Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops

The Pastoral Letter of the Polish Bishops to their German Brothers (Orędzie biskupów polskich do ich niemieckich braci w Chrystusowym urzędzie pasterskim; Hirtenbrief der polnischen Bischöfe an ihre deutschen Amtsbrüder) was a pastoral letter sent on 18 November, 1965 by Polish bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to their German counterparts. It was foremost an invitation to the 1000 Year Anniversary Celebrations of Poland's Christianization in 1966. In this invitation letter the bishops asked for cooperation not only with Catholics but with Protestants as well.

While recalling past and recent historical events the bishops stretch out their hands in forgiveness and are asking for forgiveness. Here referred to as Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops it is actually only one part of the extensive groundbreaking invitation and letter, where they declared: "We forgive and ask for forgiveness" (for the crimes of World War II).


It was one of the first attempts at reconciliation after the tragedies of the Second World War, in which Germany invaded Poland; Poland and Germany lost millions of people, while millions more, both Poles and Germans, had to flee from their homes or were forcibly resettled. A much larger part was the invitation and the attempt of the Catholic bishops to gain distance from the Communists who ruled the country.

Among prominent supporters of this letter was Archbishop Karol Wojtyła, who later became Pope John Paul II in 1978.

The letter was answered by bishops of West- and East-Germany together.


Widely publicised in churches in Poland, the letter drew a strong reaction from the communist authorities of the People's Republic of Poland. Władysław Gomułka saw it as clearly aimed at countering his propaganda, which saw West Germany as the main external enemy of Poland and hostility between Poland and the West Germany as one of the main guarantees of social order in the so-called Recovered Territories.

To counter the threat of losing control over people's minds, the communist authorities reacted with anti-German and anti-Catholic hysteria. The Primate of Poland was denied a passport for his trip to Rome and on January 15, 1966 Gomułka announced preparations for state celebrations of the 1000 years of the Polish state, intended as a countermeasure against the church-sponsored celebrations of 1000 years of the baptism of Poland. Most German linguists were forced to sign a letter of protest; those who refused were fired from their universities. In addition, the authorities twice refused permission for a planned visit of Pope Paul VI to Poland in 1966. The following year the Polish United Workers' Party planned to limit the number of religious schools, which was also seen as a penalty for the Letter of Reconciliation. The anti-church campaign lasted for several years, up until Gomułka's downfall.

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