If there was one thing America could say for Poland, it was that he had a lot of history.
Seriously, he had been wandering through the Slavic nation's archives for an hour and still couldn't find the section devoted to the 1960s. America was not some creep who just wandered into other people's archives to look for things. He did have Poland's permission, but he really should have taken it more seriously when the nation said that his archives were large.
Of course, many nations had large ones. The archives were massive underground areas. Each country could have one, or they could have multiple. Russia, due to the huge land mass his country had, spread his archives all over the place. His were sorted by their time period, as far as America knew. Archives contained all sorts of things, including artefacts, letters, clothing – hell, America had seen a massive row of shelves holding newspapers at some point, and though his curiosity had been peaked (despite the fact that he couldn't speak Polish) he'd been forced to move on. Archives held all of the things that belonged to or (in the case of photographs) had nations included in them. Since their existence was kept a secret from the rest of the world, anything about them had to be concealed. Thus, archives were born.
Poland had the distinction, among nations, of recognising that since he had been through a lot, it was likely that some other nations would at some point want to come down here to find or look at something. Most nations (America included) had the bad habit of just leaving his archives how he wanted them. Poland actually had some order to his, and there were signs, similar to those in supermarket aisles, dictating what section contained what information.
America was looking for information about the 1968 Polish political crisis. How the fuck did he get to the section about the Piast monarchy? He groaned, letting his head flop backwards. He should have asked for a map or something. Deciding that continuing to walk was the only real way of finding what he needed, he set off down the aisle. Emerging into the larger walkway that flanked the shelves was hardly comforting. They seemed to continue on forever. He groaned again, even louder this time. As he walked, he allowed himself brief glances into each row. He almost stopped when he spotted cool things like medieval armour and swords, but restrained himself. He could literally just go to England's house and look at stuff like that anytime.
He continued up the walkway, eyes skimming the titles on the (very helpful) section placards. God, there were a lot of them.
Jagiellonian Dynasty, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Partitioning….
He came to a complete halt when his eyes fell on one of the signs he could see up ahead.
World War II.
He glanced around, albeit a little guiltily. He really shouldn't, he had an actual reason for being down here, and he didn't want to overstay his welcome. Poland had already been nice enough to let him down here, and unsupervised (most nations were quite overprotective of their archives), so he really shouldn't go and look at the section. But…
But it was very rare that any nation got to talk to Poland about the Second World War. Even when the damn thing was finally over, America, like most other countries, hadn't gotten to talk to Poland face-to-face until 1948. He'd been so busy rebuilding his cities destroyed by the Nazis (Warsaw had been something the Slav had thrown his heart and soul into) and trying to come to terms with the loss of his people, that most messages to and from Poland had come through his secretary at the time, Aneta. And Aneta had been a lovely person, and very capable, but it was different to actually talking to another nation. Poland had really only sent them basic paperwork, like his status reports and other things like that.
It was dumb, really, but at the end of major conflicts, nations were expected to submit reports about their movements and actions during that time. America had kept up a basic outline of what he had done, so writing his reports in January of 1946 had been fairly easy. He did have a rather vivid memory of England being unable to remember where he was at some points in 1940, and simply writing "the fucking Blitz" instead. The reports were sent to a database that any nation could view. America, who had been trying to get the upper hand on Russia after the war, had gone through the reports of the new communist states in Europe. It hadn't been fun. Lithuania's had been incredibly depressing, with a lot of mentions of deportations and some fairly insulting words about Russia. He recalled what resembled dried tears on Ukraine's when she had to mention the heavy damage she had suffered. Poland had just recounted how he had fled Warsaw and spent most of his time hiding in Krakow.
America's, personally, had been full of details about the epic campaigns in both Europe and the Pacific. He'd even added some sketches of his favourite planes and artillery to spice it up a little. Mr Truman just shook his head affectionately when he saw it.
Screw it, his curiosity was stronger than his common sense.
The section was remarkably small, considering the scale of what had happened. There was the expected, old relics of weaponry and uniforms worn by the military. There were the old diaries of some soldiers, perhaps that Poland had recovered when he was leaving Warsaw. There were things that had been plucked from the bombed-out remains of buildings in major cities. There were depressing pictures and maps depicting Poland's invasion and occupation, and images from concentration camps. He winced when he saw those. This was why most people respectfully avoided this section.
