Warsaw kneel down

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Coordinates: 52 ° 14 ′ 59 "  N , 20 ° 59 ′ 38.87"  E

Bronze plaque on the monument to the kneeling

The prostration of Warsaw on 7 December 1970, a gesture of humility during the by Chancellor Willy Brandt operated and his government Ostpolitik at the memorial to the dead of the Warsaw Ghetto . It was a gesture of forgiveness for the German crimes of World War II .

The event and its immediate effect

The monument to the heroes of the ghetto, in front of whom the Chancellor knelt

As Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Willy Brandt laid a wreath on December 7, 1970 immediately before the Warsaw Treaty between Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed at the Memorial of the Heroes of the Ghetto  (picture) in Warsaw . After straightening the wreath loop, he did not stand up as usual, but sank to his knees and remained in silence for about half a minute.

Hermann Schreiber , who was present, wrote a week later in the news magazine Der Spiegel :

“If this non-religious man, who was not jointly responsible for the crime and who was not there at the time, now makes his way through the former Warsaw ghetto on his own initiative and kneels down there - then he is not kneeling for his sake. Then he kneels, who does not need it, there for all those who need it but do not kneel there - because they do not dare or cannot or cannot dare. Then he confesses to a debt that he himself does not have to bear and asks for forgiveness that he himself does not need. Then he kneels there for Germany. "

The expression of humility came as a surprise: for the delegation, the hosts and the public. Internationally, it was understood as a request for forgiveness and a symbol of Ostpolitik , for which Willy Brandt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 . In the Federal Republic of Germany it also met with rejection - not least from within the ranks of the CDU ; Günter Grass even spoke of the "hatred [...] that was consciously stirred up by political opponents". According to a Spiegel survey at the time, 48 percent of West Germans found the kneeling excessive, 41 percent appropriate, and 11 percent had no opinion. The GDR press did not mention the gesture.

How surprised and worried Brandt's friends were about the effect in Germany is also reflected in a text that Günter Grass wrote five days later:

“How will you report about it at home? Will the tendency to slander subliminally find nourishment and bend one's knees into kowtowing? But all the signs - astonished, shocked, embarrassed - showed concern. (Similar to the Polish hosts: they thought they knew German behavior; this was new to them. The word 'Israel' was muted. A remnant of anti-Semitism may also have felt recognized in its anti-Zionist disguise.) "

Later evaluation

In retrospect, it is agreed that the knee-fall played an important role in the relaxation between blocks. The Warsaw Treaty , signed on the same day, recognized the inviolability of the Oder-Neisse border . Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz (1911–1989), a survivor of Auschwitz, signed for Poland .

Much has been speculated about whether Brandt acted spontaneously. He himself wrote in his memoirs published in 1989 :

“I was asked again and again what this gesture was all about. Had it been planned? No, it wasn't. My close co-workers were no less surprised than those reporters and photographers who stood next to me and those who stayed away from the scene because they did not expect "new things". […] I hadn't planned anything, but left Wilanow Castle , where I was staying , feeling that I had to express the specialty of the memorial at the ghetto monument. At the abyss of German history and under the burden of millions of murdered people, I did what people do when the language fails. "

Egon Bahr expressed himself as follows in his memoirs In My Time 1996:

“When the motorcade sets off for the Ghetto Memorial, Berthold Beitz and I compare our impressions. We get out of the car in peace and are not in a hurry to approach the dense crowd of journalists and photographers - suddenly it becomes very quiet. It is seldom that this hardened folk fall silent. As I approach, someone whispers: "He's kneeling." I only saw the picture when it went around the world. I also shied away from asking my friend over the last whiskey that evening. That someone who, free from historical guilt, confessed the historical guilt of his people, was a thought, but big words between us were unusual. "I had the feeling that tilting my head is not enough."

