70-th Anniversary of Gdansk Liberation
Yuriy RUBTSOV | 31.03.2015 | OPINION

70-th Anniversary of Gdansk Liberation

The thoroughfare called Victory Avenue and a T-34 tank as a war memorial make remember the fact that the city of Gdansk (former Danzig) was liberated by the Red Army in the days of WWII. The main Soviet battle tank played a great role in the battle to liberate the city from Nazis. The 1st Guards Tank Army under the command of Mikhail Katukov bore the brunt of fighting during the East Pomeranian operation. The 1st Polish armoured brigade (named after the Heroes of Westerplatte) armed with Soviet T-34 tanks also took part in the fight. The Soviet command let the Polish soldiers hoist the Polish flag over Gdynia on March 28 and Gdansk on March 30. 

On October 12, 2013 the statue entitled Komm Frau (Come Here Woman) was installed on Gdansk's Avenue of Victory alongside the T-34. A Polish student at Gdansk's Fine Arts Academy placed the sculpture depicting a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant German woman. That’s how he wanted to depict the Red Army soldiers who liberated the city and the country from Nazis. What has happened to the memory of Polish people? Has it been poisoned by lies? Was there nobody around who could explain to the student that if it were not for the Red Army making Hitlerites flee, his predecessors would not have been alive and he would not have come into this world? 

There is nobody there to tell young Poles how strong were the German defenses in Eastern Pomerania and how hard it was to break through. Hitlerites built the Danzig-Gdynia fortified area with two defensive lines. The terrain to the south-east of Danzig denied access to tanks. A canal and old fortifications boosted their defense capability. The city itself was well prepared for fight with machine guns and artillery pieces installed in every building. Barricades were erected on the streets along with blockhouses at crossroads. Gdynia was turned into a strongly defended fortress. 

Soviet soldiers gradually moved forward to the sea cutting through the enemy defenses. In the period from March 13 to March 21 they made no more than 1-1, 5 km a day, sometimes just a few hundred meters. Having overcome the enemy’s fierce resistance, they broke the defense lines between Gdansk and Gdynia to seize Sopot on March 23. Now the enemy‘s forces were divided into two groups cut off from each other. 

The 2d Belorussian Front under the command of Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky fought its way to the sea port. The main mission was to liberate Danzig and Gdynia. Taking advantage of the fact that the enemy was divided, the Soviet forces continued to toughen the grip. On March 25, the Red Army reached the northern edge of Danzig to advance as far as the south-eastern part of Gdynia the next day. On March 28, the 70th and 19th armies got hold of Gdynia’s the naval base and the port, the 2d Shock Army together with the 65th, 49th armies and elements of the 70th Army finally defeated the German forces deployed in Danzig and took the city-fortress. 

Nobody tells the Poles about the price the 1st and 2d Belorussian fronts paid for the victory. The Soviet losses in the East Pomeranian Offensive were immense: the death toll was around 53 thousand. Almost 173 thousand were wounded. The Polish First Army (1 Armia Wojska Polskiego) lost 2, 5 thousand men since March 1 up to April 4. 

The heroes did not die in vain. The German Army Group Vistula suffered a heavy defeat: 21 divisions and 8 brigades were routed, 6 divisions and 3 brigades eliminated. In the period from February 10 to April 4 the 2d Belorussian Front took 63, 6 thousand prisoners. 54 cities and hundreds of populated areas were liberated; many thousands of Soviet prisoners and citizens of other European countries brought to Germany to be used as forced labor were freed. With the liberation of Gdansk and Gdynia Germany lost dozens of industrial enterprises, shipyards to build submarines and ports to connect the main forces with the units deployed in Courland (part of Latvia). In his book The Second World War Winston Churchill said the liberation of Danzig - one of the enemy’s three major naval bases - greatly facilitated the operations of British Navy as German submarines activities were limited in scope since then. Now what has been left in the memory of Poles if some of them behave as the undergraduate student who set up the statue to denigrate and smear the memory of those who did not spare their lives to liberate the city from fascist yoke? 

The post-war history of Gdansk, liberated on March 30, shows that some people have a really poor memory. Gdansk, or the free city of Danzig, had never been part of Polish state till the Versailles Treaty of 1919 that gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea. Germans had accounted for the larger part of population. In October 1938 Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Third Reich, met with Polish ambassador Józef Lipski at Berchtesgaden in southern Germany. During the meeting, he noted that Danzig was German and Germany wanted to see it back within German borders. He also noted that Germany wanted to build a highway and a railway through western Poland to connect East Prussia with the main German territory, and that Germany would like to have Poland join the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Warsaw’s refusal to comply prompted the beginning of German – Polish, or to be more exact, the Second World War. 

The USSR did much more than just liberate Polish cities. Thanks to the position of the Soviet Union taken at the Potsdam conference the Poland’s territory was increased by at least a third in comparison with what it had been before the war. Danzig was incorporated into Poland. That’s what Poles appear to forget nowadays. They feel no gratitude towards Russia. And they seem not to remember how cruelly they treated the Germans residing in Danzig. 126 thousand were made flee the city in 1945. Ethnic cleansing spread around the whole territory added to Poland after the Second World War. In 1963 the events in Poland made German Chancellor Willy Brandt call a national treason any attempt to make forget the hardships of exile the German people had to go through after the war. 

Perhaps, somebody should make Poland remember how it was. German men escaping the advancing Red Army and then Polish deportation were killed, women were raped. Germans remaining on the occupied territories were interned into concentration camps. Children were taken away from parents; adult people were forced to work. The mortality rate reached 50%. The deportation lasted till 1949. According to the German Association of Exiles (BdV), around three million Germans perished during the deportation from Poland. Jewish pogroms with the participation of law enforcement agencies were a routine thing. 

Does the art student from Gdansk know about it? Probably not. One should give the devil his due - the people of Gdansk condemned the student’s action and the city authorities hurried to take the sculpture away. At the same time prosecutors in the city began an investigation but dropped the case after they decided the student had not incited hatred on ethnic grounds nor desecrated a public space dedicated to historical memory. Everything that followed – speculations about the liberation of Auschwitz and the idea of moving the festivities on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of victory over German Nazism from Moscow to the peninsula of Westerplatte in the harbor of Gdansk – it all goes to show that there is nothing fortuitous in Polish anti-Russian policy. The attempts to revise the history of the Second World War and denigrate the Red Army’s great mission of liberation in Europe never stop. 

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