He wasn't sure why, but the small thing caught his eye nonetheless. It was nothing remarkable, just a small stack of letters bound by old string, but it was the postmarks that interested him. In his reports, Poland had said that he didn't correspond with anyone except good old Aneta, which he did in person, but the dates for these stated that he had sent these in late 1945 to early 1946. He stared. The earliest one he had found had been sent in August of 1945. And it had been sent from Germany. Yes, maybe Poland took a brief trip, but he hadn't mentioned it. Technically speaking, this was illegal for a nation to do. They weren't permitted to lie on their reports, whether it was lying outright or by omission.
Frowning, he selected one from the middle of the stack, which was apparently sent from Krakow to Grudziadz in February 1946. Feeling oddly expectant, he opened it. The letter was very brief, and written, oddly, in French, but it made him simmer with rage.
Thank you for your correspondence concerning our beloved nation. Many here in Grudziadz were concerned during the war. It is with surprise that I found that our nation was in Krakow during the war as the recently submitted reports disclose. Though, as someone who frequented the city during the war, I can tell you this is not the truth, I trust that this is done with justifiable purpose. I am anticipating your incoming visit, and wish you a safe travel. I hope to speak with you privately concerning several matters.
Miss Nowak was Aneta, and Kacper Kowalczyk was another one of Poland's aides during the 1930s and 40s, so he understood the correspondence. But. Poland had lied. That was what this letter was telling him. Kowalczyk had received the reports stating that Poland was present in Krakow during the war, and was telling Aneta that this was false. He rifled through the rest, skimming them for more information, but the next one was dated a full two weeks after this one, and the matter wasn't even alluded to. No doubt, whatever it was had been cleared up between the two.
But he couldn't help but be angry. No matter how unpleasant or awkward the contents, every nation told the truth in their reports. Germany had had to talk about the sorts of things he had experienced in combat, and had to talk about the many mentions of the 'Final Solution' made by the SS, and how he had been encouraged to ignore the term and focus on other things. He had to write about he had never questioned the many bizarre happenings and wrenching pain he had experienced due to Hitler's actions. That had to have been hard, especially in 1946, with the sting of both failure and betrayal still present for the nation. America himself had to recount the effects of the atomic bombs on Japan. All nations had described the good and bad things they had experienced and done.
And what, Poland believed he was exempt? It was true, Poland suffered an incredibly heavy blow in the war, but that didn't mean he could lie. Everyone hated writing and submitting those reports, but they all did it, out of duty and respect for the laws that bound even them. He slid the letter into his jacket and stormed out, fuming. He could get his documents on the political crisis later. They had a world meeting in Minsk tomorrow, and he wasn't going to let this slide.
"Yes, thank you Germany." He offered the customary thanks. He had actually listened this time. The other nation was very busy, and kept it short and sweet out of necessity. This did mean a lot of information crammed into a short amount of time, but America was fairly confident he had the most important notes. Germany had been coerced into giving a speech about the implementation of renewable energy in his country, and though he had only had about 2 hours to write it, as circulating rumours stated, he had done a good job. Iceland had just nodded profusely throughout the entirety of the presentation, which was always a good sign for this topic.
America took a deep breath, preparing himself. He'd asked for a bit of time at the end of the session to address the issue with Poland. He had decided that it was better to talk about it in front of everyone. If it was just one-on-one, Poland could just lie again and evade him, but with everyone present, it would be easier to get the truth out of him. Peer pressure could work wonders sometimes.
He cleared his throat and stood up.
"If I can have your attention, everybody, yeah, thanks." He sighed quietly, unsure of where to even begin.
"As we all know, there are many laws specifically tailored to us nations. They dictate our rights, responsibilities, obligations and jurisdiction over many things. There are many things that we are legally bound to doing. We cannot get out of it, and most nations don't try. No matter how unpleasant, we follow these laws and do our duty."
He took a breath, looking around. Most of the others looked politely baffled.
"Now, one of our duties is to, as you know, provide information to international databases concerning our movements during certain periods of time. Mostly, this means wars. And no matter who unpleasant the content, no matter how ashamed or unhappy we might be to have to tell the truth about certain things in war, we all tell the truth. Well," he paused, glancing at Poland, who had an odd expression on his face, "almost all of us."
At this statement, he saw a few nations frown and look around in confusion. America pulled the letter from his jacket and placed it on the table.
"One of the best examples of this is World War II." At this statement, America saw Poland stiffen, and close his eyes briefly before opening them again. "The world was devastated, yet we still all fulfilled our duty to tell the truth. Well, again, almost all."
