Polish-German Reconciliation in an Historic Town

Letter From Poland

On August 29, 2004, just before my departure from Poland, I attended an important ceremony at the small, historic town of Nieszawa, which lies near the Vistula River, about 200 kilometers northwest of Warsaw, in the Kujawy-Pomorze (Kuyavia-Pomerania) region or Voivodeship (Wojewodztwo).  It was a sunny and rather hot day.  The town, which currently has about 2,200 residents, was founded in the 15th century.  Before World War II, Poles and Germans had lived side by side in Nieszawa for centuries.  During the time of the Partitions (1795-1918), when Poland was under the occupation of three foreign powers, the town lay close to the border between Prussia/Germany and czarist Russia.  When independent Poland was reborn in 1918, the town became a county seat (miasto powiatowe) and attracted some illustrious residents.

Nieszawa is the first municipality in Poland to unveil a monument to both Polish and German victims of World War II.  Like all cities, towns, and villages in German-occupied Poland, Nieszawa suffered extensively at the hands of the Germans.  Many of the town’s Polish residents—especially its intellectual and political leaders—were executed outright, sent to concentration camps, or conscripted for slave labor locally.  In April 1945, in the aftermath of war, those Germans who had chosen to remain (mostly women, children, and the elderly) were drowned in the...

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