An Excellent book for all those interested in the Second World War and the fate of Poland, the only country fighting along Allied armies that ended up with its borders and without freedom for another 45 years, with majority of its educated leadership murdered by Germans and Russians, and those who survived persecuted by the Communist regime for years after.
In my work on the Brute Polak stereotype, I attempt to explain why so many otherwise Politically Correct people, who find stereotyping of African Americans, homosexuals, and women to be utterly beyond the pale, feel free to engage in the most egregious stereotyping of Poles One justification for anti Polish stereotyping Poles have not suffered Others have suffered, and they must be shielded from verbal assault Poles, on the other hand, have not suffered, and deserve no such protection Poles have not suffered that anyone could say this, never mind as an excuse for stereotyping, demonstrates that Poles have not adequately communicated their story on college campuses, in literature, through museums or in the political arena In addition, there are pressures against Poles speaking the truth In 1939, a week before the Nazi blitzkrieg in Poland, Hitler stated, I put ready my Death s Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language I was once told that I could not include that quote in a scholarly work if I wished to see my work published Referencing Polish suffering, I was told, would be interpreted as an attempt to minimize Jewish suffering According to the Harvard University Press webpage, in The Eagle Unbowed, Halik Kochanski tells, for the first time, the story of Poland s war in its entirety It s been a long wait, but now that Kochanski s book is here, one thing is clear if the word genocide cannot be applied to Poland during World War II, then the word genocide has no meaning The sadism and suffering recorded in these pages is overwhelming Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia invaded Poland in September, 1939 Both intended to erase Poland Both explicitly stated as much Both Germany and Russia had, for hundreds of years, tried to erase Poland Both performed genocidal acts, including mass murder of non combatant civilians, mass murder of political, religions, cultural, and military leaders, targeting children for persecution, outlawing education, outlawing Polish language, focused attempts to erase Polish culture, mass deportations, enslavement, and resettlement of former Polish territory with non Poles Both had clear and plausible plans for the ultimate elimination of Poland and Polishness the German was named Generalplan Ost Polish priests in Dachau concentration camp Polish professors in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp Polish military officers mass murdered by the Soviets in Katyn Polish children kidnapped by Nazis some to be raised as Nazis, some to be gassed Polish children starved to death in the Soviet Gulag Polish villages destroyed by the Nazis Polish villagers massacred by Soviet partisans Polish villagers massacred by Ukrainians Polish museums, factories, forests, libraries, artworks, burned, bombed, despoiled, crated up and carted away Poland abandoned and betrayed by her allies France, England, and America If the word genocide cannot be applied to this, the word genocide has no meaning It does not belittle others suffering to state that Poland was a victim of genocide during World War II It demeans humanity to refuse to say so We ve read bits and pieces of this history in other volumes If Harvard s advertising is correct, this is the first English language overview of WW II in Poland It is the first such book I have read Even though I am familiar with this history, reading it all in one sitting is an emotional and spiritual challenge Kochanski s style is brisk and no nonsense She covers a massive amount of material addressing diplomacy, military maneuvers, espionage, torture in the most efficient manner possible She does not linger over the heartbreaking aspect of her narrative She does select quotes that do the work of bringing to brief life the emotional impact of massive human evil These quotes flame out on the page, and, like lit matchsticks, go out quickly, as we return to the forced march through hell At times, Kochanski s text can be dry This is especially true of the opening chapters that hurry the reader through a necessary introduction to Polish history Even when discussing highly contested material, such as the role of Polish non Jews in the Nazi genocide of Jews, Kochanski is dispassionate and quick This book will never be a bestseller, but anyone who has any interest in Poland owes it to himself to read it, indeed, to soldier through it I am not a historian, and I am not qualified to assess this massive amount of data I have read professional reviews of The Eagle Unbowed and been positively impressed I ve also read two critical reviews of the book, one by Antony Polonsky, the other by John Connelly Polonsky praises the book on its handling of military history and the Second Polish Republic Polonsky cites errors of fact, errors that could easily be corrected in subsequent editions Polonsky faults the book for not citing recent work by Barbara Engelking, Andrzej Zbikowski and Jan Grabowski, including work that depicts Polish Jewish relations during World War II in a less favorable light In his December 3 review of The Eagle Unbowed in The Nation, John Connelly mimes a tone of forced befuddlement He doesn t understand how Poles can be sometimes stereotyped as noble, and, at other times, as base scum Connelly would benefit from reading Bieganski, The Brute Polak Stereotype Ironically, Connelly chastises Kochanski for not being aware of current scholarship This current scholarship, Connelly writes, demonstrates that Poles, inspired by their own anti Semitism, collaborated with Nazis in the Final Solution He also criticizes Kochanski for citing anti Communism as the cause of Polish hostility to Jews, for example, in territory often occupied by the Soviets In sum, Connelly writes, Kochanski is to be faulted because the Polish viewpoint prevails in her book No doubt historians will debate whether or not Kochanski is too soft on, or underrepresents, Polish anti Semitism, and whether or not the book is representational I am not an historian, and I can only watch from the sidelines of such a debate No matter the outcome, the book as it stands now is one that must be read by anyone who wants to talk about Poland during WW II.
