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political world

Poland: Eagle in the East

Jan Paczkis|Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The British author is generally well informed about Poland's history and sufferings during WWII. Did you realize that 38% of Poland's fixed assets were destroyed in the war and ensuing German occupation? (p. 110). Also, not only large numbers of Jews but also large numbers of Poles were murdered during the German conquest and occupation of Poland. While discussing the Polish aid to fugitive Jews, Woods includes mention of the hamlet of Osiny, where the Poles took turns hiding a Jewish girl so that everyone would be guilty, and the Germans would thereby not be able to play one Pole against another in terms of denunciation. (p. 28).

Poles fought on every front during WWII. Woods adds that: "Poles fought in the RAF, and in such large numbers that during the Battle of Britain one enemy plane in seven was shot down by a Polish pilot." (p. 21).

Woods devotes quite a bit of detail to the Warsaw Uprising (1944), albeit with a somewhat apologetic attitude towards the non-assistance of the USSR. He elaborates on the mass murders of tens of thousands of Polish civilians at Wola. Heinz Reinefarth, one of the instigators, repeatedly evaded justice in postwar Germany despite the strong evidence against him. (pp. 79-80).

There are, at times, unfavorable opinions of Poles expressed in the west (e. g., Polnische Wirtschaft: "Polish housekeeping"). Woods traces negative Polish traits, and national backwardness, to conditions during the time that Poland had been foreign-ruled: "And of course what managerial posts there were went not to Poles (the law went so far as to prohibit it), but to the Russian, the Austrian, or the Prussian, depending on where in Poland one was. Thus no managerial class was ever allowed to grow up in Poland...No Pole ever learned twentieth-century industrial techniques...Under partition, Poles learned to be dilatory, unpunctual, unworkmanlike, and irresponsible, for it never paid them to be anything else. Indeed, to feign ignorance often kept one out of trouble. In the long run it led to real ignorance too, but that was a different matter." (p. 115).

Continuing this theme, Woods, despite lauding the industrialization of Poland under Communist rule after WWII, nevertheless recognizes the fact that Communism bred its own negative Polish habits: "What they will never admit is that because of a lack of competition there are rarely incentives to do any more than one must, that in most factories ten men do the work of six, and that if a man should be discharged for sheer idleness or incompetence or drunkenness, all he has to do is cross the road to find another job. Marxist teaching insists on everyone's right to work, but is says remarkably little about his obligation to work as well as he is able." (p. 161). [This anticipates the later adage: "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work."]

The author has an unusually nuanced view of the 1968 experiences of Polish Jews. He comments: "The overtones of anti-Semitism are an example, for Polish Communists are most emphatically not anti-Semitic, and this in spite of the almost ludicrous and indeed inflammatory headlines in Western papers...`When a Jew is thrown out of his job', one man said to me, `your press raises a hue and cry about our anti-Semitism. But when we dismiss a Party member, no one says that we are anti-Party or anti-Polish.'" (pp. 260-261).

Woods has high praises for Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. (p. 198, 209). In expressing this, he, of course, could not have foreseen the election of Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.
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