After 1945, German and Polish Catholics were part of the »avant garde of reconciliation« in the difficult process of reestablishing mutual relations between the two countries. They initiated a dialogue
across the Iron Curtain and ventured to pursue a »civil foreign policy« of their own in the face of considerable risks. In the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk established in 1973, these significant historical
achievements of many individuals acquired an institutional form. Without the quiet efforts of numerous lay people over a period of years, or the spectacular exchange of letters by the German and Polish
bishops in 1965, made in the spirit of Vatican II, this important step toward reconciliation would not have been possible even nearly 30 years after the end of the war. The establishment of the
Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk enabled the morally long overdue compensation for Polish victims of the concentration camps, which no German postwar government to that point had undertaken.
This unique initiative for reconciliation by the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk is presented against the background of tension-laden political relations and the equally tense
relationship between the Catholic churches in both countries up to 1989. An especially impressive human testimony emerges from the frequently cited letters of surviving Polish concentration camp
survivors who clasped the hand extended to them from Germany.