Recently published here in the UK and soon to be followed in the USA. This is a big mighty tome and worth its weight in gold. This is a very comprehensive history of Poland and her people during the WW2. She pulls no punches when she brings in the September Campaign and then how the Soviet joined the war in support of Nazi Germany and how they divided the country between them. This book examines all parts of Polish history and shines lights in to the darker parts some people would prefer not to mention.
I recently used it as part of a source for reference while writing an overview on aspects of Polish war events and this was a valuable source of information. The book is not for the faint hearted as it is delves into the past.
If you want to know why those of Poles do not really consider that the war ended in 1945 but 1989 then read this book. If you are interested in all aspects of Eastern Europe and WW2 this book is a must buy.
By the Spring of 1939 Hitler's attempts to recruit Poland for an Eastern war had failed. On 25 March Hitler told the Wehrmacht to prepare for an invasion of Poland.Without warning,at 4.20am on 1 September Germany bombed the city of Wielun killing hundreds of people, mostly women and children. In all, over 150 places were bombed. Warsaw was hit 17 times on that day alone. By 25 September 25000 civilians plus some 6ooo military personnel had been killed in an undeclared war. During the fighting that ensued the Germans committed appalling atrocities against Polish soldiers who Hitler regarded as not real soldiers because, according to Hitler, Poland was not a 'real country'. From the outset the intention was to destroy and eliminate the Polish people.
By 1945 Poland had lost 20% of its population and its freedom. There are numerous books about, for example, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Uprising and the Soviet massacre of 20000 Polish officers but until now no one has written in English an account of Poland at war.
Kochanski's book is the masterly account we have been waiting for. She is a British-born historian whose own family experienced some of the horrors she describes in her book. In this book she exposes not only the horrors that the Polish people suffered in the war but also scandals such as the Poles not being invited to a British victory parade in 1946-Fijians and Mexicans were. She also details the fact that we and the Americans were as duplicitous as the Nazis and the Russians in their behaviour towards the Poles. The Allies and the Soviets behaved in a shameful way that sullies the reputation of Churchill and Roosevelt.
Kochanski also describes key battles very clearly. The tragedy of some 20000 Polish children who were kidnapped and handed over to German parents is covered, very few ever saw their parents again.
She does not shrink either from discussing the sensitive issue of local anti-semitism and Polish collaboration with their German invaders. However, this never reached the scale of French collaboration.
Kochanski weaves political, military and diplomatic events in admirably clear English while not forgetting the human aspects of this terrible tragedy.
The world must never forget the atrocities that Germans, not just the Nazis, perpetrated throughout Europe during the second world war. Polish suffering was immense. In 1945 her suffering continued under a barbarous Communist regime. It is,therefore, remarkable that Poland survived. She did and today is in a better state than ever before.
We are indebted to Halik Kochanski for enabling us to better understand and admire the resilience of the Polish people.
Like my review of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 I can't possibly begin to go in-depth into the how and why's of Poland and their people in the Second World War that are laid out in this fascinating book. I come at this book as an enthusiastic, but lapsed, amateur reader.
It's thought provoking and may give even the most learned of World War II historians pause for thought. For the first time I feel that I have a rounded understanding of Poland's war and the effect it had on their people.
It's not a short book, but don't let it's size put you off. It is eminently readable and a must for anyone with a keen interest in the War.
The hundreds of books and films about WWII which the British have read or seen present that war as one between the "goodies" (Britain and her allies, including the Soviet Union) and the "baddies" (Nazi Germany and its allies). This outstanding and brilliantly-researched book shows that, from the Polish perspective, the "baddies" were both Germany and the Soviet Union, each of whom brutally invaded and occupied the country during the 6 years. Britain and the USA were seen as fair-weather friends only; Roosevelt is presented as more interested in winning the 1944 election than in acting justly towards the Poles, while the British foreign secretary Eden, and even Churchill, were keener on cosying up to Stalin than on helping the country which had more casualties than any other during the conflict. In particular, they were prepared to keep quiet about what they knew of the notorious Katyn massacre, wrongly blamed by Stalin on the Nazis.
Much of the book, whose author is a British-born historian of Polish parentage, consists of reminiscencies by Poles, mostly children at the time, about the unspeakable sufferings their people, and not just the Jews, went through. The mind grows numb at the innumerable accounts of massacres of thousands in a day, at the hands of both Nazis and Soviets. I knew a little of these things, but this book is a real eye-opener and should be read by anyone with the simplistic "Stalin good because he helped us beat Hitler" perspective. The last two chapters describe the post-war developments, ending with the free and democratic Poland we have today, albeit with some lost land to the east. My only small complaint is that the index is not full enough; I came across several people and places mentioned in the text but omitted from the index.
on 5 November 2012
Focuses on a harrowing but important time in Poland's history. I am not an expert on this but finding the book very readable and I think it will change the perceptions that many people have about Polish history and particularly the interplay of relations with Germany, France, Britain and Russia. I recommend it to people with an interest in Poland and/ or the history of the period and it has made me want to find out more about this tragic and complicated era.
You can't hope to fully understand the Second World War without understanding Poland's role in it. Poor Poland has always been a victim of its geography and this book covers a small, but major, part of the country's long and turbulent history. Sandwiched between East and West life was never going to be easy for the Polish people but perhaps even they could never have predicted quite what the nineteen-forties would visit upon them!