The Second World War Gripped Poland As It Did No Other Country In Europe Invaded By Both Germany And The Soviet Union, It Remained Under Occupation By Foreign Armies From The First Day Of The War To The Last The Conflict Was Brutal, As Polish Armies Battled The Enemy On Four Different Fronts It Was On Polish Soil That The Architects Of The Final Solution Assembled Their Most Elaborate Network Of Extermination Camps, Culminating In The Deliberate Destruction Of Millions Of Lives, Including Three Million Polish Jews In The Eagle Unbowed, Halik Kochanski Tells, For The First Time, The Story Of Poland S War In Its Entirety, A Story That Captures Both The Diversity And The Depth Of The Lives Of Those Who Endured Its HorrorsMost Histories Of The European War Focus On The Allies Determination To Liberate The Continent From The Fascist Onslaught Yet The Good War Looks Quite Different When Viewed From Lodz Or Krakow Than From London Or Washington, DC Poland Emerged From The War Trapped Behind The Iron Curtain, And It Would Be Nearly A Half Century Until Poland Gained The Freedom That Its Partners Had Secured With The Defeat Of Hitler Rescuing The Stories Of Those Who Died And Those Who Vanished, Those Who Fought And Those Who Escaped, Kochanski Deftly Reconstructs The World Of Wartime Poland In All Its Complexity From Collaboration To Resistance, From Expulsion To Exile, From Warsaw To Treblinka The Eagle Unbowed Provides In A Single Volume The First Truly Comprehensive Account Of One Of The Most Harrowing Periods In Modern History Page 536 my bookA war begun in the defence of the inviolability and independence of Poland has ended with the deprivation of Polish independence and the placing of the country under the rule of a foreign power This book traces the sad history of Poland during World War II No country suffered than Poland, which faced, at the beginning, two occupations by Germany and the Soviet Union, then Germany from 1941 44, and at wars end that of the Soviet Union In a very real sense Poland s occupation ended only after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990 s It could be argued which is not a debate I have any inclination to be involved in that the Soviet Union suffered than Poland during the Second World War, but proportionately Poles were victimized and Poland s war started in 1939.
The author describes all the events beginning with the dual occupation and the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union both were vicious occupiers Even though Poland was a poor country, the Soviets were impressed in 1939 by the abundance they found, and abruptly started to take everything I was not aware that during its occupation the Soviet Union killed and or deported to their extensive Gulag system thousands upon thousands of Poles Many starved to death and many that were sent to the Western Allies after 1941 from their Gulags, via the circuitous route of Iran, were in a deplorable physical state There are chapters on the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the Holocaust, the Warsaw uprising of 1944 with Soviet troops looking on sixty kilometres away As an aside, the author points out the extreme arrogance of the French army who did not consult with the remnants of the Polish army after 1939 the French were next on the German chopping block.
The author recounts the Katyn massacre of Polish officers in 1940 and its constant denial by the Soviet Union the guilt of this was only acknowledged by both Gorbachev and Yeltsin in the early 1990 s There is a direct link between the Katyn massacre controversy and Stalin s non recognition of the exiled Polish government in London in April of 1943 Yalta, Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, The Polish London Government or Polish exile government Lublin Polish Government Stalin s puppets There is a strong tendency I wish to comment on throughout this book to blame the Western Allies particularly Roosevelt and Churchill for allowing Stalin to set up his own puppet regime in Poland which started in 1944 It is Stalin who set up a cruel dictatorship in Poland, not the Western Allies.
