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political world

Polish Heroism and Suffering and the Eventual Betrayal of Poland,

Jan Peczkis|Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The title of this book is a little misleading, as it discusses all aspects of Poland's involvement in WWII, and not only the Underground under German occupation.


Seldom-mentioned information is included. For instance, the hasty departure of the Polish government days after the German attack in 1939 has been misrepresented as some kind of cowardly or panicked flight that left the Polish forces to their fate. It was not. In fact, the surrender of Warsaw was ordered, from a remote location, by Marshal Smigly-Rydz. His personal emissary, Major Galinat, flew in to Warsaw from Romania with Smigly-Rydz's order to surrender. Warsaw could have fought longer, but Smigly-Rydz did not want any more loss of life and property. (pp. 20-21).

Aspects of Polish Underground activity discussed include early post-1939 resistance (e. g., Hubal), Operation Wachlarz ("Fan": Polish saboteurs working in the Soviet Union behind German lines), the foundation and operations of the AK (A. K., or Armia Krajowa), Operation Wildhorn (or Mosty "Bridges": the landing of light Allied aircraft in German-occupied Poland, the last of which involved the transfer of the captured V-2 rocket mechanism to England), attempts to negotiate with the Soviets and the unwarranted arrest of the 16 Polish Underground leaders by the Soviets, etc.

Facts and figures are provided on the meagerness of British airdrops of arms to Polish guerrillas. (pp. 120-121). Very few of even these airdrops had been accomplished by the Spring of 1943, the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Jewish complaints about the "stinginess" of Polish armed support are clearly unwarranted.

Although several decades have now passed since the event, the wisdom or folly of the 1944 Polish Warsaw Uprising continues to generate heated discussion. Peszke has the following take on the matter: "As the old saying goes, victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan...For the Poles to refuse to fight would have been a terrible political and public relations defeat, one which would never be easily explained to one's own countrymen, let alone to one's allies. To sit passively while the miniscule but vociferous Communist groups liberated Warsaw and imposed their own authority was just not possible. Without direction, there was also every reason that the populace would go to the streets." (pp. 156-157).

Much of this book focuses on the geopolitical issues surrounding Poland's borders and the kind of Polish state that would emerge after WWII. The west's sellout of Poland at Teheran and Yalta began much earlier. While the author notes the Soviet geopolitical advantage caused by the USSR doing most of the fighting and the Red Army's possession of Poland, he did not seem to consider whether or not the conditional provision of Lend-Lease aid could have been used as a tool to enforce proper Soviet behavior towards Poland.

Early failures of the west to stand up to Stalin only emboldened him. Peszke comments: "As Stalin realized that his behavior did not elicit any rebukes or negative consequences but rather extravagant adulation, while the Poles who, opposing his policies, were condemned, Soviet policy became aggressive and brutally disdainful." (p. 71).

Opinion-forming outlets in the west tended to paint the Soviet Union as a benign socialist nation. The Polish government-in-exile was demonized as one consisting of privileged landowners, and Poland was increasingly portrayed as a nuisance in Soviet-western relations.

The British were not unilaterally indifferent to their Polish ally, but this did not matter. Peszke concludes: "It is beyond doubt that many Britons were in fact quite ashamed of their passive role. Lord Ismay wrote, `Nobody can deny that the failure to secure freedom and independence for Poland has brought shame on the western Democracies.' But shame only lasts a short time and, as the saying goes, people move on." (p. 7).

The book concludes with a profuse bibliography for further study or research.
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