- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

BERLIN — Germany is embroiled in a bitter row with its future European Union neighbors to the east over plans for a lavish Berlin memorial to the 15 million Germans expelled from Central Europe at the end of World War II.

The project has been championed by Germany’s 2 million-strong Expellees’ Association, which says the suffering of Germans driven out of Nazi Reich territory in Poland, Czechoslovakia and former East Prussia by the advancing Red Army has been ignored.

During the clearances, thousands of women were raped by Soviet soldiers and many people sent to labor camps.

To mark their plight, the Expellees’ Association plans a $110 millionCenter against Expulsion containing a permanent exhibition and library. It aims to build the center next to the city’s Holocaust memorial, which is now under construction.

The project has been condemned by Polish and Czech critics who see it as an attempt to portray the Germans as war victims. Last week, Czech officials protested to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who was visiting Prague to discuss the Czech Republic’s forthcoming European Union membership.

An embarrassed Mr. Fischer was asked by hostile Czech journalists whether the memorial center was intended “as Germany’s welcome to the EU’s new member states.” The issue is likely to overshadow a visit by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to the Czech capital this week.

In Poland, Marek Edelman, one of the last survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis, said the center risked “casting the executioner in the role of a victim.”

“It will give the impression to future generations of Germans that only Jews and Germans suffered during the war,” he said.

Walter Stratmann, a spokesman for the Expellees’ Association, defended the project. “For decades, Germans have been brought up to think of themselves merely as perpetrators of Nazi war crimes. We want to show that the German people also suffered terribly as a result of being expelled.”

The center has the backing of three German states and 400 towns and cities, which have levied a 5-euro-cent tax on each person to fund it. Although Mr. Schroeder opposes the project, the Expellees’ Association says he has no authority to halt it.

Leading Polish and Czech politicians, including the former Polish foreign ministers Wladyslaw Bartoszewksi and Bronislaw Geremek, have signed a joint appeal against the center. “Setting up such a center as a national German project creates mistrust among neighbors and cannot be in the interest of our countries,” the appeal said.

Proposals to build the center next to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial showed that the project aimed to “weigh up the suffering of one group against the other,” they said.

Millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from Central Europe in 1945. Most were driven from territories such as East Prussia, Pomerania and Sudetenland — areas now belonging to Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Others were expelled during the late 1940s and 1950s, under the terms of the 1945 Potsdam Treaty. Most of them resettled in western Germany, where they became — and remain — a significant force in regional and national politics.

Expellees’ Association President Erika Steinbach dismissed her Polish and Czech critics, saying Germany should be allowed to mourn the plight of its people. “Millions of those expelled were children. How can they be held responsible for the Nazis?” she said.

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