For instance on page 508 of my bookUltimately the success of the Yalta conference would rest on whether Churchill and Roosevelt had been correct in assuming that the Soviets could be trusted not to impose communist dominated governments on the countries of Eastern EuropeThis is pointing in the wrong direction The question should be would Stalin live up to his agreements at Yalta which he clearly did not He never allowed any opposition parties in Poland in fact many were arrested and killed and unfettered and free elections as called for at Yalta, did not happen until after 1990 The author also points out that Stalin had 2 million Red Army troops in Poland he had all the cards having over 10 million troops in Eastern Europe Going to war with Stalin after the Germans had been defeated was not an option Stalin wanted his puppets in Poland and there was very little the Western Allies could do about it Stalin had boots on the ground in Eastern Europe, the Western Allies did not With these boots on the ground Stalin was able to build his own government and sadly, this became a rule by terror with massive population resettlements and the arrest of thousands of members of the Polish resistance.
The author on page 358But for Stalin to ensure political dominance over the entire population of Poland the authority of the Polish government in London had to be undermined.
I find this statement unrealistic The Polish government in London never had authority in Poland after September 1939 It was a government in absentia Much closer to the truth is the author s statement from Stalin page 510Churchill wants the Soviet Union to share a border with a bourgeois Poland, alien to us, but we cannot allow this to happenDid this London Polish government really think that a person of Stalin s nature was going to merely let them waltz into Warsaw and set up a democratic government On page 436The Polish government in London wanted the British and United States governments to give guarantees that they would uphold Poland s post war frontiers and that the Soviet occupation of Poland would end as soon as the war did.
This guarantee would have merely been a paper guarantee which was worthless in front of Stalin s Red Army in Eastern Europe As mentioned on page 439 by Roosevelt to the Polish ambassadorDo you expect us to declare war on Joe Stalin if they cross your previous frontierOn page 479The men of the II Polish Corps held on to the belief that after Germany was defeated they could go into action against the Soviet UnionThis was a delusion Up until the end of the Second World War the Soviet Union was viewed as an ally and correctly so Beginning in 1943 it was the Red Army that was primarily defeating Germany, which was the main objective They were hardly viewed as someone to go to war with Unfortunately Churchill and Roosevelt needed Stalin than the London Polish Government and the same applied to DeGaulle It was only after the war and the beginning of the Cold War that many saw the Soviet Union for what it was a despotic dictatorship that waged war against its own people One must realize that Poland s vulnerable geography places it directly between two of Europe s most dangerous nations sadly Poland risks being emasculated by one of the two.
Despite all, this book is still very worthwhile There is a thorough examination on the ramifications of the Warsaw Uprising along with Russia s intransigence I did feel the author went on too long about Polish participation with the Western Allies like in Italy but it does make us understand the dismay and bitterness of the Polish people when their country became usurped, once , under the yoke of a powerful neighbor.
One further quote Page xxixIn 1939 Poland was a heterogeneous country with significant national minorities of Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanian, Germans and Jews, but in 1945 Poland became a homogenous country Allow me to explain what led me to The Eagle Unbowed First and foremost, I am mostly Polish and I have always had an interest in history In high school and college majored in History the most I ever learned of Poland was that it was partitioned several times in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that it was invaded by Germany in September, 1939 Clearly, there was a lot of history there that I d been missing out on By the time I graduated I was so burnt out on history that I never dug any further It wasn t until I recently saw three films by Polish director Andrzej Wajda mentioned briefly near the end of the book that I regained an interest in Polish history circa WWII These films were A Generation Pokolonie 1955 , Kanal 1957 , and Ashes and Diamonds Popi i diament 1958 they re all great and I recommend watching them in order as well as the interviews afterwards, if you get the Criterion Collection editions In each, Wajda portrays a group of people Polish communists resisting the Germans, Polish Home Army Armia Krajowa or AK in the Warsaw Uprising, and the post war remnants of the Home Army resisting communist takeover, respectively Now my interest was really piqued I found The Eagle Unbowed TEU at the library after searching for Polish history books about WWII and the years after What I thought I d be most interested in were the years just after the war as depicted in Ashes and Diamonds , but I think this was just because I didn t realize how much was going on in Poland during the war TEU gives a brief history of Poland s rise to prominence and eventual pickle in the middle status with Austria, Prussia, and Russia WWI and the intervening years, including the war with the Soviet Union in the 1920s, are also reviewed The main focus of the book is WWII itself, from the mythical cavalry charge on German tanks to the end of the war in 1945, which, as Kochanski and other reviewers note, was no end at all for the Poles One of the things I was most impressed by while reading TEU was how confusing everything is I m not saying that Kochanski s writing is confusing in fact, her appendices and name guides were helpful in keeping things straight relatively speaking rather, how confusing it must have been to be a Pole at that time Which of the numerous groups do you ally with Who are their allies What do the other powers want for Poland or from Poland On top of that, every power wants them to move east or west, or just vanish from existence entirely And in spite of all this, a great many Poles were able to organize and effectively combat the Nazis and Soviets all around the world I imagine myself as a Pole in the 1940 s carrying around this book and scratching my head trying to get things figured out Basically, if the book is confusing, it s because the history itself was confusing, as much for those living it as for those studying it Also mind boggling is the staggering number of people killed in such a short time Kochanski throws a lot of numbers at us during all the battles, executions, forced migrations, etc.
