25 March 2024

The Secret of Reconciliation Lies in Remembrance

The title of this article presents the motto of the members of the delegation of the city of Esens, Lower Saxony, during their visit to Markowa and Łańcut where they arrived to take part in the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the execution of the families of Ulma, Goldman, Didner and Gruenfeld by the German nazis. These commemorative events constituted a part of the program organized by the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II. The guests from Germany formed an official delegation which represented the community of Esens and visited Markowa on 23-25 March 2024.

The participation of the German delegates in the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the death of the Blessed Ulma Family resulted from a disclosure made by the film director Mariusz Pilis and the deputy president of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Mariusz Szpytma, PhD, who found that  Eilert Dieken, known as “the hangman of Markowa”, who headed the nazi gendarmerie post in the city of Łańcut under the German occupation, lived undisturbed in Esens up until he died in 1960.

Despite being remembered by the inhabitants of Łańcut and the surrounding area as a war criminal, Dieken had enjoyed the status of a respected citizen in Esens, a town in Lower Saxony, because nobody knew about his whereabouts and his doings after the end of the war.

Upon learning about the factual details of Dieken’s past and his role in the nazi terror in Poland, the current Mayor of Esens, Harald Hindrics, found the truth impossible to accept and decided to set the following goals for himself:  disclosure of the truth about their neighbour to the community of Esens; showing understanding for the Poles who demanded to consider Dieken as a war criminal and, as a consequence, constructing a common future for Markowa and Esens founded on remembrance and reconciliation.

Hinricks’ interest in the history of the Ulma family resulted in a trip to Markowa with his wife Natascha in October 2022. That visit initiated informal contacts between the Ulma Family Museum and the authorities of Esens and led to the Hinrickses’ participation in the Ulma Family beatification ceremony on 10 September 2023. In the aftermath of the beatification, cooperation started between the Markowa and Esens communities and an official delegation of Esens took part in the remembrance ceremony of the 80th anniversary of the Blessed Ulmas’ death. In the course of the three-day meetings, the visitors learnt the history of Markowa and the surrounding region. They were shown the most important commemorative sites of Markowa and Łańcut; the permanent exhibition of the Ulma Museum and the open-air Markowa Village Museum. The conversation with Eugeniusz Szylar, the son of Dorota and Antoni Szylar, the Righteous among the Nations, proved to be of particular value. The visit program was complemented by meetings and discussions around “The Story of One Crime” documentary by Mariusz Pilis and concluded by a joint press conference in the seat of the local governor where the Polish-German Dialogue Forum of “The House of Blessed Ulmas” was formed.

The Forum is a social communications entity and was initiated under the auspices of the two Museums of Markowa: the Ulma Museum and the Markowa Village Museum run by the Society of Friends of Markowa. During the visit, the two sides came to know each other and formed closer links and the German visitors met representatives of the hosts involved in setting up the Forum on the Polish side. Paweł Kuglarz, the President of the Council of the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation took part in the meetings as well.

The inhabitants of Markowa represented by the Museum, the local self-government, and the Society of Friends of Markowa, acting jointly with the Mayor of Esens, declared a shared desire to launch close cooperation grounded in the wish to reinstate the historical truth about German responsibility for crimes perpetrated in the course of WWII on the territory of the Germany-occupied Poland. Of parallel importance are the joint efforts in the realm of culture, education and the upbringing of young people for the civic society.

Through such endeavours, the future generations of Poles and Germans will be able to forge relations between their nations and states based on human solidarity and the heritage of history. The Forum’s activities will help to strengthen the ties between people and the strength of these ties will result from mutual trust and creative collaboration in promoting the culture of remembrance.

Both sides wish that the partnership between Markowa and Esens will rest on a lasting foundation rooted in the truth about the events that took place 80 years ago and believe it will help to build a common future for the coming generations in the two communities. The heritage of the Blessed Ulma Family may well provide a cornerstone for the dialogue and cooperation the Markowa-Esens partnership has started to forge.


Marcin Chorązki

(Translated into English by Bartosz Liczbiński)

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