A map of Europe - light green, pink, pale yellow, and pale purple has looked back at us since childhood in soft colours. When we were called to the front of the classroom and, in our anxiety, could not find a town, mountain, river, or border on the map, we had no idea that this complex spectrum could ever have any bearing on our happiness or lack thereof. If we answered the questions satisfactorily, the yellow and pink areas transformed back into “blooming cytisus and weigela bushes.” After the test, the parallels and meridians, within which the school day unfolded, resumed their familiar - though inaudible because so distant - celestial music. Bohemian Forest, Cheb region, Ore Mountains, Giant Mountains? Abyssinia, Gdańsk?
The familiar contours of the land, coupled with well-known words, and the distant lands of Africa, inhabited by Black people, and Gdańsk? A free port. But what is a free port? For the student, a simple response will suffice: “A free port.” When asked, “Gdańsk?” the answer is “Free port,” followed by pointing out its location on the map.
After answering all such questions, how could we have foreseen that one day we’d be expected to answer them again, by threats and punishments. We will resist them in vain, the way we would resist in vain the distress of a troubled dream, in which we are back in school, facing exams again. We revisit our old schoolwork, clenching our fists and jaws, consumed by overwhelming anxiety.
German soldiers are given only sectional maps. It is probably assumed that they have also forgotten what they learned in school. Or perhaps they never learnt it? For them to carry out their mission, sectional maps will do. Their ideas and convictions are satisfied by sectional maps. That is why one of them can say, “We oppose this war and don’t want to fight in it. (What kind of a soldier are you if you oppose war?!) We’ll only go as far as Romania now and then it will be over.” Because the soldier only has a sectional map, he doesn’t know that the Carpathian Mountains lie before him. He has no idea how large they really are and what the lands he is to traverse actually look like, he has no idea what nations actually live in them. He has no need for either
When soldiers on leave stroll down the main streets of the city they have occupied in compliance with their orders, a few of them chance upon a shop window displaying a map of Europe. To their amazement, what they see differs significantly from the details on their sectional maps; European Russia, for example, is so much larger than they remembered. Two servicemen stand in front of the map, and one points out to the other how big Russia is. Didn't they learn this in school? Has it slipped their memory already? These are young people. What lessons endure from our time in school? A palette of colours that holds our childhood anxieties within its lines and numbers, where the yellow and pink areas are cytisus and weigela bushes in bloom.
I believe that there are still certain social strata in France, including within some military circles, where the prevailing belief is that the French will only go to war when their national interests are at stake and that they would not fight for a cause like defending Gdańsk. I can vividly imagine the conservative, bourgeois atmosphere where people still talk that way. There have been and continue to be people in this country who think that way. It’s not limited to these bourgeois circles. Every one of us has played a part in the rise of German National Socialism –through our words or thoughts, at the very least. Anyone who put their self-interest before the welfare of the community. Anyone who conceded to a falsehood, hoping that everything would turn out alright; every one of us who silently endorsed a wrongdoing.
This concerns every one of us who, at some point, for the sake of comfort, has tolerated, approved, or actively or passively participated in even the slightest deception or cowardice. How many can say they haven’t sinned in one of these countless types of failings? All converging into a mighty stream of lies, selfishness, and cowardice, greasing Hitler’s wheels. Even those who stayed silent to avoid unpleasantness may be guilty.
Today, it seems that France will not have to bleed for Gdańsk.