- The trial of a 78-year-old Pole accused of killing
thousands of German civilians in the aftermath of the Second World War
is set to become the first of a series of court cases in which Germans
are seen as the victims instead of the perpetrators of Nazi-related
- The trial, scheduled to begin early next year in the
Polish city of Opole, has created a furore over a part of Poland's
recent history which it would like to ignore.
- Czeslaw Geborski, the accused, is said to have
systematically raped, tortured and murdered German civilians while
serving as commandant at the Lambinowice concentration camp in
Silesia, where Germans living in the region were interned after the
- Frantiszek Lewandowski, one of the prosecutors in
the case, said: "The main charge we are bringing against him is that
he ordered a building in the camp to be burned down, killing 48
people. As people tried to escape the flames, he personally shot them
or had them flung back inside."
- The concentration camp was initially built by the
Nazis to house Allied PoWs. For most Poles it is inextricably
associated with wartime atrocities committed by the Germans. The trial
is set to reverse those roles and portray a Pole as the villain,
something simply unacceptable to many who lived through the German
occupation and the death of an estimated three million civilian Polish
Jews and three million non-Jewish Poles through bombings and in
- Piotr Radziwinowicz, a 72-year-old pensioner whose
father was killed during the occupation said: "The trial should be
stopped. In view of what the Nazis did on Polish soil it was
inevitable that some German civilians would be killed in revenge. It
was chaos at the end of the war, but we never did anything like the
Nazis. They killed millions of Poles."
- A museum at the Lambinowice concentration camp
commemorates the many Poles and Allied PoWs who died there at the
hands of the Nazis, but makes scant mention of the thousands of
Germans who subsequently suffered the same fate.
- In the decades following the Allied victory, the
communists erased such events from their history, and young Poles
today know little or nothing of the acts of retribution meted out to
German civilians in Silesia and the former East Prussia.
- Dr Maruska Svasek, a Central European specialist at
Queen's University, Belfast, said: "Hundreds of thousands of German
civilians across Central Europe were raped, tortured, killed, or died
due to terrible conditions after the war, but communist historiography
was simply anti-Nazi and pro-communist, and disregarded the truth
about postwar anti-German crimes."
- Werner Scholz, a German Silesian who was sent to the
camp aged only eight, along with his grandmother and sister, neither
of whom survived, believes real reconciliation can never take place
between Germans and their Central European neighbours until the
"criminals" are brought to justice.
- He said: "Everywhere you looked in the camp there
were people dead or dying. If a person wasn't beaten to death, then he
simply died of typhus, dysentery or starvation. A cold would be enough
to finish him off. These were crimes, like Nazi crimes, and they
should be treated in the same way and perpetrators brought to
- The recollections of German camp survivors bear
witness to the harshness of the camp regime. In one instance a man was
sealed in a barrel in which nails had been hammered through the side.
The barrel was then rolled around the camp until he bled to death.
Another survivor claims people were forced to lie on top of each other
forming a huge pyramid, until those at the bottom were crushed.
- Lambinowice was just one of hundreds of Nazi
concentration camps throughout Central Europe which exchanged its
Jewish and Allied PoWs for German soldiers and civilians once the war
had ended. In all, around 10 million Germans were expelled from their
homes in the region, and it is estimated that in Poland alone, between
400,000 and 1.2 million were killed in revenge attacks, during forced
labour, transportation, or in concentration camps.
- Konrad Badenhauer of the Sudetendeutsche
Landsmannschaft said: "The case of Lambinowice is just one of many.
There were hundreds of people like Geborskis. In the Czech Republic,
for example, we have the names and addresses of many such criminals
whose crimes are well documented and who are still at liberty."
- The prospect of Lambinowice creating a precedent for
the prosecution of postwar acts of retribution has provoked widespread
unease. Witold Kulesza, of the Central Commission for the Prosecution
of Crimes against the Polish Nation, said seven more trials are being
prepared in Poland.
- Crimes against German civilians were not limited to
hard core "communist" criminals, but were widespread. In many cases
German farms were taken over by Poles and previous owners were either
killed or kept on as slave labour.
- Inevitably, all such cases are a fight against time
as those involved are now nearing the end of their lives. Czeslaw
Geborski's trial which involves 40 volumes of evidence and more than
300 witnesses is likely to last up to a year, and it may well be that
the opportunity for such prosecutions has already been