WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president has signed into law a bill that allows the government to seize the site of the first World War II battle and build a new museum there.
The controversy around the ruins at Westerplatte Peninsula has pitted Gdansk’s local authorities, which own the area, against Poland’s right-wing nationalist government, which is pursuing a historical narrative that highlights Poland’s wartime bravery and suffering.
Westerplatte is where World War II anniversary observances are held each Sept. 1 at 4:45 a.m., the exact time that the German warship Schleswig-Holstein fired at the Polish outpost, a military depot, starting the war in 1939. The outpost’s crew of 200 was supposed to fight back for six hours until reinforcements came but they held out unaided for seven days before surrendering.
The government argues that Gdansk authorities have for decades neglected the site, which is a source of national pride and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.
Gdansk Mayor Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, a government critic, says she has plans for a memorial at the site and has called for dialogue. But President Andrzej Duda’s signing of the bill, which was announced Friday, closed the matter.
“If we have such an important place like Westerplatte … which has a state dimension, not a local dimension in any way, then such a place must be very well taken care of,” Duda said on private Polsat TV.
It is another clash over the shape of the war memorial in Gdansk under Poland’s conservative government, which also forced out the director of the new Museum of the Second World War in 2017.