England, standing to America's right, straightened up, staring at him.
"Are you saying that someone lied on their personal reports on World War 2?" he inquired. America sighed, nodding his head slightly. The reaction was instantaneous, as a low murmuring filled the room. America motioned for them to all be quiet, and, to his surprise, they actually quieted. He turned toward the blond nation seated further down the table, now looking very uncomfortable.
"Poland, do you want to explain why you lied about your movements in World War 2?"
Lithuania, seated next to the blond, widened his eyes and swivelled to gawk at his friend. Lying on those reports was a serious offence for nations. Others around the table stared in equal surprise. Poland winced when he felt Lithuania's eyes on him, rubbing the centre of his own chest.
"Not particularly, no." he responded. The other nations present muttered among themselves.
"So you don't deny it then?" America asked.
"No, I don't." Poland sighed, looking tired, "I said I was in Krakow, and I wasn't, that letter you have says that much. Though," his gazed hardened, and he looked up to meet America's eyes, "I don't recall giving you permission to look through any sections of my archives other than the 1960s section. I know for a fact that you didn't find that there." America didn't even flinch at the (correct) accusations.
"Personally, I think the offence you've committed is a little more drastic than my minor trespassing, Poland. So do you mind telling us why you would lie?"
For the life of him America still didn't understand why Poland would lie. It wasn't like he was some young nation who made a mistake. Poland was over 1000 years old, he definitely knew better. Hell, he had probably been there when they decided on having nations report on their movements.
"I felt like it." Cue more murmuring. America sighed. Obviously, Poland wasn't going to make this easy.
"You need to give a better explanation than that. Perhaps you can start with where you actually were during World War 2."
"I don't see why this matters. Maybe at the time, but it's been 70 years since then, surely this isn't relevant. Besides, Krakow is close enough." The last sentence was only whispered, but America caught it anyway.
"Krakow was close enough? Even if it was close geographically, you still needed to tell the truth about where you were exactly. So, where were you?" Poland looked like he very much regretted saying anything. He was silent, and for a long moment, America though he might not answer at all. When he did, it certainly wasn't what he was expecting.
"I was in the countryside, uh, near a small town, in the south. It's not that far from Krakow." Poland looked pained even as he said this, though America couldn't understand why. That wasn't so bad. Hell, it sounded better than what most countries lived through in the war. Maybe that's why he thought, but it still didn't seem to add up in his mind. Poland was fidgeting.
"Are you lying again?" America blurted out. Evidently, he was incorrect, though, as Poland's head snapped around to look at him, glaring.
"No, that's the truth, okay?" America watched him for a moment. Surely shame was not a good enough reason to lie. It still didn't add up in his mind.
"If that is the truth, and you were near a small town, what is it called?" And with that, America though that he must have been lying again, because he looked awfully pale, and was glancing around the room like he wanted to be anywhere else.
"Does it matter?" Poland asked weakly. America's expression hardened.
"Yes, it does matter, because you'll need to give us a good reason for lying like you did. And so far, staying near a small town does not constitute lying on your reports." Poland just shook his head slowly, fiddling with his left sleeve. "So?" America continued, "Why does this matter? We need more details if you're going to be forgiven for this."
"I didn't stay in the village, I was in…a place nearby, I guess you could say. I only saw the village a few times. Again, I don't see why it matters."
America sighed. Why was he being so difficult?
"Poland, what was the village called? Tell us that at least."
He was silent for a good minute, and when he finally spoke, it sounded like a surrender.
"Oświęcim" America frowned. The word was not familiar. He exchanged a look with England, who also looked puzzled. The other nations also looked rather confused. None of them really reacted, other than Germany. The blond looked momentarily stunned, then thoughtful, then horrified. All of these emotions passed over his face in a matter of seconds.
"You weren't in this village?" Germany asked, sounding terse. Poland turned away from him.
"I wasn't in it, I was nearby." Germany stepped away, looking as shaken as Poland.
"What the hell? How does that help us? I'm sorry, but I still don't understand how that is significant enough to make you think you had the right to lie on official reports." England snapped.
"Yeah, I agree." America said, ignoring the odd, imploring look Germany sent him. "We're going to need more specifics."
"Oświęcim is a town in the south of my country. Most people know it by another name, but that is the name of a small town." His voice shook as he said the next part. "It's not far from Krakow." Poland said, "So I didn't lie about that, at least." America quicky began to protest that this wasn't what he meant by specifics.
