WARSAW, Poland — Commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II in Poland this weekend come as the war has become a messy battleground of memory.
In Poland and across Eastern Europe, many feel that their people’s suffering has never been adequately recognized, or that they have been unfairly tarnished for their behavior at that time — grievances politicians have been exploiting in a new era of nationalism.
For Americans and others, World War II might seem a black-and-white story of good defeating evil, with the Allies fighting far from home to defeat Adolf Hitler’s genocidal regime and open a new era of peace and liberty.
But from the Baltics and Poland to Hungary and Russia, where fighting, deportations and mass executions happened, there are many shades of gray: heroic resistance and martyrdom but also collaboration — and a liberation by Soviet forces that spelled the start of decades of occupation and oppression for those behind the Iron Curtain.
That leaves a lot of room for differing ways to remember the war.
Sunday marks exactly 80 years since Nazi Germany invaded Poland, on Sept. 1, 1939, the attack that triggered a nearly six-year world conflict that left more than 70 million people dead before Germany and Japan surrendered in 1945.
U.S. President Donald Trump had been expected to attend but canceled to stay home and deal with a hurricane barreling toward Florida, tapping Vice President Mike Pence to replace him. Others leaders who are attending include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“The anniversary celebrations are to be a warning to the world — about the necessity of peace, about the sovereignty of states, about not negotiating at the expense of others,” said Krzysztof Szczerski, top aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Notably absent will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended 70th anniversary commemorations in Poland in 2009 amid an attempted Russia-Western thaw at that time. He was not invited this time because of his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and is all the more unwelcome due to a Russian rehabilitation in recent years of the Stalinist era.