship. The group formed in 1940. It was led by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, owner of the Kreisau estate in Lower Silesia, and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg.

The group in fact dissolved following Moltke's arrest in early 1944. Some members of the Kreisau Circle went on to join the resistance group led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. After his assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944, Hitler's Secret State Police (Gestapo) discovered the Kreisau Circle's work. It named the resistance group the "Kreisau Circle" after its meeting place – the term was supposedly used by Theodor Haubach during his interrogation – and so the term was coined and entered into written history.