Halik Kochanski's book is probably as comprehensive a view of Poland and the Poles during the most important and terrible part of their history as you are ever likely to read. Well researched and comprehensive in scope this single volume covers a huge breadth of history in an important English-language work. This author knows her subject well and presents it to us with all its horror and heroism exposed. A fascinating, if rather uncomfortable, read.
someone has bothered to write about Poland's beleagured and sad and bloody history.
Before I start my review I would like to share a story about my Polish Papa. He was 19 years old when the Ukrainians invaded Poland and on his return from Technical College, he found that his Mother and Sister had been raped and then beheaded by the Ukrainian soldiers. He was captured and taken via a cattle truck (train) to a Siberian Gulag where he worked on the Road of Bones. Although he never recounted tales of the war he did once tell me that in order to survive he and his fellow countrymen had to eat anything they could get hold of including rats, cats and dogs. He also lost two Brothers...they just disappeared. Fortunately Hitler made the mistake of invading Russia and then my Papa and his fellow countrymen travelled down to the Middle East via Iran, Afganistan et al to join the Eighth Army. Before joining the Eighth Army he was in the 9th Polish Carabineri (Rifles) and then the Polish 2nd Corps.
This massive tome recounts the history of 'my' Country and is researched and explained very well.
For centuries Poland has been invaded by various countries and although it is a large Country now, it was at one time much bigger and also had a Monarchy. I particularly liked the section about Monte Cassino because my Papa fought there and received a medal for bravery. After the Germans declared War on Poland then the Russians also did the same. There was the awful massacre at Katyn and then the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Concentration Camps which nearly wiped out the entire Jewish race plus Poles, Czechs, Russians, Romanians, British, the Disabled and so on. I have been to Aushwitz (Oswieciem in Polish) and not a bird flies over the place or sings there.
Upon their return to England, the Poles were saddened to find that Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt had signed the Yalta Pact which effectively meant that any Pole returning to his native land could be shot for desertion to the Soviet Republic. Most Poles loathed Churchill because of this. They said that 'he (Churchill) had sold them up the river'.
I didn't know that some English people at the time hated the Poles and thought them lazy, drunk and knife carriers. That saddened me terribly as most of the Poles around where I live worked hard after being de-mobbed and made good, honest lives for themselves. My own Papa started with a bicycle business mending punctures etc., then progressed to buying a taxi and finally saved up enough money to buy a plot of land and build a Petrol Station and eventually a BMC car franchise.
Of course Poland then became part of the USSR and it was a regulation that every child learnt Russian as a second language. If you didn't do what the Russians wanted, you simply disappeared or had a convenient 'accident'.
We returned (me a babe in arms) in 1960 or thereabouts much to the trepidation of my Mother. There were Russian soldiers everywhere and you had to register at every town or village you stayed in otherwise Russian soldiers would turn up with Sten guns demanding why you hadn't. It was a frightening time for all and I think this comes through very well in this excellent book.
In my opinion, the Poles were incredibly brave, they took Monte Cassino after everyone else had failed because of their hatred of the Germans and then of course there were the brave Pilots who joined our RAF and annoyed the heck out of their Squadron Leaders by talking to each other in Polish whilst flying.
Poland is a beautiful place to visit with the Tatra Moutains (part of the Carpathians) being a natural border between the former Czechoslovakia and its wonderful old towns like Krakow which has the oldest University in Europe.
Poland is now free thanks in part to Lech Walesa and Solidarity and is like any other European Country with its ups and downs.
I highly recommend this book as even I didn't know half of what I thought I did before reading it.
Many people overlook the contribution of Poland to WW2. Poland wasn't just a country that was invaded by Germany which caused the outbreak of WW2 and then sat back and waited for rescue. Many men and women fought back the only way they knew how, they formed their own "resistance" forces to undermined the German army. Some travelled to the UK to join the armed forces to help fight the Germans.
This book follows the events that took place in Poland during WW2 and it does give the reader pause to think what people will stoop to in order to control and dominate others.
It is a well researched, well written and thought provoking book about the forgotten fight for Poland.
I have read plenty of books about the Second World War that cover the fate of Poland and the Polish but this is the first I can recall that concentrates on the subject. It is well written but does not make for such digestible reading as something like Max Hasting's 'All Hell Let Loose' (another reviewer aptly describes it as densely written).
This is an academically thorough account (the bibliography runs to 19 pages) and is not a book that can be 'skimmed' for headlines. However, it is deserving of the time spent immersing oneself. Poland may not be quite a forgotten story but in a period when many tragedies of epic proportion were writ large I gained the sense that in some way it had been pushed to the margins of many texts.
Kochanski has done justice to the task of bringing together so many strands and accounts and enabled the country's almost unbearably isolated suffering to be presented centre stage.
The period of historical time-span covered here is a traumatic to say the least, but should be placed within a context that since the 17th century Poland has been in conflict with Imperial Russia as well Soviet aggression the last aggression by the Russian Comintern before the Second World War this was in 1919 and was a failure. So it is not surprising that Stalin was `happy' to partner up with Nazi plans to seize Poland and carve up the country as part of the Nazi Soviet pact, better known as Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This is an important historical book that is well researched and articulate in its delivery, it shows the roles played by Russia, France, Britain and Germany and how self-interest was paramount in their national interest, at the expense of Poland's sovereignty. While Britain and France declared war, in 1939, on Nazi Germany's invasion they seemed to do little at the end of the war to ensure that the Soviets would keep their hands off it.
Thus for many countries the war ended in 1945 but totalitarianism instigated by Stalin, meant Poland was to become a Soviet Satellite state, and this was perpetuated until late 1980s, and with the demise of the Soviet Union and the civil resistance within Poland created by Solidarity (non-state controlled Union).