Poland’s President Allows Seizure of WWII Battlefield For New Museum

Destoryed barracks on Westerplatte peninsula, Gdansk, Poland

Andrzej Duda, president of Poland, has signed a controversial law that allows the government to expropriate the site of the first battle of World War II. The Polish government intends to build a branch of the Museum of the Second World War on the site.

Westerplatte Peninsula is currently owned by the government of Gdańsk. Gdańsk is a city on the Motlawa River which was shelled by the German Deutschland-class battleship, Schleswig-Holstein, on September 1, 1939. This is considered the first hostilities in WWII.

sherman tank
Sherman Firefly of Polish Armored-Mechanized Corp

The Polish government has argued that the local government has allowed the property to fall into neglect. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the site every year and the Polish consider it a source of national pride.

For their part, the city of Gdańsk claims that they have their own plans for the site. The president of Gdańsk has requested a dialogue with the national government to negotiate a common purpose for the location.

That dialogue seems unlikely with the signing of the bill by Duda. He stated that the national interest in the site extends beyond the local boundaries and must be “very well taken care of.”

The current national government has been pushing for their own agenda in getting the museum built since 2017 when they forced the director of the new Museum of the Second World War from his position.

Every September 1, ceremonies in honor of the anniversary are held at 4:45 am, the exact time the German battleship began shelling the Polish Military Transit Depot in town.

The Polish military anticipated that the outpost would be able to hold the Nazi invaders off for six hours before they were overtaken. Instead, the soldiers there managed to hold out for seven days without any aid before being forced to surrender.

abandoned building
Ruined barracks on Westerplatte peninsula, Gdansk, Poland

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) is the current ruling party in Poland. They state that the bill allows them to begin construction of the museum branch. It also authorizes the national government to police the site and end the littering and vandalism that occurs there.

The MPs state that Gdańsk was not doing enough to protect the site from these acts.

Dulkiewicz appealed to the president to veto the bill or divert it to the Constitutional Tribunal. Also, a letter signed by scientists and journalists was sent to the president asking him not to sign the law.

Danzig’s position between Poland and Germany. Justass – CC BY-SA 3.0
Danzig’s position between Poland and Germany. Justass – CC BY-SA 3.0

It is their view that the law “violates the norms of Polish and European law.” They dispute the government’s claim that the land has been neglected by the local government.

The city of Gdańsk  was working on plans drawn up by the Museum of Gdańsk to place their own museum there.

The city is the largest land owner on the Westerplatte Peninsula, with control of approximately 9 hectares. There are several other owners in the area, including the Border Guard and both private and state-owned companies. The site contains many ruins of military buildings and the hill where the Westerplatte Monument stands.

Left: Westerplatte in the aftermath of the German siege. Right: Reichskriegsflagge on Westerplatte. Bundesarchiv – CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Left: Westerplatte in the aftermath of the German siege. Right: Reichskriegsflagge on Westerplatte. Bundesarchiv – CC-BY-SA 3.0.

After the capture of the city by the Germans, Gdańsk was recaptured by the soldiers of the Second Belarus Front in March of 1945. The city lay in ruins but, following the war, teams of construction workers, restorers,  and artists descended on the city and restored it to its former splendor.

The citizens of Gdańsk have long had a reputation for being tough and for standing up to any oppressor. The motto on the city’s coat of arms has long been “Nec temere, nec timide,” which is Latin for “fearlessly but reasonably.” It has been long associated with the Polish aspirations of freedom. Their opposition to their own government regarding the Westerplatte lands is one more example of the character of its people.

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Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE