Poland, Israel and Germany are together commemorating the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exactly 80 years ago today. At the time, Jewish resistance fighters defended themselves against the deportation of tens of thousands of residents to the SS extermination camps – although the fight was practically hopeless from the start due to the superior strength of the SS.

At midday, the Presidents of Poland, Israel and, for the first time, Germany – Andrzej Duda, Izchak Herzog and Frank-Walter Steinmeier – will give speeches and lay wreaths at the ghetto memorial in the Polish capital.

For Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, this will be a difficult speech similar to that given at the beginning of 2020 at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel. There he clearly confessed to the international community that Germany was responsible for the Holocaust and promised to protect Jewish life. “I expect something like that from him again and that such a speech will also shake up society,” said the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, the German Press Agency.

“Unfortunately, we see that xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism are also increasing in Germany. It would be important to send a clear signal, especially at this point,” emphasized Schuster. “I also expect from the Federal President’s speech that the importance of self-determined Jewishness in history and thus also in the present will be perceived more clearly.” Schuster accompanies Steinmeier in Warsaw, whom Duda had invited to give a speech.

Steinmeier: “A miracle of reconciliation”

In a written statement before his departure on Tuesday, the Federal President thanked Poland and Israel for the “miracle of reconciliation” and emphasized: “It is still a miracle that Jews, Poles and Poles, after the crimes of our ancestors, gave us Germans the shook hands.” This gift is almost as incredible as the atrocities once were. He is deeply grateful for that. “Today we all bear the great responsibility for the preservation of this marvel.” He acknowledges this responsibility – as do Duda and Herzog.

The Warsaw ghetto was established by the German occupiers in the fall of 1940. Around 450,000 people were trapped there in a very small space. In 1942, the National Socialists began deporting Jews to extermination and labor camps. Between July and September, 250,000 to 280,000 people were abducted or murdered.

When SS units marched into the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the uprising of the weakly armed Jewish resistance began. The fighting lasted until mid-May. More than 56,000 Jews were killed or deported to concentration and extermination camps.

Visit comes at a difficult time

Steinmeier also wants to hold bilateral talks with Duda and Herzog on the sidelines of the commemoration. His visit to Poland comes at a difficult time. A new parliament will be elected here in the autumn. The national-conservative governing party PiS is also stoking anti-German resentment and is thus trying to win votes. The demand for reparations for the damage suffered in the Second World War, which Germany strictly rejected, is always popular.

Just yesterday, Poland’s government passed a resolution that declared the settlement of the reparations issue to be a necessity in mutual relations. Deputy Foreign Minister and Reparations Commissioner Arkadiusz Mularczyk said it was the formal response to the diplomatic note with which Berlin rejected Poland’s demands for reparations. From a German perspective, however, the fact that the resolution was passed a few hours before Steinmeier’s arrival in Warsaw could also be seen as a diplomatic provocation.