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Pence speaks of close US-Poland bond during World War II remembrance

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a ceremony honoring the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019

BRIAN FERGUSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 1, 2019

WARSAW, Poland – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence praised the Polish people for their “indomitable spirit” at a ceremony Sunday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

Pence was among dozens of foreign leaders gathered in the city’s historic Pilsudski Square.

The vice president spoke after Poland President Andrzej Duda and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, acknowledging he was in Warsaw on behalf of President Donald Trump. Trump canceled his two-day visit to Poland last week to monitor Hurricane Dorian, a maximum Category 5 storm heading for the Bahamas on Sunday.

“While the hearts of every American are with our fellow citizens in the path of a massive storm, today we remember how the gathering storm of the 20th century broke into warfare and invasion followed by unspeakable hardship and heroism of the Polish people,” Pence said.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, triggering a war that lasted nearly six years and killed more than 70 million people, including more than six million Polish citizens.

“Today we remember those who were lost … and all of those who sacrificed … to win a victory for freedom,” Pence said.

Steinmeier called the war a “painful legacy,” while Duda said “we must never forget it, even when all the eyewitnesses are gone.”

Various heads of states from much of Europe were welcomed with pomp and circumstance at the city’s largest square, used for military parades and national celebrations; the area was razed during World War II much like most of Warsaw.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited – unlike 10 years ago – because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Polish leaders had compared Russia’s actions to “the aggressors of 1939.”

Pence spoke of the close bond between the United States and Poland.

Referring to remarks Trump made two years ago when he visited Warsaw, Pence said “America loves Poland and America loves the Polish people,” eliciting claps from a U.S.-friendly crowd that later chanted, “U.S.A., U.S.A.”

The somber remembrance at times felt more like a political rally.

A 2020 Trump campaign banner hung on a security barrier at the far perimeter of the square, behind which more than a dozen crowd-goers wearing red “Poland Stands with USA” T-shirts gathered well before the ceremony began.

They had come to see Trump, a representative said, but were also pleased Pence attended.

“We like Trump, we support him, but Poles don’t know Mike Pence,” whom, as a conservative Christian, stands for values important to Poland, said Mateusz Wojnar, 40, a banker from Warsaw.

“People in Poland don’t really know Mike Pence,” said Paval Stacherski, 39, a carpenter from Lodz. “We’re hoping his visit will change that.”

Before Trump canceled his visit, it was expected he and Duda, the Polish president, would disclose more details of an agreement reached between Washington and Warsaw in June to send an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland. More than 4,500 U.S. servicemembers are already deployed on a rotational basis to about half a dozen bases in Poland.

On Friday, Poland Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszcak, speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, said the two countries had agreed on at least six locations for new U.S. troops to be stationed, according to Poland’s TVN24 News.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @stripesktown

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg attends a ceremony honoring the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019
BRIAN FERGUSON/STARS AND STRIPES