Kate Connolly

Poland’s losses estimated at “more than $20 billion.”

The Polish government is demanding billions of euros in compensation from Germany for cultural artefacts which were stolen or destroyed during the Second World War, after accusing Berlin of trying to rewrite history.

Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said a list was being prepared of all the cultural treasures Poland lost to Germany, in a riposte to a recent call from Berlin for Poland to return “war booty” it said had been stolen from Germany. Ms. Fotyga said Poland had stolen nothing from Germany, rather the German cultural treasures in Poland were “left behind by fleeing Nazis” at the end of the war and according to international law “they belong to Poland.” Ms. Fotyga instead urged Germany to recognise the cultural devastation it had wrought in Poland. “We estimate our losses to be more than $20 billion,” she said.

Germany’s demands in July for the return of thousands of works of art it claims are being hidden in secret depots in Poland, has angered Poles, aware as they are that following the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the Nazis spent three months systematically destroying the Polish capital, including burning the national library as well as hundreds of other libraries and archives housing valuable medieval scripts and priceless manuscripts. Before that, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring ordered the plundering of castles, museums, palaces, and manor houses across the country. The symbol of that destruction is a glass urn containing the ashes of a burned book from the once famous Krasinksi library in Warsaw destroyed by the Nazis.

The items Germany wants to see returned include rare maps and illustrations, letters from Goethe, Schiller, and Luther as well as music by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, part of the so-called Berlinka collection, which is housed in Krakow’s Jagiellon library. — ©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007