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Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate 1918 to 1939 [Paperback]

Richard M. Watt
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 511 pages
  • Publisher: Hippocrene Books Inc.,U.S.; 3rd Revised edition edition (1 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0781806739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0781806732
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.5 x 3.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,349,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Watt tells the story of the painful birth, tormented life, and cataclysmic death of the independent Poland of 1918--1939. He also gives the definitive account in English of the dominant figure in this story, the Polish freedom fighter and strongman Jozef Pilsudski, whose admirers included Poland's Jews and Adolf Hitler.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heroic Prelude to Tragedy: Poland 1918-39 7 Mar 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is a gem - the sort of "find" one dreams of encountering but so seldom does, a well-written, exciting account of a subject one knows to be of interest and importance, but on which little seems to be available outside detailed academic histories. Mr. Watts has a splendidly exciting story to tell - how Modern Poland sprung from a dream of freedom that had been kept alive despite a century and a half of partition and foreign repression - and he tells it with verve. The initial part of the story is on an epic scale: the apparently hopeless struggle of Pilsudski and other nationalists to breathe new life into the Polish ideal prior to the First World War, their brilliant exploitation of events as the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires crumbled at the end of it, their momentarily-successful attempt to revive an earlier Greater Poland stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and their final, incredible, last-ditch success in repulsing Bolshevik invasion in 1920. After this deliverance - or rather nineteen-year stay of execution, as subsequent events were to prove - the challenge of creating a modern, economically viable state was a daunting one, with minimal resources and an impoverished, undereducated population. The second part of the book, detailing the painful and never fully-successful process of industrialisation and of land, fiscal and education reform is no less fascinating than the first, played out as it is against a background of hostile neighbours and internal political squabbling. Read more ›
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Triumph to Tragedy 8 Feb 2004
Format:Paperback
This is an enjoyable and worthwhile book which deals with an aspect of European history whose general unfamiliarity belies its importance to a proper understanding of the tensions lead to to the second world war.
Richard M. Watt tells the fascinating story of how the Poles, divided between German, Russian and Austrian territory prepared themselves so that they we able to achieve from the wreckage of the first world war the independence which they had lost as a result of the Third Partition of Poland at the close of the eighteenth century. For this achievement much of the credit must go to Jozef Pilsudski who lead Polish forces to a decisive victory against the Red army in 1920. Freedom fighter, army commander, sometime prime minister and Marshal of Poland, Pilsudski dominated Poland until his death in 1935. Although he declined to become president, even after his coup in 1926, it was virtually impossible for any Polish government (and there were many in this period) to take any significant decision without Pilsudski's approval. Yet, at a time when much of Europe fell under the spell of dictators, and notwithstanding the changes to the Polish constitution made in his name which certainly swung strongly towards the autocratic, Pilsudski, admired by Poland's jews and Hilter alike, was a believer in democracy albeit that he despaired of the greed and incompetence of the politicians of the time. Yet despite this Poland did achieve much. Significant progress was made in industrial development, land reform, education, and tackling rural backwardness so that by 1939, despite the factional strife, Poland had become a major European power able to hold its own against both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
And therein lay the tragedy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The previous two reviews have described the details fairly well. Watt provides an engaging account of Poland's birth amid a series of wars in the aftermath of WWI, its attempts at parliamentary democracy up until 1926 (when governments replaced each other with alarming regularity), Piłsudskis coup and subsequent dictatorship until his death in 1935 ("authoritarian but not fascist", is Watt's summary), and then the "government of the colonels" up until the destruction of Poland in 1939.

He is sympathetic to Poland and its plight, and the gargantuan tasks facing it on its recreation in 1918, but does not hide from its failings either. His basic viewpoint is that interwar Poland achieved much internally in difficult circumstances (for example in literacy and in land reform), but pursued a foreign policy that was overly aggressive, often unrealistic and generally unwise. Dictator Piłsudski gets off relatively lightly, while Colonel Beck, who was responsible for foreign policy 1935-9, is roundly criticised.

