Poles' and Germans' new clash over WWII

More than half a century on from the Second World War, the Poles and the Germans have reopened an old rift. Issues left festering ever since central Europe was cut off from the West after 1945 have sprung into life on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

German politician Erika Steinbach's decision to hold a "sympathetic" service in Berlin to commemorate the 1944 uprising against the Nazis, without inviting any surviving Polish combatants, has many in Poland fuming.

"Simply disgusting", "bad-mannered and aggressive" declared MPs. Jan Rokita, leader of Civic Platform, a party tipped to win the next elections, says the affair has "poisoned the atmosphere" for the 1 August commemoration.

Led by the Warsaw underground, the uprising led to the deaths of 250,000 and the destruction of 98 per cent of the city centre. Poland, cut off from the West for 40 years, hasn't had very long to celebrate past braveries. A memorial to the 1943 Jewish ghetto uprising against the Nazis has stood in Warsaw ever since 1948. But the Communists gagged celebrations of the larger 1944 uprising.

The row comes against a backdrop of bickering between Poles and Germans over a number of other returning ghosts. Ms Steinbach herself has already managed to rub Poles up the wrong way by founding an "association of refugees" which claims to represent the seven million Germans driven out of their homes when Poland's borders were shifted west.

Piotr Nowina-Konopka of the Schumann Foundation points to increasing numbers of claims by Germans to property they were forced to abandon. And though German President Horst Köhler, himself born in Poland, has distanced himself from such claims, many in Poland fear for their property.

The German foreign office, meanwhile, stresses that Chancellor Schröder will attend the official celebrations. They, presumably, are confident he will not repeat the mistake of then President Roman Herzog in 1994. Attending the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, he thought he was paying tribute to those who died in the Jewish ghetto in 1943.

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