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On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II in September 1939, the Working Group “Historical Memory and Education” was asked to reflect on how people have been remembering these historical events in Russia and the EU countries, how they have been depicted in mass media and what it means to such a platform as CSF: 

"In Poland, the events of 1939 are still firmly in the nation’s memory, and this was apparent in many services and commemorative events that took place all over the country. The main event commemorating the outbreak of World War II in Poland took place in Gdánsk and started at 4:45 a.m. – the time the first shots were fired by the battleship "Schleswig-Holstein" at the Polish Military Transit Depot, which marked the beginning of the War.

‘A film and multimedia performance called "Bang" was also organized, using video-mapping and 3D animation, as conceived by Andrzej Wajda. The anniversary celebrations were spread across almost all Polish cities, including, for example, Wieluń – a small town, which was completely destroyed by bombing as early as 5:40 a.m. on 1 September, 1939. In Warsaw, there was the opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the “Katyń Museum”, where the walls are decorated with copper plates inscribed with the names of the victims of the Katyń massacre,’ summarised Alicja Gluza from Karta, Warsaw.

In Germany, due to the burden of Germans’ responsibility as the guilty party in this war, people are constantly aware of these events, not only on 1 September. Nazism and World War II are dealt with extensively in the classroom – not only in history but also in German literature, religion, and politics. On the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, the Polish President Bronisław Komorowski spoke in the German Bundestag’s commemoration hour. At a Polish memorial event in Gdánsk, the German President Joachim Gauck asked people to remember that yesterday’s guilt gave rise to a special responsibility that day and the next day. Both presidents praised the great achievements that reconciliation has made. However, in some German media, Gauck’s criticism of Moscow’s actions in the Ukrainian conflict during his speech was received with controversy.

‘However, what is important are a lot of memorial events anchored in the centre of society and the coverage in the media using witnesses and historical films. The attack on Poland on 1 September and the responsibility for this war is constantly in Germany’s consciousness. Inversely, however, the Red Army’s invasion of Eastern Poland on 17 September is something only the historians here are aware of,” pointed out Gudrun Wolff from the Society of German-Russian Relationship in Münster/Münsterland on how different the historic dates are remembered in Germany.

As observed by Robert Latypov from “Youth Memorial” in Perm, Russia, the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II was almost unnoticeable in Russia, as was the subsequent anniversary on 17 September – the day of the beginning of the Soviet aggression against Poland. This can be seen in the fact that there were very few entries about it on Russian TV channels, radio stations, and in printed media.

‘In Russia, there have been almost no public statements, discussions, actions or forums concerning the condemnation of the events of this 75-year period. Both of these dates appear to have got lost behind the present external and internal political conflicts. It feels as if those who were able to speak and who wanted to, intentionally kept silent and that those who couldn’, simply spoke about other issues. Russia is currently preparing for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of their victory in May 2015 and nothing should obscure this date – neither befor, nor after it,’ sums up Robert Latypov, who is also one of the coordinators of the CSF History Group".