Walter Scheel wrote in a letter to the Solinger Tageblatt in 2010 :

“The moment we got out and stepped in front of the memorial, the mood was very overwhelming. Suddenly Willy Brandt sank to his knees and everyone who was present would have wanted to do the same and everyone found this gesture, this completely unplanned and spontaneous gesture, to be unique and impressive. [...] It was one of those skills of Willy Brandt that I valued so much in him: to address people emotionally and to set clear signals for everyone. I have not seen a politician who would have been comparable. "

On December 7, 2010, at the invitation of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung , Federal President Christian Wulff and Polish President Bronisław Komorowski gave speeches in Warsaw on the 40th anniversary of the knee-fall on its importance and that of the Warsaw Treaty for German-Polish reconciliation and put on wreaths Monument to the Warsaw Uprising and at the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The writer Navid Kermani said at the ceremony "65 Years of the Basic Law" on May 23, 2014 in the Bundestag:

“Because when and how did Germany, which was suspicious of its militarism in the 19th century and seem completely dishonored with the murder of 6 million Jews, when and how did it regain its dignity? If I wanted to name a single day, a single event, a single gesture for which the word 'dignity' seems appropriate in German post-war history, then it was […] the kneeling of Warsaw. "

Willy Brandt Square in Warsaw
Monument to the
kneeling on the Skwer Willy'ego Brandta

Artistic references

About 150 meters northwest of the memorial and visible from there until the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was built, a brick memorial with a bronze plaque by Wiktoria Czechowska Antoniewska was erected in 2000 to the kneeling. The area around this monument is now officially called Skwer Willy'ego Brandta (Willy-Brandt-Platz).

The composer Gerhard Rosenfeld created an opera Kniefall in Warsaw about Willy Brandt ( libretto by Philipp Kochheim , first performance 1997 in Dortmund ).

In the 1970 chapter of his collection of short stories, My Century, Günter Grass has a journalist who hates the "Kniefallkanzler" and Egon Bahr argue in an internal monologue about what he should write now. The eyewitness “must reluctantly bless where he wanted and should curse; [...] [he has to] reluctantly pay respect to one of the greatest gestures of German post-war politics «.

In 2012/2013 the sculpture Him (Praying Hitler) by the Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan was exhibited in a doorway of the Warsaw ghetto . The art journalist Axel Hecht related the sculpture to Brandt's knee, among other things.

See also


See also 40 Years of Eastern Treaties - Selection of literature 1970–2011 , 91 titles ( archive.org pdf ( Memento from 7 July 2014 in the Internet Archive ))

  • Bernd Rother: Willy Brandt - The kneeling of Warsaw. In: Claudia Fröhlich, Michael Kohlstruck (Hrsg.): Engaged Democrats. Politics of the past with critical intent. Münster 1999, pp. 299-308.
  • Adam Krzemiński : The knee fall. Warsaw as a place of remembrance of German-Polish history. In: Merkur 54 (November 2000), Issue 11, pp. 1077-1088, (PDF; 923 kB) and in Étienne François , Hagen Schulze (ed.): German places of memory . CH Beck, Volume 1, Munich 2001, pp. 638-653.
  • Bernhard Giesen , Christoph Schneider (ed.): Perpetrator trauma. National memories in public discourse. Constance 2004. In it:
    • Valentin Rauer: gesture of guilt. The media reception of Willy Brandt's knee in the nineties. Pp. 133-156.
    • Wolfgang Ludwig Schneider: Brandts kneeling in Warsaw. Political and iconographic aspects of meaning. Pp. 157-194.
    • Christoph Schneider: The Warsaw knee fall. On the history of a charismatization. Pp. 195-238.
  • Klaus-Dieter Hein-Mooren: Spontaneous or Planned? Comments on Willy Brandt's kneeling in Warsaw. In: History in Science and Education 55 (2004), pp. 744–753.
  • Friedrich Kießling : Representing the perpetrators. Willy Brandt's kneeling in Warsaw. Thoughts on the connection between West German external representation and the memory of National Socialism. In: Johannes Paulmann (ed.): Foreign representations. On the self-portrayal of Germany after the Second World War. Cologne 2005, pp. 205-224.
  • Thomas Brechenmacher and Michael Wolffsohn : Monument collapse? Brandt's kneeling . Olzog Verlag, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7892-8162-X . Introduction and closing words also in the same: "The Chancellor has kneeled". Brandt's kneeling - a guiding star in politics . Reports from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation No. 16. 2010
  • Volker Neuhaus : Günter Grass: My Century - 1970. In: Werner Bellmann , Christine Hummel (Ed.): Interpretations. German short prose of the present. Reclam, Stuttgart 2006 ( RUB ), pp. 244-249.
  • Christoph Schneider: The Warsaw knee fall. Ritual, event and narrative . UVK-Verlag, Konstanz 2006.
  • Nicola Hille: Willy Brandt's knee fall. The political meaning, emotional impact and media reception of a symbolic gesture. In: Heidi Hein-Kircher (Ed.): Places of remembrance, myths and stereotypes in Europe. = Miejsca pamięci, mity i stereotypy w Europie. Breslau 2008, pp. 163-184.
  • Alexander Behrens (Ed.): Was Brandt allowed to kneel? The kneeling in Warsaw and the German-Polish treaty. A documentation of the opinions. Verlag JHWDietz Nachf., Bonn 2010, ISBN 978-3-8012-0404-4 .