"America," Germany interrupted him, sounding despondent, "Oświęcim is the name of the town where Auschwitz was built."
America didn't think he had ever heard silence fall so quickly and completely in a room. All eyes slowly turned to Poland, who sat quietly for a moment before standing and pushing his chair back, leaning on the table with his hands. His voice was astoundingly steady when he spoke.
"If you want to hear the stories I have, about that place, I will fix that report and tell you." His gaze met America's again, now imbued with a strange intensity that made his step back a little.
"If you want to hear about the hours I sat surrounded by the dead and dying in the barracks, I'll tell you. If you want to hear about the times they would throw me inside the gas chambers, knowing I could not die, I'll tell you. If you want to hear about how they would starve us to the point we resembled the dead more than the living, I'll tell you. If you want to hear about the time they shut a disobedient prisoner – a 14-year old girl – inside one of the crematoriums and burned her alive while we were forced to listen to her screaming, I will fucking tell you. But when you asked me to write down my experiences, it was 1946, and I barely looked like I had ever been liberated from that camp in the first place." He was shaking now, and his eyes were full of despair.
"I didn't have the mental, emotional or even physical capacity to disclose all of that. I still had nightmares. I was convinced I would wake up in one of those chambers and the torture would continue. I was a prisoner in my own country for 5 years and I didn't know that freedom was much better at that point, okay?" he bowed his head, exhaling deeply before raising his head once more.
"So I lied. When I finally found some of my old aides in Krakow, I told them I didn't have it in me to tell the truth, so Aneta promised she would make it sound as convincing as possible. She substituted in some of her own experiences so no-one would know I was lying. And through her, I stayed away from other nations until I looked like myself again."
Of course. Because no-one had seen Poland in flesh for almost ten years by the time 1948 rolled around and America finally spoke to him again. Everyone else in the room seemed to be recalling this now, and looked horrified that they had never even suspected it. Poland turned to Germany, who looked pale and dismayed.
"It isn't your fault, Germany, before you go on thinking it is. I know what you're like. If you get all depressed over this I'll track you down and kick your ass." It was a little weak, but Germany nodded nonetheless. Poland exhaled again, shaking his head. He retrieved his bag from the floor, and made for the door, when America caught him around the wrist, the same arm whose sleeve he had been fiddling around with. They stared at each other for a long time, before Poland gently pulled his arm from America's grip and rolled up the sleeve.
The black numbers were small, and far from perfectly done, but it was the confirmation they needed. Without a word, Poland rolled his sleeve down again and marched out the door.
No-one mentioned the report again. Even at their next world meeting, nations seemed to deliberately put the incident out of their minds. They had learned something very dark and very personal about Poland that day, and didn't want to force him to talk about something like that again.
Germany was a little depressed for a while. He came to their next meeting with a faint bruise on his arm. "He keeps promises" was all he said by way of explanation, before making his way to his seat.
America was handed the information on the 1968 political crisis that he had been searching for in the first place. Poland didn't seem cut up about it, and just told him that he had walked right past the cold war section.
As for the report? Well, any world leader wanting to know about the movements of nations during the Second World War could read about France's struggle against the Vichy, America's 'epic' campaign in the Pacific, Lithuania's awful experiences with deportations, and the surprisingly dull summary of what it was like getting bombed in Krakow.
Arbeit macht frei
1968 Polish political crisis - Google it, it's actually very interesting, and also related to anti-Semitism
Poland's 'age' - for this figure I was using the year 963, when Poland's first real monarch began ruling. This puts Poland's 'age', at least here, at 1,054
Warsaw after WW2 - about 85% of Warsaw was destroyed by the Nazis by 1945. The city was rebuilt, exactly as it was before the war, and is now home to 2.6 million people, as of 2016.
Lithuania - There were mass deportations carried out by the Soviet Union both during and after WWII. Many 'undesirables' in Lithuania were sent to labour camps or Gulags.
The letter sent from Germany - props if you remember this from the actual story. Approximately 20,000 inmates of Auschwitz were sent on a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany.
Oświęcim - A town in Southern Poland, with a population of almost 40,000. It is notably, the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It is located a little over 68 kilometres (42 miles) away from Krakow.
Arbeit macht frei - Means 'work makes you free' in German. These are the words displayed on the gates of Auschwitz and multiple other concentration camps.