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General Anders and the Soldiers of the Second Polish Corps

Jan Paczkis|Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Very rarely have I encountered an author as this one, who makes every effort to be scrupulously objective, especially in often emotionally-charged issues. Sarner utilizes a combination of previous works, archival materials, interviewed participants, etc. He provides a valuable lesson in the fact that neither interviewees nor archives are necessarily reliable. (e. g., pp. ii-iii, 71, 166)

      General Anders and the Soldiers of the Second Polish Corps        
  5.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly Jewish View of Soviet-Exiled Poles and Anders' Army, December 15, 2009 Very rarely have I encountered an author as this one, who makes every effort to be scrupulously objective, especially in often emotionally-charged issues. Sarner utilizes a combination of previous works, archival materials, interviewed participants, etc. He provides a valuable lesson in the fact that neither interviewees nor archives are necessarily reliable. (e. g., pp. ii-iii, 71, 166).

The author begins with the 1939 German-Soviet conquest of Poland. Sarner repeats the standard exculpations for the Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism), but is also unusually candid about some of its actions. He writes: "Some Poles could understand and accept the reasons for Jews being easily misled into welcoming the Russians. What they couldn't accept, however, was the fact that some `fingered' Polish officers who, after being captured by the Soviets, tried to pass as regular soldiers in order to be able to stay with their men or to avoid being categorized as `class enemies'." (p. 5).

This work is rich in detail on the experiences of Poles in the Gulags, as well as the herculean challenges of locating, organizing, healing, and arming-training them after the "amnesty" that took place in the wake of Nazi Germany's attack on its erstwhile Soviet ally. One of the main gathering points of the Poles was at Iangi Iul (Yangi Yul; Jangijul), near Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (p. 43). [My mother, aunt, and grandmother were also there.]

Sarner focuses on post-"amnesty" Polish-Jewish relations. It was the politically-motivated Soviets and British, and not the Poles that had limited the number of Polish Jews allowed evacuating. (p. 95, 101). He adds: "Some Polish officers admitted that they took Jews off the trains, but argue it was done only when it became apparent that if it was not done the entire train would be detained." (p. 95). Also: "For a person denied evacuation it did not make any difference if it was done as anti-Semitism or because of a border dispute between the Soviet Union and Poland. All he knew was they he was forcibly removed from the train by an officer wearing a Polish uniform." (pp. 99-100).

Some Jews admittedly fabricated or exaggerated anti-Semitism as an excuse for deserting Anders' Army. (p. 119). Other accusations of Polish discrimination against Jews proved, upon investigation, to be frivolous. (e. g., pp. 111-112). One US Army report concluded that anti-Semitism in Anders' Army was grossly exaggerated. (p. 141). As for those he interviewed, Sarner concludes: "Jews who didn't desert gave sharply differing opinions about anti-Semitism in the Corps. Some felt that it existed but was no worse than what they had experienced in prewar Poland and was mostly limited to name calling." (p. 141). [What multi-ethnic army had ever been free of friction? Since when did name-calling rise to the level of an international incident? How many times were Polish soldiers, serving in foreign armies, called "Polacks"?]

Going back to before WWII, the Polish government had been supporting the Irgun, a militant Zionist group. While the Corps was stationed in Palestine, this surreptitious support continued, and General Anders turned a blind eye to Jews deserting the Corps. Irgun violence against the British occurred after most of the Corps had left for Egypt. (p. 133).

Sarner gives an informative and moving account of the Battle of Monte Cassino as well as other battles of the Second Polish Corps. The heartbreak of the Polish soldiers following news of the Teheran-Yalta betrayal of Poland is graphically described. They chose to go on fighting--for the sake of their honor. The author also elaborates on the politics of the Polish Government in Exile, General Anders' professional and personal life, Anders' postwar activities, etc.

A superb book!
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