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Review of Secret Agents, Spies, and Saboteurs, by Janusz Piekalkiewicz. 1969.

Jan Paczkis|Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thrilling Accounts of WWII Intelligence, Including the Sikorski Death and V-2 Rocket Capture  This work consists of numerous, separate chapters, each of which describes a particular event. Topics include Operation Sea Lion (details given on the planned German invasion of England in 1940), the Czech-partisan assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the D-Day deception (which fooled Germans as to the locations of the Allied landings), the Battle of Kursk in detail, the Soviet-betrayed Polish Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the German commandos during the Battle of the Bulge, the mythical Bavarian redoubt towards the end of the European war, and much more.

  This work provides seldom-told information regarding the probable murder of General Wladyslaw Sikorski in an airplane crash on Gibraltar on July 4, 1943. It turns out that there had been earlier attempts on his life. While halfway across the Atlantic in March 1942, an incendiary bomb—the kind used by the RAF to destroy a plane’s contents if it is about to fall into enemy hands—was found under a sleeping bag. The Pole who found it belatedly claims to have planted it, and done so in order to “alert the authorities as to the possibility of an attempt on Sikorski’s life”. He is declared insane. The plot thickens. Soon thereafter, this man is run over by a vehicle, in broad daylight, and killed. (pp. 320-321).

 Later that year (November 1942), Sikorski flies again to North America. As his airplane takes off from Montreal, the engines suddenly stall. The pilot manages to keep control, and soft crash-lands the plane. Sikorski, only slightly injured, suspects sabotage. (pp. 321-323).  

Then comes the Katyn revelation in spring 1943. The Soviets, emboldened by recent military victories, become more overt in their hostility to a future sovereign Poland. Sikorski is seen more and more as a nuisance in Soviet-western relations. Sikorski’s assassins are finally successful on what appears to be their third try. Again, the plot thickens. Kim Philby, a British Communist serving the Soviets, was in charge of the Gibraltar area at the time. (p. 332). No post-mortem is allowed on Sikorski’s body. (p. 333). Douglas F. Martin, the sole eyewitness to the plane crash, is not questioned. It turns out that security measures had not been enforced before the fateful flight. Oddly enough, a piece of luggage is found on the runway at the spot where the engines of the plane had been tested before the flight. (p. 336). And so on. [Fifty years after the events, the British refuse to declassify their materials on Sikorski’s death. What are they still hiding?]

 This work also elaborates on the unmasking of the German V-2 rocket project. Poles provide the intelligence data on their manufacture at Peenemunde. (p. 408-on). The British bomb the place, and German rocketry is thereby set back several months. The Germans relocate their rocket testing to occupied Poland, then out of range of British planes. Polish intelligence tracks these developments. (p. 434-on).  A crashed V-2 rocket near Blizna is hidden, recovered, and—in what must be one of the greatest intelligence thrillers of all time—its steering mechanism is shipped through an eventually-arriving Dakota plane (July 26, 1944) which—worthy of the drama of a movie—encounters repeated difficulties taking off in the mud just as the nearby Germans are closing in. (pp. 441-443). Two days later, the precious cargo is safely in London.

  Review of Escape from the Pit, by Renya Kulkielko. 1947. Sharon Books, New York 

Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis 

A Polish Jew Who Got Away from the Holocaust While it Was in Progress

 Renya Kulkielko was a Nazi-era Polish Jew who masqueraded as a gentile on Aryan papers, frequented the Kielce area, and traveled at times to Warsaw. Her testimony is unusual in that she didn’t survive the Holocaust by hiding and waiting its end. Instead, she managed to cross into Slovakia and Hungary, in 1944, before emigrating to Palestine.

 Kulkielko was an eyewitness to the indiscriminate Luftwaffe terror bombing and strafing of defenseless Polish civilians during the 1939 war. She wrote: “”On the highways we stumble over the bodies of men and cattle killed by bombs…Again, a plane approaches. It flies low; spraying machine-gun bullets…Rows of running people have fallen. One notes various oddities: mothers holding their babies in their arms have been killed, while the little children remain alive and cry out with heaven-rending voices; little children are killed while the mothers protecting them are only wounded. The sun shines. Along the road the stench of dead men and cattle is suffocating, unbearable.” (p. 2).

 As for the German occupation, she does credit Poles for helping Jews (e. g., 19, 28, 30, 172). Most of the time, however, Kulkielko makes negative references to presumed Polish conduct towards Jews without any evident attempt to distinguish Volksdeutsche from Poles, or clearly demarcating her direct experiences from hearsay and storytelling. Sometimes, though, she realizes the significance of Polish-speaking Germans (Volksdeutsche)(p. 4, 7, 153, 159). For instance, she writes: “From the first the Germans carefully weighed the matter of liquidating the Jews. ‘Annihilation Squads” were set up for this purpose. They consisted of Ukrainians turned savage, of Poles turned Volksdeutsch and of young, healthy Germans to whom a human being meant no more than a fly.” (p. 25).   