, and I admit that by about halfway through I was glossing over the stats part of this was laziness, but I think part of it is the mind s inability to comprehend such destruction, like I can t even fathom 40,000 people dying in one spot in one day so I m going to skim over this paragraph TEU helped to fill in the massive knowledge gaps left by my formal education, and at the same time it increased my pride in being Polish and my gratitude at not having to be alive at such a horrifying time not that the world s a sunny paradise in 2013 but that s another story Kochanski should be commended for writing a comprehensive history on Poland in the years around WWII Regardless of her Polish name, I did not get the feeling, as some of you did, that Kochanski was unjustly opinionated without the backing of facts and excerpts from primary sources at her side I also appreciated her guide on Polish pronunciation at the beginning of the book enough to tab it and constantly flip back to it until I could remember what letters made what sound It makes a big difference to me when reading a book with foreign names to be able to pronounce them correctly It also helps me to remember names better when I say them aloud and in their appropriate accent For TEU I read all of the names in the voice of Andrzej Wajda, as heard in the Criterion interviews mentioned above A few suggestions of improvements for future editions a second section of pictures, fix the typos I can remember almost a dozen obvious ones , and redesign the maps so that the different portions stand out better in black and white sometimes it was hard to tell dark gray from slightly darker gray Apart from those minor complaints, I recommend reading this book in conjunction with the three Wajda films to get a better idea of the story.
Finished at last My gosh that was horrible A real review will come tomorrow if I can remember that it Every student of history knows, generally, what happened to the Polish people during WWII, but this is one of those situations where, when you read a 600 page book dedicated to the subject, it turns out to be so much worse than you thought From relocation to political missteps, countless atrocities to their war contributions, the westward shifting of their borders to relocations, Halik Kochanski does a superb job of bringing together the whole of the Polish experience during the Second World War, concluding with a final chapter of the aftermath During almost any other time the Polish experience would have been the focal point of justifiable outrage, but the Holocaust which included approximately 3,000,000 Polish Jews casts a long shadow, and unfortunately, the story of the Polish people has been seen, if seen at all, as an insignificant side story This is one of those books that sticks with you long after the final page is turned.
Horror story, history, expose, explanation and cautionary tale Also, completely true, impeccably researched and documented.
Thorough, complete and instructive Highly recommended.
Bracing myself to yet again try to gain knowledge and understanding of the lives of my parents and why I was born in Australia so far away from the homes of my ancestors.
Yet again I am reading with tears in my eyes As Halik Kochanski relates the story of what happened to Poles my father, Jan and Belorussians my mother, Alexandra I think of my grandmothers, my grandfathers and other relatives of whom I know nothing.
My parents could not speak of their experience of WW2 I only know they lost my brother, Zygmush 4 and my sister, Irena 11 mths My mother lost touch with all her family forever Halik s clear, factual and compassionate text explains why this happened.
As Hitler and Stalin played their cruel Chess game of power people died, people suffered My parents survived but with wounds so deep they could not share They poured all their love into their only child, her hasband and their three beautiful grandchildren.
I can read this book only a chapter at a time Thank you Halik for writing this history.