Given that Poland and its fate was a major feature of the Versailles settlement at the end of WWI, and of course the scene of the start of WWII when it was attacked by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, the struggles of this short-lived state is a subject that ought to be better understood than it generally is in the West. This book is an excellent place to start, as it gives a credible and readable account that is free from an obvious axe to grind.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prologue to Tragedy 25 April 2000
By Donal A. O'Neill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As Mr. Watts showed in his earlier works "Dare Call it Treason" on the French mutinies of 1917 and "The Kings Depart" on Germany and the Versailles Treaty, he is a master of narrative history. The present book is of similar quality. It is the sort of "find" one dreams of encountering but so seldom does, a well-written, exciting account of a subject one knows to be of interest and importance, but on which little seems to be available outside detailed academic histories. Mr. Watts has a splendidly exciting story to tell - how Modern Poland sprung from a dream of freedom that had been kept alive despite a century and a half of partition and foreign repression - and he tells it with verve. The initial part of the story is on an epic scale: the apparently hopeless struggle of Pilsudski and other nationalists to breathe new life into the Polish ideal prior to the First World War, their brilliant exploitation of events as the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires crumbled at the end of it, their momentarily-successful attempt to revive an earlier Greater Poland stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and their final, incredible, last-ditch success in repulsing Bolshevik invasion in 1920. After this deliverance - or rather nineteen-year stay of execution, as subsequent events were to prove - the challenge of creating a modern, economically viable state was a daunting one, with minimal resources and an impoverished, undereducated population. The second part of the book, detailing the painful process of industrialisation and of land, fiscal and education reform is no less fascinating than the first, playing out against a background of hostile neighbours and internal political squabbling. Petty party politics and narrow sectional interests bedevilled the new nation and once Pilsudski, the founding father, a benevolent not-quite-dictator, passed from the scene in the mid '30s these became ever more malignant factors, not least in unworthy half-tolerance of increasing Anti-Semitism. Despite all however, one gets the sense of a heroic people seeking a higher destiny, faltering on occasion, yet never losing faith in themselves and hope in the future. Mr.Watts guides the reader through the morass of party politics with assurance, never losing one's interest, and is very effective in bringing to life the main players in inter-war Polish society. The book ends with the disaster of 1939, with Poland once again partitioned by its ruthless neighbours and with its indomitable citizens entering the hell that will see them brutalised and enslaved, but also fighting on battle fronts from North Africa to Normandy and the Netherlands, over the skies of Western Europe and, bloody but unbowed, in the very ruins and sewers of Warsaw itself. These latter epics of Polish heroism are well recorded elsewhere and it is to Mr.Watts' credit that he has recorded so well what set the scene for these later events.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique: Only Book I've Seen on this Subject 3 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you want to know about interwar Poland, this is the book to read. It's fascinating! It shows you a completely different perspective on WWI and WWII, and it's probably the perspective that most accurately draws in all of the issues that lead to those two wars. The story of Poland in the twentieth century IS the story of Europe in the twentieth century. The book is a great read, to boot.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent account of Poland between the wars 8 Dec 2001
By Jim Panzee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book covers the history of Poland between World War I and World War II. The period was lively, to say the least, involving what are now almost-forgotten conflicts with most of Poland's neighbors, not to mention much political infighting and the period of the depression. The story loses nothing in the telling: as several reviewers have previously stated, this author is an excellent writer of narrative history. The description of the ebb and flow of armies are clear and fast-moving, and the characters of the major players come vividly to life. I think that both the casual reader and the specialist will find much to enjoy. I think that the lead-up to WWII isn't quite as strong as the rest of the account. This is the only thing that, in my mind, keeps this from being a 5-star review.
Of course, Mr. Watts virtually has the field to himself, so if you are interested in the history of Poland between the wars, you have to read this book. I'm pleased to say it's a very good one.
P.S. I also recommend Mr. Watts' other books, The Kings Depart (Germany immediately after WWI) and Some Dare Call it Treason (the French Army Mutinies in WWI).
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Often Neglected Narrative 28 Nov 2002
By Rodney J. Szasz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although the name of the Poland in the interwar years is often invoked in many narrative volumes, there is precious little written about Poland in the interwar period. Best has gone a very long way in balancing the deficit.
There is also a lot of supposed truths of which scholars of the 20th Century take without critical discussion: Pilsudki was a dictator, Poland was anti-semitic, Poland was a loyal ally of other eastern European countries, Poland distrusted the Germans more than the Russians.
In fact Pulsudski was probably one of the most balanced authoritarian personalities in the 20th century, using force in the 1926 coup to rescue an immature Parliament, and acting as a balancing hand on the rudder of state to protect the right of Jews inside Poland. He never used political murder to further his ends.
This is important because it is often cited that Britain and Empire went to war for a country with anti-semetic background subject to pogroms. When Pilsudski died persecution of Jews started. Boycotting of Jewish shops was quintessentially Nazi-like --- but there the comparison ends! Polish Police were quick to move in whenever there was a threat of physical violence. Although shameful, the post 1936 Polish method, to remove Jews from Poland was one based upon economics only and not force --- no concentration camps ever littered the Polish landscape.
Poland on the other hand may have been too clever by half for its own good. Defeating the Red Army in 1920 Poland went on a foreign policy determined to make it a major power in Europe. All predicated on the notion that Poland would not take sides in any political or polemical conflict between Russia or Germany.
That strong-armed realist strategy gained her the southern lands of Lithuania, the German majority area of Silesia, and most notoriously, Poland took advantage in the wake of Munich to bully Czechoslovakia to give up Tsechen. It set a poor example and robbed Poland of some sympathy when the Germans pushed for the return of Danzig. Poland's objective was never to wipe a country off the face of the earth like Hitler's was for Poland. But it did lose Poland sympathy internationally and made it easier for Hitler to claim that all he wanted was the Corridor and Danzig.
The last days of Poland could have been described in greater detail, but Best goes a long way in answering the question of what went wrong with Poland and why, when the crunch came, it was so devastating. I do not think that Poland, even with the most consumate statemanship could have done much to survive. But there clearly were signs that Poland, with it tough infantry should have been able to withstand the nazi-Soviet agression longer that it did.
Best's descriptions are fast, lively and one gets a real sense of Pilsudski as a man, Smygly-Ritz, and foreign minister Beck. One also gets a better idea of the challenges this country faced being crushed between the Nazis and Soviet Russians outside, and imploding from lack of an effective Parliament and minority discontent.
One of the 10 best narrative reads this year for me.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very illuminating, enjoyable book 15 Dec 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There aren't too many English-language histories of inter-war Poland, so this book is very welcome. It is easy to read and provides many interesting details on subjects (often regarded these days as obscure) such as inter-war Danzig and Poland's troubled relations with Lithuania and Cezchoslovakia. In many ways, it is popular history more than academic history: it has little to say on the inter-war economy and social structure of Poland. Its account of Polish diplomacy could be a little more rigorous, but the author, though clearly sympathetic to Poland, does not flinch awkward facts. One drawback is that the book hardly draws at all on modern research.
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