The conduct of the Jewish Ghetto police is often attributed to the desperation of people facing certain doom. In actuality, this police behaved the way it did long before the Nazi exterminatory actions. (p. 10). (That resettlement equals extermination was not widely believed, at least by the Jews of Warsaw, until much later--about mid-1942.) (p. 28). Referring to a much earlier period of time, Kulkielko wrote: “Only men of the meanest sort obtained employment in the [Jewish] militia, for who else could undertake to help beat, murder, and make sport of their own town-folk? There were very few men in the militia who had any humanity in them. Most behaved like beasts of prey, some even worse than the Germans. They wore boots and white hats, and were armed with rubber truncheons.” (p. 10). Later in the book, members of the Jewish militia are described as ones who demanded bribes upon the discovery of concealed goods, and who imposed fines, which they pocketed, for the most trivial acts. (p. 81).

 Bands of armed Jews are said to have resisted the Nazis at Czestochowa, and to have subsequently raided Polish villages for food. (p. 116).  She realizes that the Germans often raided private homes in search for fugitive Jews (p. 119), and that denunciation was not just a Pole-on-Jew thing. Non-Jews (presumably Poles) were also denounced to the Germans by other non-Jews (presumably Poles or Volksdeutsche)(p. 137, 140).   

  Review of Crimes Committed by the Wehrmacht During the September Campaign and the Period of Military Government, by Szymon Datner (1962). Poznan.

 Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis 

A Summary of German (Not only Nazi) Crimes During Their Conquest of Poland 

This small book represents a summary of detailed ongoing research on the German Army’s (not only SS and Gestapo’s) crimes against Polish and Jewish civilians and disarmed POWs. Coverage in this work begins with the initial German attacks on September 1, 1939, through the end of the period of military occupation (October 26, 1939: p. 47). Under the subsequent German civilian rule over Poland, the atrocities only intensified.

 The Luftwaffe bombed at least 158 open towns and settlements (p. 28), dwarfing the well-known tragedies of Guernica, Rotterdam, and Coventry. In the town of Sulejow, which was devoid of military targets, the Luftwaffe killed 600-1,500 Polish civilians by strafing and bombing. (p. 29). Oddly enough Wielun and its 1,200 killed civilians are not mentioned.

 German propaganda had fabricated tales of Polish atrocities against Germans in order to induce Germans to “take revenge”. The Fuhrer gave a directive, dated October 4, 1939 and printed out in full (p. 44) in which he gave amnesty to any Germans who committed crimes against Poles owing to “the bitterness in connection with the atrocities committed by the Poles.” (p. 44). Much earlier, however, before the start of hostilities, Hitler had given an order for the German forces “to kill all men, women, and children of the Polish race and language without mercy or pardon.” (p. 43). (Nuremberg Document 003-L).

 Many of the German atrocities were conducted as reprisals against legitimate wartime armed Polish resistance, as if the Germans resented even the notion that anyone would have the audacity to oppose them! Datner tabulates over 60 different incidents (by date, location, and number of victims: pp. 11-17) where the German Army murdered disarmed Polish POWs (totaling a bare-minimum of nearly 2,000 victims). He also provides a district-by-district list of murders of civilians, arriving at a total bare-minimum of nearly 12,000 Polish and Jewish civilians known murdered by the Wehrmacht. (p. 41). However, his figures were by no means complete even in terms of the data that was still coming in when he wrote this work-in-progress in 1962.  

Many of the victims of German crimes suffered cruel deaths (see p. 9 for methods and locations). The Germans would often herd civilians into buildings, torch them, and then shoot anyone who got out. Sometimes the Germans would deliberately run over people with tanks. [My 9 year-old self was present at what probably was a 25th-anniversary commemoration of the 1939 war. An eyewitness broke down and cried when he recounted seeing disarmed POWs being forced to lie down and get crushed under the threads of tanks].

 Later, the Geneva Convention continued to be flouted. Jewish POWs were “freed”, but sent to the ghettos to eventually perish with the other Jews. Those Polish POWs who were not murdered were often deprived of their POW status and made into forced laborers. Polish POWs who escaped were, upon recapture, sent to concentration camps and hung. Plans were made in 1944 to send all remaining Polish POWs to concentration camps, but the impending German defeat prevented implementation of these plans. (p. 46).

 After the war, German generals--not surprisingly--claimed that they knew nothing about the atrocities being committed by their underlings. Datner points out that this is impossible. The German soldier was extremely regimented, and could do nothing without the explicit permission of superior officers. In fact, orders to kill unarmed Polish civilians, under various pretexts, can be traced not only to Hitler (mentioned earlier), but also to the likes of Reichenau, von Bock, and Brauchitsch. (p. 43; see also p. 25).

 Review of Trial of the Major War Criminals, Volume XV. (1948)

  Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis

  Alfred Jodl Testifies About the French and British Betrayal of 1939 Poland

  This volume consists largely of interviews of the Nuremberg defendants. In one of these, Dr. Exner asked Alfred Jodl the following question: “Did you already know during the Polish campaign what the Fuhrer’s intentions were concerning the West?” (p. 380).  

