“I would like to address colleagues, not as the MP for Shrewsbury, but as the only Polish-born British Member of this Parliament, in this Parliament. A lot of the killings during the second world war took place in the country of my birth. Of course, we could not go back to Poland after we had left, because of communism, and the martial law that General Jaruzelski imposed to suppress the Solidarity movement.
When we finally managed to get back to Poland and I could see my beloved grandfather, he never spoke to me, when I was a child, about what he went through, and the terrible devastation that the Germans brought about in Poland, and in Warsaw, the city of my birth. Subsequently, though, I found out that his brother, Jan Kawczynski, hid eight Jewish families on his estate. We have already heard what would happen to a Pole if they took the risk of helping a Jewish friend or neighbour. He was coming back to his estate one day, and a friend said to him: “Don’t go back—your property has been surrounded by the Germans. Just flee: escape and save yourself.” He said to his friend, “I have to go back; my wife and daughter are there.”
First, the Germans made him take off his officer’s boots. Then they made him dig a grave. Then they made him watch as they shot his 12-year-old daughter. Then they shot his wife. Then they shot him. And his only crime was hiding his Jewish friends and neighbours.
I related that story, for the first time after 30 years, to a friend of mine who is called Jonny Daniels, who runs a wonderful organisation called From the Depths, which seeks to bring Poles and Jews together. He investigated the story, and subsequently I went to an awards ceremony at Warsaw zoo with the Polish Prime Minister, Mr Morawiecki, and others, to be presented with an award on behalf of Jan Kawczynski for the sacrifices that he made.
It was so counter-intuitive: that is the thing. Anybody in this Chamber who is a parent, like me, will know that we are programmed instinctively, in our DNA, to protect our children. And yet what did these people do? They knew that if they protected Jews it would not be just they who were shot; they would have to watch their children being shot before they themselves were killed.
I say all these things because I am so upset about the second world war revisionism that is now taking place. As the people who took part and survived the second world war die, the next generation know so little about what happened during the second world war.
Last week President Putin accused Poland of being somehow jointly responsible for starting the second world war, and Members can imagine how aggressively confrontational that is for any Polish person. As we all know, it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, entered into by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, that led to the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 and the subsequent butchery.
The first thing that happened to me today is that my partner handed me an article from The Independent —I have to say I never read that left-wing rag—by Rivkah Brown, whose Twitter account shows her wearing a “Vote Labour” sign on her hat. The article was headlined, “Poland is in denial about its role in the Holocaust—it was both victim and perpetrator.” This young lady from The Independent is trying to suggest that Poland is equally to blame and somehow just as much a perpetrator of these atrocities as it was a victim, but in her article she could reference only the famous tragic case of Jedwabne, a small Polish town where it is alleged that the local Polish villagers rounded up 300 Jews, put them in a barn and set the barn alight. It is a very, very tragic, brutal and well-known case that we Poles struggle with, but to compare that one incident to the systematic extermination of 6 million people in Poland through a series of concentration camps is highly distorting of the facts and is deeply regrettable.
(…) I do not have the exact figure to hand, but at least 4 million Poles, if not more, were killed. Of course, it is not just the killing of millions of Poles. As my hon. Friend will know, in 1944, when we had the temerity to try to drive the Germans out of Warsaw, Adolf Hitler insisted on the systematic destruction of Warsaw so that it would be wiped off the face of the earth. Ninety-seven per cent. of Warsaw was destroyed. When I take delegations of British parliamentarians to Poland on all-party group visits, the first place we go to is the Warsaw Uprising Museum so they can see at first hand the complete destruction, the extermination, of an entire city that took place in 1944 in Warsaw.
I have a thick file in my office of my correspondence with the BBC. I write to the BBC year after year with the same letter asking it not to refer, as it always does in its programmes, to “Polish death camps,” and year after year I get the same reply. I tell the BBC that there is no such thing as a Polish death camp. These were concentration camps set up by the Germans and run by the Germans in German-occupied Poland. I just wish the BBC, a taxpayer-funded organisation, would understand the sensitivities of these things, rather than repeatedly referring to Polish death camps.
I intervened on my hon. Friend Andrew Percy earlier to ask why he had used the term “Nazi.” Many hon. Members have used the term “Nazi,” and I am very worried about that term. It is almost like a firewall in front of the responsibility of the German nation and the Germans. It is almost as if Nazis are some third party who descended on us temporarily. They were not Nazis—the Nazi party was a political party—most of the people who carried out these brutal attacks in Poland were German soldiers and German Gestapo officers who were not connected with the Nazi party. They were Germans. When I talk about the revisionism that is taking place today, we must remember who the perpetrators of these appalling crimes were.
I was invited to a German-Polish conference at the Polish presidential palace—the Belvedere palace—a few years ago. The Körber Stiftung invited me to a German-Polish conference, and I asked them why the German Government had not given war reparations to Poland. Poland is the only country that has not received any reparations resulting from the second world war, yet it was brutalised the most and had the most people—the highest percentage of citizens—eliminated and destroyed. The German Government always say to me that they will not pay reparations and they hide behind an agreement they signed with a Polish Government in 1952—they signed an agreement with a mafia-type, illegitimate Government imposed on Poland by Stalin. Bolesław Bierut was the communist stooge imposed on Poland by Stalin, who instructed Poland at that time, “You will have nothing to do with those capitalists in Germany. You will sign an agreement. You don’t want any war reparations.”
It is good that we are speaking here in this Chamber, but we need action for the millions of Jews and the millions of Poles who were killed, butchered and persecuted in Poland and never received any compensation from Germany whatsoever. I talk to the Polish Government often about whether or not they are going to implement a tribunal or a prosecution in an international court against Germany. They talk about it from time to time, but very little happens. I want Members to know that I am in discussions with barristers to see whether we can find Polish and Polish-Jewish survivors living here in the United Kingdom and implement a private prosecution against Germany on behalf of Polish and Polish-Jewish survivors who are British citizens.
A young Polish girl from Oxford University came to see me because she wanted to do a research programme in my office—an internship—and I asked whether she would help me write a paper on why Poland today should ask for war reparations. This young lady, who was 25 and desperate to work in the House of Commons, said, “No, I won’t do it.” I said, “Why won’t you help me with this?” Her reply was, “No, I am not doing it. I have a German boyfriend, who would be upset if I did it, and it is ancient history. It is gone, forget it.” My generation is the last generation who will do anything about this, because we sat on the laps of our beloved grandparents, and we heard about what happened to them. When we are gone, that is it, it is finished; no subsequent generation will want to stir this thing up again. But what message does this send to the hundreds of thousands of people of Polish and Polish-Jewish origin still living in this country who are now British citizens? What message is sent to them by saying, “No, this is too complicated, it is too long ago. We are not interested in the fact that the Germans did not pay war compensation to you. We are going to move on.” No, as long as I am a Member of Parliament, I will continue my fight and struggle to make sure that the Germans account for the brutality that they implemented against Poland”.