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Glory to heroes? Polish ‘patriotic’ mural mistakenly depicting Nazi soldiers stirs uproar

Glory to heroes? Polish ‘patriotic’ mural mistakenly depicting Nazi soldiers stirs uproar
A “patriotic” mural commemorating the 1944 Warsaw uprising against Nazi occupation was recently unveiled in a Polish town. One of the pictures, however, drew swift denunciation, as it depicted SS soldiers who helped to crush the rebellion.

This week, local authorities in the small Polish town of Lomianki, located several kilometers north of the capital Warsaw, boasted about the creation of a new “patriotic” and “unusual” mural in the town. The artwork consisted of a series of paintings decorated along a brick wall, and was designed to commemorate the events of the Warsaw uprising, the local council said in a statement.

However, one of the paintings appeared to portray Nazi soldiers instead of Polish fighters. The black-and-white image showed three men wearing what looked like a Nazi uniform. One of them, however, was painted wearing a Polish white-and-red armband.

Local residents soon realized that the picture in question was in fact a partial copy of a wartime photo showing soldiers of the infamous Dirlewanger Brigade – an SS killing squad of Nazi Germany criminals and collaborators, notorious for numerous atrocities committed during the WWII. The unit particularly took an active part in the Wola massacre – the indiscriminate and systematic killings of between 40,000 and 50,000 people, including women and children, in the Wola district of the Polish capital at the early stage of the Warsaw uprising.

The costly slip immediately provoked a wave of indignation among local residents and netizens. Locals were particularly incensed by the fact that the mural was created using public funds allocated by the local council. Furthermore, the “Glory and Honor to the Heroes!” mural’s “idea and implementation” were described as “pleasing to our [town] residents” in a statement issued by local authorities.

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Angry critics described the work as a “shame” and a manifestation of “complete ignorance,” Polish media reported. The incident also provoked a sea of resentment on social networks. “A patriotic mural in Lomianki near Warsaw, in fact, [depicts] a photo of the SS Dirlewanger Division [which is] considered one of the cruelest and most ruthless units suppressing the Warsaw uprising. So much for modern patriotism… Shame and regret,” one person wrote in a Facebook post.

“What a hypocrite… One should be to create something like this?” a Polish anti- fascist group wrote in a Twitter post, adding, that it’s highly doubtful that the author of the mural did not know anything about the origin of the picture. It is “not the first time nationalists show what [who] their real role model is,” the group added.

Other commentators called the mural “a big mistake” and a “big blow to Lomianki.”

The uproar prompted local authorities to paint over the controversial picture in an attempt to quell the swelling discontent, while issuing an apology. The local council “apologizes to the residents of Lomianki as well as to the people, who might feel affected by the issue,” Thursday’s statement read, calling the picture depicting the SS soldiers “wrong.” It added that the “artist, who was commissioned to perform the decoration of the place did it… too recklessly.”

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Authorities also “thanked” the residents for “paying attention to this fact” and informed them that the painting “had already been removed.” The controversial picture was indeed ‘whitewashed’ – painted over with white paint. However, some people, apparently, were not appeased by the council’s response.

“You cannot deal with this issue by just painting this mural over. This is propaganda of Nazism,” one person tweeted following the apology. The tweeter also questioned “who approved this project,” implying that some local officials should be held accountable.

Poland is currently witnessing a resurgence of far-right sentiment. A Polish hostel recently sparked controversy by hanging a banner that barred entry to all “Jews, communists and traitors.” In mid-November, a nationalist march in Warsaw drew tens of thousands of far-right demonstrators.

In October, a Polish historian, who claimed the Nazi invasion of Poland “did not look very bad” for Jews, received a state award. And Polish politicians also continue to target WWII Red Army monuments.