Poland

New Film Explores Long-Ignored War Crimes of World War II

Image via Les Innocentes / RNS

A new film opening July 8 focuses attention on a long-ignored war crime — the sanctioned and systematic rape of Polish nuns during World War II.

The Innocents (Les Innocentes) tells the story of a young French doctor who is called to a Polish convent to aid a young novice in a breech labor. She discovers that Soviet soldiers, with the approval of their officers, raped dozens of the nuns during the occupation, leaving five of them pregnant.

What the Polish President Could Have Said About His Country’s Holocaust Complicity

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS
FBI Director James B. Comey. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

The director of the FBI stepped in it.

Or did he?

Last week, James B. Comey delivered a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in which he said the murderers and accomplices of Germany, Poland, and Hungary “convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.”

The Polish government was not happy. President Bronislaw Komorowski castigated Comey for his “ignorance, lack of historical knowledge, and possibly large personal aversion” toward Poles. And, as a gesture of goodwill, Comey has apologized.

Let’s be clear here. Comey was not accusing the nation of Poland of being complicit in the Holocaust. For all intents and purposes Poland as a nation temporarily ceased to exist during World War II.

But Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Croats, Estonians, Dutch, Latvians — who can deny that so many of them were willing conspirators with the Nazis in the roundup of Jews and the wholesale destruction of European Jewish life?

Here is how Komorowski could have responded:

“Poland suffered terribly during World War II. We were invaded by both the Soviet Union and Germany. The Nazis intended to turn our people into a permanent underclass of slaves. If you have read William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choiceor if you have seen the movie, then you know that the Nazis kidnapped Polish children and raised them as their own. Auschwitz was a killing field for the Poles, no less than for the Jews.

Pope Francis Orders Accused Envoy Jozef Wesolowski Put Under House Arrest

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. Photo via Orlando Barria/CNS/RNS.

Pope Francis had ordered the arrest of a former Polish archbishop accused of child sex abuse in the Dominican Republic because the case was “so serious,” the Vatican said Sept. 23.

Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked by a Vatican tribunal earlier this year, is under house arrest inside Vatican City due to the “express desire” of Pope Francis, the Vatican said in a statement.

“The seriousness of the allegations has prompted the official investigation to impose a restrictive measure that … consists of house arrest, with its related limitations, in a location within the Vatican City State,” the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.

Wesolowski was removed from his position in the Dominican Republic and recalled to the Vatican in August 2013 amid claims that he had abused boys in Santo Domingo.

The former archbishop is awaiting trial on criminal charges at the Vatican and could eventually face charges in the Dominican Republic and in his native Poland.

Holocaust Survivor Meets her Liberator After 68 Years

Joe Barbella, 93, and Marsha Kreuzman, 90, embrace. Photo by Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger. Via RNS.

It’s been almost 70 years, but Marsha Kreuzman still remembers the moment she laid outside the steps of a Nazi crematorium wishing she could die.

Kreuzman had already lost her mother, father, and brother to the Holocaust, and death seemed inevitable, she said.

But then an American soldier picked up her 68-pound body and whisked her to safety.

“I wanted to kiss his hand and thank him,” she said. “From the first day I was liberated, I wanted to thank them, but I didn’t know who to thank.”

Since then, the now-90-year-old Holocaust survivor has been on a decades-long quest to find American soldiers who liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp, one that didn’t have any success until she met Joe Barbella, two months ago, quite by chance.

Record Crowds Expected for John Paul II, John XXIII Canonizations

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August, 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

Vatican officials say they expect next year’s celebration for the canonizations of former popes John Paul II and John XXIII to be attended by as many as 100 heads of state in what is likely to be the biggest draw to the city since John Paul’s funeral in 2005.

The crowd estimates were made Tuesday, the feast day for John Paul. This will be the last time he will be venerated as Blessed Pope John Paul II; after the canonization ceremony on April 27, 2014, he will be known as St. Pope John Paul II.

John Paul’s 2005 funeral may have been the single largest gathering in Christian history, with estimates as high as 4 million mourners gathered in the Italian capital, along with at least 80 presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs.

Poland: A Test for Glasnost

Solidarity is back. That was the message from Poland this spring. For seven years after the December 1981 imposition of martial law, Poland's independent labor movement survived as a clandestine organization. And despite its low public profile, it survived as the symbol of Polish society's material, democratic, and nationalistic aspirations. It has continued to represent what Poles call "the civil society" in its confrontation with an oppressive and unpopular state.

In 1987 Solidarity began to emerge from the underground and work openly to challenge the state-controlled unions at the shop-floor level. Last November Solidarity called upon Poles to boycott a referendum on economic reform. The boycott resulted in the first electoral defeat ever acknowledged by a Communist state and confirmed Solidarity's prestige in Polish society.

This spring Solidarity was again at the forefront of world attention with a wave of strikes around the country demanding wage increases and relegalization of the independent labor movement. As it was when Solidarity was born eight years ago this month, the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk was at the forefront of the struggle this spring, and once again Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa was in the occupied shipyard hatching strategy and raising spirits.

The news reports had an aura of deja vu. But a lot has changed in eight years. This time the band of workers occupying the Lenin Shipyard was much smaller and mostly very young. In 1980 the Polish authorities were afraid to use force against the strikers. This spring riot police and a so-called anti-terrorism unit recaptured a Krakow steel plant with clubs and percussion grenades.

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