German Reunification, Polish Vulnerability
THE Polish Solidarity movement touched off the wave of events that toppled the Berlin Wall and made uniting the two Germanys possible. But today, the Polish people are increasingly apprehensive about reunification of the country that invaded Poland twice in this century. The old fears have been exacerbated by new anti-Polish demonstrations, beatings, and burnings in both German countries. As a result, the Solidarity-led government, which previously fought for the reduction of the Polish military budget, now supports its increase. From the halls of parliament to the streets of cities and villages, anxiety is growing. Businessman Walter Chelstowski explains:Skip to next paragraph
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``My first reaction to these fantastic pictures from the Berlin Wall was almost tears in my eyes, because that was the visible sign of the end of the system in which I had been living for 40 years. Later came the reality - reunification. And then came the fear.''
About 6 million Polish citizens, or one-sixth of the total population, perished during the German occupation of World War II. As a nation, Poland suffered more than any other. The biggest losses were due to mass extermination and deportation. Damage to industry, housing, and communication was nearly incalculable. The memory of those events 50 years ago still guides the thinking of many today.
Sen. Jan Jozef Lipski and journalist Marian Podkowinski were teenagers during the war. After the war, Jan Jozef Lipski became one of Poland's most influential anti-communist spokesmen; Marian Podkowinski, on the other hand, became known as a Communist Party journalist. But the earlier wartime experience overshadows the more recent adversities of communist rule. They remember losses that Poland suffered overall and that they suffered personally at the hands of the Germans.
Jan Jozef Lipski: ``The Germans murdered many of my family members and friends. There were public executions of people picked up at random on the street. The Germans sealed their mouths with plaster of paris so the people couldn't cry out. Every Pole has seen such things.''
Marian Podkowinski: ``When I came from Germany liberated by the American army as a prisoner of war, I was looking for my family. Everybody was dead. My mother was dead ... Warsaw was annihilated. It was a desert with chimneys.''
Members of the generations born after the war, while not eyewitnesses to Nazi atrocities, grew up hearing about them. And the memories that haunted their parents and grandparents have shaped their attitudes about a united Germany. Businessman Walter Cheletowski belongs to the postwar generation:
``All our experiences are based on personal contacts with Germans. So we know that they don't wear uniforms, they don't carry machine guns and they don't shoot.... But my grandfather was shot and killed by the Germans. My father was a soldier in the underground army. So I cannot speak about it without emotion.''