1:39 P.M. CEST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: President Duda, President Steinmeier, other presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state, distinguished guests, and most of all, the noble citizens of Poland: It is an honor to be here, on behalf of the President of the United States and all of the American people, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
Two years ago, President Donald Trump came to this very city and spoke of the remarkable bond between the American people and the people of Poland, saying, in his words, “America loves Poland, and America loves the Polish people.” (Applause.)
And today, as Vice President of the United States, it’s my great honor to stand here today, on behalf of the American people, including nearly 10 million Polish-Americans, in a Poland that is safe, strong, and free. (Applause.)
As the President said that day in Krasiński Square, “The story of Poland is the story of a people who…never lost hope, who have never been broken…who have never, ever forgotten who they are.”
Today, in the heart of Warsaw, standing humbly before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we’ve gathered to bear witness to the courage of a great people, to the spirit of a great nation, and to the profound and lasting strength of a great civilization.
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 shown of the Polish people.
During the five decades of untold struggle and suffering that followed the outbreak of World War II, the Polish people never lost hope, you never gave in to despair, and you never let go of your thousand-year history.
In the years that followed this day 80 years ago, your light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The character, faith, and determination of the Polish people made all the difference. It would, in time, turn shattering defeat into glorious victory.
It is difficult for any of us who are not Poles to fathom the horrors that began here 80 years ago, on the 1st of September 1939.
Within weeks, the armies of Nazi Germany from the West, and the communist Soviet Union from the East, divided up this country into occupation zones. The maniacal Nazi leader issued the command for “the physical destruction of the enemy” and ordered the “mercilessly and without compassion” death of Polish men, women, and children.
Those dual invasions marked the beginning of a conflict unlike anything the world had ever known before, and one we resolve here today the world will never know again. (Applause.)
In just over four years, one in five Polish citizens would be murdered at the hands of an evil ideology bent on racial conquest and authoritarian rule.
The Nazis systematically murdered 90 percent of Poland’s more than 3 million Jews. Tens of thousands of brave patriots of the Polish resistance would be killed in the fight against the occupation of their homeland. Over 21,000 Polish sons and daughters were massacred at the hands of the communists in April 1940, in the Katyn forest, and buried in mass graves.
And right here in this city, more than 150,000 Polish men, women, and children gave their lives in just nine weeks of the Warsaw Uprising — an uprising which was followed by the deliberate and total destruction of this city by German forces, while Soviet forces stood by and allowed the slaughter.
Those who rose up died fighting to liberate these bloodstained streets from fascism, dictatorship, and the looming menace of communism. But as President Trump said two years ago, “There is a courage and a strength deep in the Polish character that no one could destroy.” (Applause.)
And today we remember the long roll call of Polish heroes who fought for freedom in those dark days. Their names and the memory of their heroism will be enshrined in the hearts of their people and freedom-loving people forever.
The long and terrible war started here in Poland. But before long, that death struggle with totalitarianism involved the fates and compelled the extraordinary sacrifice of freedom-loving nations across the world.
So today, we also remember the 16 million Americans who left the peace and comfort of their home to fight to liberate Europe. They stood against evil. And over 400,000 young American men, including thousands of Polish Americans, gave their last full measure of devotion for their country and the peoples of nations they did not know. Today, I remember my countrymen and their sacrifices with honor and gratitude.
Today we remember the millions of brave and sturdy British citizens who served and sacrificed to save Europe, defend their sovereignty, their liberty, and their beloved Kingdom.
So too we recall the incredible patriots of the French resistance — the Dutch, the Danish, the Belgians, the Czechs, the Greeks, the Romanians, and so many other underground movements and freedom fighters who entered history as legends of courage, and they demonstrated a selflessness that will be remembered for the ages.
But none fought with more valor, or determination, or righteous fury than the Poles. And in their decades-long struggle against tyranny, Poland proved itself a homeland of heroes. (Applause.)
