Poland lost USD 18 billion in cultural wealth in WWII

Poland lost nearly $18 billion in 2017 US dollars in cultural wealth during WWII, a Polish parliamentary team calculating the value of potential German reparations owed to Poland said on Friday.

According to the Polish historian, professor Mirosław Kłusek, these figures are underestimated, as they only cover losses on the lands of the Second Polish Republic, “which became part of the new state in 1945”. The losses on the territories lost by Poland after the war were not counted.

This sum, in addition to works of art, also includes destruction of landmarked buildings, theaters, museum or library collections, valuable equipment of churches and synagogues, and musical instruments and collections.

Kłusek said that Germany, in 1939-1945, destroyed Polish culture “three-dimensionally”, “by destroying the past, that is paintings, sculptures, monuments, the presence – by closing theaters, schools or cinemas and the future, by eliminating or exterminating professors, directors or artists”. As he emphasized, the consequences of the German politics are still felt in Poland today.

According to the historian, some losses are difficult to estimate. “How can we count a few years of a nation’s life without a theater and lack of education of the future generation at that time? How will we count the effects of the German orders that resulted in closing high schools educating musicians or artists?”

He also stressed that the estimates of the Office of War Compensation did not include losses in private collections.

Kłusek also reported that according to post-war data, in 1939-1945, a total of 547 historians, museum workers, artists, musicians, actors, directors and writers were killed. “This was our elite who should educate and pass our culture from one generation to the next” – noted the professor.

Agnieszka Dzierżanowska from the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation, also representing the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, informed that Poland – as a result of the Second World War – lost “nearly 70% of the material cultural heritage”. She noted that the losses resulted not only from looting and destruction of culture by Germany, but also by the Soviet Russia.

She added that the exact estimation of the losses suffered is now significantly impeded, as inventories of cultural goods were also destroyed by acts of war or intentionally.

Dzierżanowska also talked about the creation of the War Losses Catalogue and the development of the ArtSherlock application, which enables automatic recognition of works of art like paintings, drawings and antique fabrics stolen from Polish collections during World War II.

The Polish historian and journalist Magdalena Ogórek pointed out that so far the subject of war losses suffered by Poland was neglected. In her opinion, the Polish National Foundation could also take care of the lost works.

The leader of the parliamentary team Arkadiusz Mularczyk declared that he would recommend to the Polish government to ask the authorities of Germany and Austria “to inspect museums for stolen works of art”.

The parliamentary team for estimation of the World War II damages was established at the end of September 2017 at the initiative of the ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS). PiS deputy Arkadiusz Mularczyk became its chairman.

Source: Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Image: Pontifical of Plock XIII century looted by Nazi Germans during the war and returned in 2015 thanks to the efforts of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Source: Wikipedia (public domain).