Fri, Aug 10, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Poland rejects call to return archival objects to Germany


Poland has rejected calls for it to return German cultural treasures, including original manuscripts of Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach held in Polish archives since World War II, calling such demands "entirely groundless."

Any mention of German claims from World War II is a sore point in Poland, which was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939 and subjected to a brutal five-year occupation in which 6 million Polish citizens were killed.

The Polish Foreign Ministry, in a statement on Tuesday, rebuffed any prospect of returning cultural items to Germany, saying that "all artworks, library and archive materials and all other objects of a German origin that found themselves on Polish territory in connection with World War II were taken over by the Polish state on the basis of the appropriate legal acts."

The ministry added that the judgment was "final," and said any claims are "entirely groundless and cannot be taken into consideration."

Last week, the leading German daily Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung criticized Poland for not returning treasures from the so-called Prussian State Library, a collection of priceless German books and manuscripts, calling them "the last German prisoners of war."

But German claims on cultural items offend Poles, who remember how Nazis plundered Polish artworks, burned libraries and archives and systematically razed Warsaw, dynamiting cultural landmarks including churches and royal palaces.

"Polish public opinion still remembers the artworks carted away, the burned libraries and archives, whose loss was never made up for," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The Nazis transferred the collection from Berlin to 29 places across the Third Reich to protect them from Allied bombing. About 500 wooden boxes containing thousands of manuscripts and documents were hidden at the Ksiaz Castle in the Sudety mountains and later moved to a convent further south in what was then Germany.

But they wound up on Polish territory when the border was shifted west following the war. Polish authorities moved the collection to the Jagiellonian University Library in Krakow for safekeeping.

A small part of the collection was returned to Germany in 1977, when the leader of communist Poland, Edward Gierek, gave East German communist leader Erich Honecker seven musical items. They included Mozart's handwritten sheet music to the opera The Magic Flute and part of Beethoven's manuscript of his Ninth Symphony, Jagiellonian Library director Zdzislaw Pietrzyk said.

Warsaw expressed its willingness to discuss a host of issues that have strained relations, but said such talks must "take into consideration the demands of Polish national interest."

Julia Gross, a German Foreign Minister spokeswoman, said the government "welcomes the fact that in this statement the Polish government signaled its readiness for talks."

Asked if talks were still taking place, Gross said that "there are contacts between the two sides but the discussions could be more intensive."

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