Ali’s Angle: Don’t Mention the War

A recent incident at a German airport involving a German customs officer, a Polish MEP, possibly too much wine and the words ‘Heil Hitler!’ has got me thinking about how we view things differently on either side of the old Iron Curtain. Polish MEP Jacek Protasiewicz may be facing charges after allegedly shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’ at a German customs officer in Frankfurt. Whereas many Brits would think ‘So what?’ the incident has sparked offence in both Germany and Poland.

It is hard to get a handle on what actually happened. Not just because the customs officer and Protasiewicz have differing views on the event, but also because of news reporting of the incident. In short: the customs officer says Protasiewicz shouted ‘Heil Hitler!’ at him, then told him to go to Auschwitz. Protasiewicz claims he was offended after being told ‘Raus!’ (‘go’) because, in Poland, this word is similar to saying ‘Heil Hitler!’ and, after being physically pushed by the officer, advised him to go to Auschwitz. Alcohol was also involved: however, the amount is up for debate. The customs officer says Protasiewicz was staggering about the airport. One news report says Protasiewicz had admitted to only having one glass of wine; another report, two glasses of wine; and another report, two bottles of wine. It just goes to show the accuracy of news reporting these days.


Alleged airport frequenter, MEP Jacek Protasiewicz

Having lived in Poland for well over four years now, I know how sensitive Poles can be about any mention of World War II – understandably so. The Poles went through horrors that Brits cannot begin to imagine. It is a topic that has gotten me into trouble on many occasions. I come from a country where making jokes about the war is commonplace, a country where being as near-to-the-knuckle as you possibly can is an integral part of many comedians’ acts – it is not appreciated when you bring this humour into a Polish pub. For many Poles, this is an era that is not easily forgotten, especially since the repression did not end with the end of the war.

Germans are just as sensitive. Admittedly, Germans I have spoken to are quite happy to make jokes about the subject, but it is more in the way of embarrassment for their country’s role and a feeling that they deserve to be ridiculed. Most Brits would disagree with that viewpoint; Poles, however, would probably completely agree. Again, showing how differently we feel about these things. As a Brit living in Poland, I have learnt to keep my mouth shut in certain company. It does get me wondering, though, how Poles living in the UK feel about hearing World War II jokes on TV, or reading them in magazines.

Speaking as a Brit, how much wine Protasiewicz drank or the exact words he used are not the biggest problems. The problem here is that he felt the need to react like that in the first place. Yes, we all get annoyed every now and again, but as an MEP he should have been able to control his anger and make a complaint later, if he felt the need to. Another problem is not comprehending cultural sensitivities – on the Polish side and on the German side – proving that we need to make more of an effort to understand one another in order to put past events behind us and get along in harmony.

5 thoughts on “Ali’s Angle: Don’t Mention the War

  • April 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I can understand and accept most of what you are saying up until the last part, no person from the UK Poland or Germany should put the past behind them as I certainty can’t, my father and 3 half brothers were in ww2 and I have the greatest respect for all that were in that war and I believe that we should keep this war and the modern wars that we have went through, that is northern Ireland, first gulf and existing gulf war as lots of fathers mothers husbands wife’s and grandparents have died in these wars and not just from the UK. So wee must keep this in people’s minds for if nothing else but for there memories and what the sacrificed for us to have this discussion

  • April 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Two key attributes of a good leader are character and judgement. MEP Protasiewicz seems to be lacking in both; degrading the dignity which is expected of those elected to public office. Common sense tells every traveler that the airport environment at security checkpoints is one where it’s best to suffer the perceived or real indignities (unless blatant) with decorum. That said we all know that at any airport there can be some
    difficult officials with inflated opinions of their self importance; best to go with the flow you’ll probably never see that individual again and you won’t be inconveniencing yourself or even worse if you’re detained.

    I also am not unaware of the lingering feelings attributable to the War since my father was a Polish Naval Officer on O.R.P. Zbik and his three brothers fought in the Warsaw 1944 uprising. One lost his leg and another was imprisoned four years in a concentration camp. I’ve inherited some of those feelings but recognize we are now second, third and fourth generations.

    I’ve lived in Sweden, England and Brazil and now (for many years) in the U.S. I also have a residence in Krakow where my youngest daughter and granddaughter live full time. They, as I, are dual Polish and U.S. citizens.

    I would recommend to Poles, Brits and Americans that they read the book “Citizens of London” by Lynne
    Olson. A real eye opener, for those that don’t know all of the historical facts about the interaction and intrigue between Britain and the U.S. prior to and during the War. Of particular interest are the facts relating to the treatment of the Poles and in particular, (and finally), due recognition of the Poles contributions in winning the War.

    • April 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      That looks like an interesting read, A.G. I believe I’ll zap down to my local library rather soonish. There’s not a great deal in English about the crucial war years with Sikorski et al at the Rubens Hotel.

      As for the story above, I think Ali has pretty much said it all…

  • April 30, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    In reality in Europe, NATO aside, history is what it is.

    In the USA we have 1st Amendment as a right but what you can say in the USA is not the same as in Europe.

    With my travels, I avoid frustrating these customs officers simply because I want to move on with my trip and not deal with them any longer than necessary. Most customs officers (USA included) have the personality and intellect of a rock.

    Drunk or not, MEP Jacek Protasiewicz certainly from my perspective has the right to express what he thinks.

  • May 28, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Simply put: do not confront customs officers. Bad idea – if you feel mistreated, find a supervisor and file a complaint. Saying “Heil Hitler” in Germany… forgive me, this guy just acted stupid


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