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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstandingly researched book about wartime Poland,
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.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forgotten Poles,
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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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic,
This is a fantastic book
its nice to find a book that really delves into all the aspects of polish history during the second world war ( and its history up to then)in one book . its relationships with the axis and allies, and the soviets; who you could say played both roles during the war. The author is even handed with her information and the book doesnt turn into a polemic about how badly treated the poles were ( even if they were). you get a picture of teh hardened, brave, resolute polish men and women involved, aswell as the colaborators for both soviet and nazi. it covers the cutural, political, military, but most of all the human alement of the story of the people of poland. the book also works wonderfully as its an accademic work that allows the story to be told in a interesting and flowing narrative. its a book you find yourself delving into it when ever you have a spare five minutes, which is always a sign of a good book to me.
I look forward to reading more from this author as this is of the very highest standard
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My God, how much more do these poor people have to suffer?,
My maternal granddad and granny were Polish. My granddad escaped when the Nazis and Soviets invaded to carve the country into two, and then with the help of resistance fighters in other countries made his way across Europe until he reached the UK in order to free his homeland fighting alongside the British army. He then met my granny after his unit liberated a forced labour camp in Germany. She had been taken from her home and parents aged 16 and never saw them again; never knowing if they had even survived the war. They never returned to Poland and were allowed to make their new lives in the UK as my grandfather had fought with this country and did not want to `go home' to a very uncertain future.
They never spoke of their pain and suffering throughout this terrible time, and because of their silence I was brought up thinking that Britain and the other western powers had done all they could to honour their obligation to their Polish ally during WW2. How wrong I was.
This book systematically shows how appallingly Poland was treated during the war; firstly by those who decided that it should cease to exist, and secondly by those who were supposed to see that the country and its people had a free and fair choice to choose its own path once the war had ended.
Poland was one of the `victorious' nations; after all the war had started on Poland's soil. But to Poles the war never really ended until the end of Communism more than 45 years later; a political system foisted on the vast majority of the people by its nearest and biggest neighbour/bully, the Soviet Union.
I can't say that the book is an `easy read', because you turn the pages and think to yourself, `My God, how much more do these poor people have to suffer?' All I can say is that Poland's fate during WW2 and its aftermath should be much more widely known, and this book definitely helps to redress the balance with its comprehensive subject matter. Anyone with a conscience should look again at how leaders like Churchill and Roosevelt found it much easier to see Poland as an inconvenient ally, especially towards the end of the war, and left them to their own fate behind the Iron Curtain for generations to come.
The book however ends on an optimistic note, reminding its readers that Poland is now part of NATO and the EU as a free and independent nation; a phoenix rising from the flames, so to speak. As the first lines of the Polish national anthem say, `Poland has not yet died, so long as we still live' ...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to be forgotten,
This is a big book (591 pages plus notes and bibliography) on a subject with potential to be thoroughly depressing. As Kochanski notes, Poland was unique in being occupied by foreign armies from the first to the last day of the Second World War. Millions of Poles died or suffered almost unimaginable hardships. So in some ways this is far from an easy read. However, Kochanski's scholarship and her skill in weaving the narrative strands together make this ultimately a very rewarding book.
Kochanski vividly describes the experiences of ordinary people, often drawing on the experiences of her own family, but she is equally adept at covering the negotiations and the machinations of politicians and generals. Poland emerges as doomed by internal disunity before 1939 and by her exposed geographic position between two utterly ruthless powers. For cruelty and cynicism in their policy towards Poland and the Poles there seems little to choose between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And France and Great Britain were allies whose own unpreparedness for war made them almost impotent to offer effective help, despite their diplomatic undertakings. A consistent theme is how Polish interests were - perhaps necessarily - subordinated to the need to keep the Soviets on side in order to achieve the ultimate defeat of Hitler.
Some of the book therefore makes uncomfortable reading for the British. Even after the war was over, some Poles who had fought alongside other Allied forces felt unwelcome in Britain because of a perceived pro-communist bias. Kochanski rightly draws attention to the disgraceful exclusion of the Poles from the 1946 Victory parade by the Labour government.
This is just one aspect of the many fascinating insights in the book. For anyone who wants to understand Polish history or to have a full appreciation of the history of World War II I thoroughly recommend it.
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poland's Suffering,
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.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and compelling,
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This review is from: The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (Kindle Edition)
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book,
"The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War" by Halik Kochanski is about Poland and Polish people during the Second World War. The book is divided into chapters thematically. There is chapter on the holocaust in Poland, a chapter on non-combatant Poles who left the country, a chapter on Poland's contribution to the allied war effort and many others. The book contains a lot of material I didn't know about and discusses controversial issues like the Poles killing Jews, how much they helped Jews, collaboration with the Germans and so on. For example, many Poles took money in exchange for hiding them from the Germans. Some people have claimed they should have helped Jews without a financial reward but this doesn't allow for the fact that many Poles didn't have enough to eat for themselves never mind supporting another person with no compensation. The book also explains the political and strategic decisions that led to Soviet takeover of Poland at the end of the war. Anybody interested in the Second World War should read this book.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last..........,
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brings together the Polish Story,
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.
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The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War by Halik Kochanski (Paperback - 6 Jun 2013)