- Title: "Westerplatte should unite us", Polish war veteran says amid political tensions
- Date: 26th August 2019
- Summary: GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 13, 2019) (REUTERS) GRZYWACZ'S ARMBAND AND PIN WITH SYMBOL OF GREY RANKS, UNDERGROUND PARAMILITARY OF POLISH SCOUTING ASSOCIATION DURING WORLD WAR TWO GRZYWACZ SITTING BY WESTERPLATTE MONUMENT GRZYWACZ'S HANDS (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN AND FORMER HOME ARMY SOLDIER, JERZY GRZYWACZ, SAYING: (INCLUDES VARIOUS ANGLES): "Back then (during the shelling of Westerplatte), I was in Gdynia. We lived in the city centre, on Abrahama Street. Just like everyone else, I was trying to keep track of how the battle of Westerplatte developed. It (the wish to watch the battle of Westerplatte) was so strong that despite my mum's objection, I persuaded a few of my friends and we cycled from the city centre to Orlowo (district of Gdynia), to the wooden pier, which back then was in exact same place as it is today, only to observe what is happening on Westerplatte." GDYNIA, POLAND (AUGUST 13, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF GRZYWACZ WALKING DOWN PIER GRZYWACZ WALKING TOWARDS RAIL AND LOOKING IN DIRECTION OF WESTERPLATTE GRZYWACZ LOOKING IN DIRECTION OF WESTERPLATTE / GRZYWACZ WALKING AWAY GRZYWACZ POINTING AT WESTERPLATTE AND SAYING (Polish): "YOU CAN SEE A SHORT TOWER RIGHT THERE AND THE SECOND ONE A LITTLE BIT FURTHER" (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN AND FORMER HOME ARMY SOLDIER, JERZY GRZYWACZ, SAYING: "Where you see the blue clouds today, they used to be black ones rising above Westerplatte. From here, you could have seen the planes bombing." GRZYWACZ'S ARMBAND, CLOUDS IN BACKGROUND (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN AND FORMER HOME ARMY SOLDIER, JERZY GRZYWACZ, SAYING: "Westerplatte, the defence of Westerplatte - no matter what my reason to come here is, every time I walk on this pier, I look in this direction, the defence of Westerplatte immediately comes to my head." GRZYWACZ'S ARMBAND GRZYWACZ WALKING DOWN PIER GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 13, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF GRZYWACZ WALKING PAST RUINS OF OLD BARRACKS GRZYWACZ WALKING INTO RUINED OLD BARRACKS GRZYWACZ LOOKING AT DESTROYED BARRACKS BUILDING/ (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN AND FORMER HOME ARMY SOLDIER, JERZY GRZYWACZ, SAYING: "I wouldn't rebuild it. There is an idea to rebuild it, supposedly, I am not sure of that." GRZYWACZ WALKING DOWNSTAIRS LOOKING AT RUINED BARRACKS GRZYWACZ SITTING ON STAIRS AND TALKING (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN AND FORMER HOME ARMY SOLDIER, JERZY GRZYWACZ, SAYING: "It (the political battle over Westerplatte) is very painful for us (war veterans), a really painful experience. I appeal to both sides of this dispute for the willingness to talk, for creating some kind of compromise. What Westerplatte should really do is to unite us and not to divide. We, the war veterans, see this dispute as something very unpleasant." GRZYWACZ LOOKING AT WESTERPLATTE MONUMENT GRZYWACZ WALKING AWAY FROM WESTERPLATTE MONUMENT GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 18, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF EXTERIOR OF WORLD WAR TWO MUSEUM GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 8, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) HISTORIAN AND DIRECTOR OF WORLD WAR TWO MUSEUM, KAROL NAWROCKI, SAYING: "Due to the fact that the city of Gdansk for 30 years hasn't built the museum (on Westerplatte) and hasn't organised any land development in this area, the Polish government decided to grant 150 million zlotys (38 million dollars) for the Museum of Westerplatte and the War of 1939, giving us, the Museum of World War Two in Gdansk, the honour of building this museum." GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 18, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF EXTERIOR OF GDANSK CITY HALL GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 14, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) SPOKESPERSON OF GDANSK CITY HALL, DANIEL STENZEL, SAYING: "The law in Poland is constructed in such a way that local governments are responsible for memorial sites on behalf of the country's government. We should receive money from provincial governor (nominated by the prime minister) to take care of the cemeteries and other memorial sites. In previous years, we have received almost nothing from the governor. Last year itself, we received an exorbitant amount of 18 thousand zlotys (4.6 thousand dollars). This is not the amount of money that you can use to take care of the important battleground. As we spend about one million zlotys (253 thousand dollars) each year on the maintenance of this area and organisation of the commemoration events, the government accuses us of doing nothing and it is not doing anything itself. This is another example of unfair treatment towards us." GDANSK, POLAND (AUGUST 12, 2019) (REUTERS) TOURISTS PASSING BY SIGN READING (Polish): "NEVER AGAIN WAR" SOLDIERS WALKING BY SIGN
- Embargoed: 9th September 2019 17:00
- Keywords: Westerplatte battle Polish veteran World War Two war in Poland political battle
- Location: GDANSK AND GDYNIA, POLAND
- City: GDANSK AND GDYNIA, POLAND
- Country: Poland
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA003ATZU893
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:On one of the first day of September 1939, Jerzy Grzywacz, then a ten-year-old boy, was standing on a wooden pier in Gdynia watching German Nazi battleship 'Schleswig-Holstein' opening fire from Gdansk harbour on the Polish garrison in Westerplatte in the first days of World War Two.
The granite column that towers over the Baltic port of Gdansk commemorates the seven-day siege of Westerplatte in September 1939, when dozens of Polish soldiers defied the overwhelming firepower of a Nazi German naval fleet.
For many Poles the monument - comprising the column and a small park - is a symbol of national courage, but the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) accuses the Gdansk municipality, which is linked to the opposition, of allowing the site to fall into disrepair. Near the column stand ruined barracks with rusted wires protruding.
Grzywacz, who fought for the Polish Home Army and now runs the veteran association, opposes the plans to rebuild Westerplatte and would like to keep the buildings the way they are now. He says Westerplatte is a symbol of Polish resistance and should unite people and not divide them.
"The political battle over Westerplatte is very painful for us, the war veterans, a really painful experience," Grzywacz told Reuters appealing to both sides of this dispute for the willingness to talk and to reach the compromise.
Last month PiS rushed legislation through parliament to transfer oversight of the area to the central government in Warsaw.
Critics of PiS say the row over Westerplatte is part of a broader government policy of historical revisionism they say is aimed at fanning nationalist sentiment among voters and discrediting the opposition.
(Production: Malgorzata Wojtunik)
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