Web links

Commons : Warsaw Ghetto War Memorial  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Willy Brandt Monument in Warsaw  - collection of images, videos and audio files




Individual evidence

  1. Hermann Schreiber: A piece of homecoming. In: Der Spiegel from December 14, 1970, p. 29 f.
  2. ^ Günter Grass: Willy Brandt in the Warsaw Ghetto. [1995]. In: Ders .: Work edition. Vol. 16. Göttingen 1997, pp. 422-424. Quoted from: Volker Neuhaus : Günter Grass: My Century - 1970. In: Werner Bellmann, Christine Hummel (Ed.): Interpretations. German short prose of the present. RUB , Reclam, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 244–249, here p. 247.
  3. Appropriate or excessive kneeling? In: Der Spiegel from December 14, 1970, p. 27. Der Spiegel also made the kneel the cover picture of issue 51/1970
  4. a b Thomas Kröter: The power of humility. In: Frankfurter Rundschau from December 6, 2010 on the 40th anniversary of the kneeling.
  5. ^ Günter Grass: Political Diary. To be affected. In: Ders .: Work edition. Vol. 15. Göttingen 1997, pp. 80–82, here p. 82. Quoted from: Volker Neuhaus : Günter Grass: Mein Jahrhundert - 1970. In: Werner Bellmann, Christine Hummel (ed.): Interpretations. German short prose of the present. RUB , Reclam, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 244-249, here pp. 246 f.
  6. Willy Brandt: Memories. Propylaeen-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, p. 214.
  7. Egon Bahr: In my time. Blessing-Verlag, Munich 1996, p. 341.
  8. Brandt's knee: Solinger Scheel remembers. In: Solinger Tageblatt of December 8, 2010].
  9. http://www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Berichte/DE/Reisen-und-Termine/1012/101207-warschau.html ; Wulff's speech on December 7, 2010
  10. Speech by Dr. Navid Kermani at the ceremony “65 Years of the Basic Law” . In: German Bundestag . ( bundestag.de [accessed November 20, 2016]).
  11. ^ Günter Grass: work edition. Edited by Volker Neuhaus and Daniela Hermes. Vol. 17. Steidl, Göttingen 1999, pp. 257-260; Individual print in: Werner Bellmann, Christine Hummel (Ed.): German short prose of the present. Reclam, Stuttgart 2005 ( RUB ), pp. 178-181.
  12. Volker Neuhaus : Günter Grass: My Century - 1970. In: Werner Bellmann, Christine Hummel (Ed.): Interpretations. German short prose of the present. Reclam, Stuttgart 2006 ( RUB ), pp. 244–249, here 249.
  13. Daniel Erk: So much Hitler was seldom: The trivialization of evil or why the man with the little beard can't be killed . Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-641-04526-5 ( Google Books )