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This review is from: Warsaw 1944: The Fateful Uprising (Hardcover)
Hitler's foreign policy in Eastern Europe was designed to create Lebensraum (living space) for Germans to live and produce resources, primarily from agriculture, to support the expanded German nation. There were already 800,000 Germans living in Poland at the outbreak of war although these were small in number compared to the number of Ukrainians, Jews and Belorussians. Very few of the ethnic communities had loyalty to the Polish state created after the First World War at Versailles and in military conflicts with the Soviet Union and Lithuania. Internally, democracy collapsed in 1926 when Marshal Pilsudsky led a left wing coup and was the effective ruler for the next nine years. Immediately before his death in 1935 the April constitution was passed, increasing presidential powers, including the right to name a successor in the event of war. As such it served as the constitutional framework for the Polish government-in-exile which did not dissolve itself until the election of Lech Walesa in 1990.
The decision to remove 'Polish Warsaw' from the map was not new but was included in the Pabst Plan of 1939 which envisaged the obliteration of Warsaw and its replacement by a smaller town for the new German elite to live. Architects Gross and Nurnberger presented a full plan of the 'New German City of Warsaw' to Hans Frank in 1940. The Warsaw Uprising did not take place in a vacuum. The success of the Soviet Operation Bagration, the failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life and Model's counter-offensive provided the military and political background. Model stopped the Soviet advance in its tracks. Sadly, the AK's Warsaw commander misread what was happening and launched the AK into action prematurely. In response Himmler convinced Hitler it should be put down by the SS rather than regular troops. Hitler, suspicious of his generals, readily agreed. Thus, while the specific order to raze Warsaw to the ground was issued in response to the Uprising it was an implementation of the Pabst Plan not a new policy. Stalin characteristically blamed the Poles for not contacting the Soviet army before starting the Uprising while in eastern Poland he was killing non-communist AK partisans.
Richie makes the point that ' from the first day of the war Poles began to organise resistance movements throughout the country. By 1942, these had been consolidated under the AK - the Armia Krajowa, or Polish Home Army, which was under the auspices of the Polish government-in-exile in London'. The reason for the absence of Polish quislings lies in the bitterness created by the invasions from the West by Germany and the East from the Soviet Union. The latter was inflamed by the Katyn Massacre which most Poles suspected was carried out by the Soviets. Although there were Polish citizens who collaborated with the Nazis these came from the ethnic minorities, especially Germans, while a number of 'collaborators' worked as double agents against the Nazis. Significantly, on the day of capitulation, 3 October 1944, General Bor-Komorowski was invited by Erich von dem Bach, who had overall control of the troops charged with putting down the Uprising, to join him in the coming fight against the Bolsheviks which Bor rejected out of hand.
Richie reminds readers of the savagery employed by the Germans, especially that used by the Dirlewanger SS, whose leader Oskar Dirlewanger was a law unto himself. His actions were those of someone who regarded non-Germans as sub-humans to be put down without mercy and regardless of age or sex. Such atrocities have occurred in other conflicts but not on such a systematic scale. For Dirlewanger it was a war to the death, although that did not prevent him from trying to escape the consequences by adopting a disguise, as did his SS chief, Himmler. The AK fought bravely but took too long to recognise the hopelessness of their situation before surrendering. The fear, especially amongst the Jews (whom the Germans were still hunting mercilessly), was well-founded. 350,000 Poles were sent to other parts of the country although some stayed, hiding in improvised concealed places.
The destruction of Warsaw was a military blunder as it removed a defensive position that could have held up the Soviet advance for a longer period of time. Hitler's policies, however, were as insane as the dictator himself. Against Speer's advance he was killing people who could have served the Reich as slave labour, diverting resources in doing so. The insanity of Hitler's racism destroyed his rationality and facilitated Stalin's take over of Eastern Europe. Stalin prevented Allied planes from using Soviet airfields to supply the AK in Warsaw. The failure of supplies from the West made it easy for the 'Lublin' Poles to claim the West had deserted Poland. By the time of Yalta it was clear that possession was nine-tenths of the law and Stalin held that possession as far as Poland was concerned. The anti-German alliance were still allies in the demand for 'unconditional surrender'. Beyond that war aim there were divisions between Stalin who wanted to extend spheres of influence in line with his communist ideology, Churchill who wanted to preserve the Empire and Roosevelt who wanted to extend American power. The death of the latter and Churchill's loss of the 1945 election meant the only constant was Stalin.
Richie lives in Warsaw with her Polish family and had access to many original sources including her Polish father in law's archives. Her book reflects this originality although this reviewer is not convinced the Warsaw Uprising has been erased from western consciousness in the post-war period. Archive footage frequently referred to it, including the conviction the Red Army had refused to assist the AK. Neither is it valid to suggest that the Uprising was the first battle in the Cold War which only began after the dropping of the Atom Bombs on Japan and the dissipation of the Alliance. However, this book is essential reading on the subject and receives five stars.