As we remember the war that began here on Polish soil eight decades ago, we do well to pause and reflect on the causes of so great a conflagration.
The fight against the twisted ideologies of Nazism and Communism reflected the eternal struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. They were driven by an ancient and wicked urge to claim power by any means and impose their will to control the lives of ordinary men and women. All morality became socialist morality. Whatever served the power of the state became justified — even murder on an unprecedented scale.
But when we think of the depravity of totalitarianism, of the death squads, the concentration camps, the secret police, the state propaganda, the destruction of churches, and the endless hostility to people of faith, one cannot help but think of the words of another who lived under Soviet totalitarianism, the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Pondering the ruinous times in which he lived, Solzhenitsyn reflected, and I quote, “If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century…I would be unable to find anything more precise…than this: Men have forgotten God.”
Those who sought to remake the world by force did not have the last word, because there was something greater at work.
Through the brutality of war and through “four decades of communist rule,” as President Trump said two years ago in this city, “Poland and the other captive nations of Europe endured a…campaign to demolish your freedom…your laws, your history, your identity,” and your faith.” “Yet…you never lost that spirit. Your oppressors tried to break you, but Poland could not be broken.” (Applause.)
In June 1979, one of Poland’s greatest sons returned home as Pope John Paul II. History records that in this very square he preached that the Polish people could not understand their history or their future apart from the greatest source of their strength and goodness.
The Holy Father’s visit caused a “revolution of conscience” throughout the land. Within 16 months, solidarity became the first officially recognized free trade union in the Communist bloc. And the momentum of those nine days would eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Applause.)
But on that day, in this place, Pope John Paul II said that, Man cannot understand “who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is…without Christ.” (Applause.)
And when the Holy Father spoke those words, the millions of Poles gathered here fearlessly spoke for their nation and their history. Lifting their voices, they sang: “We want God. We want God.” And their voices echoed across this nation and around the world.
A memorial cross to honor that historic moment stands before us today just opposite the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a symbol of Polish faith but also of Polish hope and resolve. It is a permanent testimony to the belief of the Polish people that true solidarity among people and among nations is only possible when that solidarity is seen in the light of a providential Creator.
Today, we are gathered as friends, as allies, from more than 40 countries, representatives of freedom-loving nations. Today, the fates of our people are linked by a shared love of freedom and self-determination.
So let us, on this day, resolve that the words heard in this square that unraveled that long night of oppression, not just for the people of Poland, but all across Eastern Europe — let us resolve that those words and truths that have sustained human freedom from the very beginning will never be forgotten.
America and Poland will continue to stand with all of our allies for our common defense. And America and Poland will also continue to call on all our allies to live up to the promises that we’ve made to one another. For the American people and the Polish people “know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense [of] our freedoms” now and always. (Applause.)
So thank you for the honor of representing our President and the American people on this historic occasion as we mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
Today, we remember those that were lost in Poland, in their long twilight struggle, and all of those who sacrificed from my nation and nations represented here to win a victory for freedom. We remember those that were lost on this day, but we also do well to celebrate — to celebrate an enduring victory for freedom and the role that the people of Poland played by their strength and their example.
As President Trump said here in Warsaw two years ago, America never gave up on the “freedom and independence of the Polish people, and we will never will.” (Applause.)
And, on this occasion, if any should doubt that the destiny of mankind is freedom, let them look to Poland, to the courageous Polish people, and see for themselves the indomitable spirit, strength, and resilience of freedom-loving people standing on a foundation of faith.
Through their decades-long struggle, their courage and faith shone forth, you prove again, here in Poland and for all the world, that though it may take decades, that “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (Applause.)
Having paid tribute to the past, we now look to the future. And with the inspiration, courage, and resolve of the Polish people, from this day forward, I can assure you that Poland, America, and all freedom-loving nations in the world will meet that future together.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Poland. And may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
2:01 P.M. CEST