It All Began In Poland, 1939-1989

The fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago today is rightly being celebrated in Germany as a momentous historical event that led to a huge increase in human freedom around the world. The wall was indeed the most visible physical symbol of an inhumane system that divided Germany and Europe, holding captive hundreds of millions of people.

At a seminar in Wroclaw, Poland hosted by the Polish Adam Smith Center last month, I was reminded that the Poles correctly view their country as playing a central role in the 20th century drama of totalitarian aggression and eventual liberation. As the title of a book I was given suggests—It All Began In Poland—the country’s invasion by Nazi Germany, which sparked World War II, and the invasion and partial occupation by the Soviet Union almost immediately thereafter signaled what was in store for much of Europe. Similarly, the peaceful revolution of freedom that culminated in the collapse of communism was symbolized and pushed forward early on by Poland’s heroic Solidarity movement.

People from all parts of the former Soviet empire deserve recognition and admiration for their efforts and sacrifices in promoting freedom. As we reflect on this momentous day, let’s remember the special role the Poles played in making the world a better place.