Alfred Jodl replied: “The Fuehrer himself had his doubts during the Polish campaign. He too could find no plausible explanation for the complete inactivity of the French and English forces in France, who only staged a kind of sham war with the help of their war communiqués. In reality not a single shot was fired at the front. But, by the end of September, if I remember rightly, the Fuehrer did realize that once England enters a war she fights it out to the bitter end.” (p. 380).  

Obviously, the Germans as well as the Poles had expected military action from the French and British. To the surprise of both the Germans and Poles, and to the dismay of the latter, this did not materialize. (Claims about French and British being unprepared to offer Poland military assistance beg the question about their making treaty-bound assurances to Poland that they knowingly couldn't fulfill. They also beg the question as to German expectations of a French and British attack. Had the French and British been incapable of delivering any kind of attack, surely German intelligence would've known about it, and neither Hitler nor Jodl would have been surprised by the fact that it did not happen.)

Review of Lost Victories, by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. (1955, 1994). Presidio Press, Novato, California  

Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis

  Insights into the 1939 German Aggression against Poland, and the West’s Betrayal

  Rather than repeating other reviewers, I focus mostly on previously-unmentioned content. Owing to the volume of information available, I largely limit my review to the 1939 war.

  In his discussion of pre-WWII events, von Manstein presents himself as a typical German chauvinist when he makes revisionist complaints about Poland having received German territories “to which neither historical justice nor the right of self-determination gave her any claim.” (p. 24). He conveniently forgets that these “German” territories had gotten that way as a result of centuries of German conquests and Germanization policies, the latter of which had become especially intense in only the last several decades before WWII. If only recent events count, then Manstein’s “self-determination” complaints ring hollow in the light of the fact that, after the 1918-era plebiscites, certain border areas whose inhabitants had majority-voted to be part of the newly-resurrected Polish state nevertheless had remained part of Germany.

  Several reviewers have mentioned Manstein’s denials of German WWII atrocities. Indeed! Manstein would have us believe that Hitler’s annihilate-Poles order had been misrepresented at Nuremberg, and that the Fuhrer had only been referring to the annihilation of the Polish Army. (p. 29). What a ridiculous apologetic! Hitler had plainly ordered his forces to: “Kill without mercy every man, woman, and child of Polish extraction.” So, unless the Fuehrer had been imbued with the notion that the Polish Army was full of women and children, he had to be referring to the deliberate genocide of Polish civilians.

  Unlike the case in later battles, Hitler didn’t interfere in the actual military policies of the 1939 war. (p. 273). The German tanks moved so rapidly that the German infantry had difficulty keeping up with them. (p. 54). The Polish Bzura counteroffensive, though later dwarfed by Soviet battles, was the largest of its kind up to that time. (p. 58). Summarizing the 1939 campaign, the Field Marshall commented: “The enemy’s losses in blood were undoubtedly very high indeed, for he had fought with great gallantry and had shown a grim determination to hold out in even the most hopeless situations.” (p. 61).

  In common with many other analysts, Manstein contended that the rapidity of Poland’s military defeat stemmed primarily from her strategy of “defending everything”—a mistake later made by Hitler himself. (p. 40, 43, 495, 522). Poland should have defended only her core territories, thereby shrinking the defensive perimeter from 1,125 miles to 375 miles. (p. 42). (However, Manstein doesn’t mention the fact that, among other things, Polish leaders feared that the abandoning of Poland’s peripheral regions without a fight would be interpreted by the Allies as a lack of seriousness in Polish military efforts.)

  Over and over again, Manstein repeated how gravely he and other German planners took the British and French military guarantees to Poland. (p. 23, 34-35, 46, 58). Contrary to revisionists who assert that France was unprepared for action, Manstein cited a study by von Tippelskirch, which noted that France had raised 108 divisions in only three weeks in the autumn of 1939, including many that consisted of well-armed, well-trained reservists. He concluded: “There can be no doubt, then, that the French Army far outnumbered Germany’s forces in the west from the very first day.” (p. 35). (For more on this, see the Peczkis review of [link].) Even as the last Polish resistance was collapsing, German troops were hurriedly being moved westward out of fear of a belated French-British offensive, which, to the German leaders’ admitted surprise, had not materialized long before then. (p. 58).

  Pointedly, Manstein believed that, had the French intervened, and had the Polish forces been defending the smaller perimeter, Poland actually stood a chance: “The bravery with which the Polish troops fought right up to the end would have been an adequate guarantee of their ability to hold on until the Allies reached the Rhine and forced the German command seriously to consider calling off the campaign in Poland.” (p. 62).

  The German enemy, as embodied by Manstein, showed more respect for Poland than did the Allies when he asked: “Who could have guessed that the Western Powers would let Poland down so ignominiously after giving her a guarantee?” (p. 81).

  Fast forward to 1944, and Manstein’s stay near Lwow (Lviv), shortly before he was recalled. He characterized the local guerilla forces as follows: “The Soviet variety fought against the Germans and terrorized the local population. The Ukrainians fought the Soviet partisans, but usually released any Germans after first disarming them. Finally, there were bands of Polish partisans who fought both Germans and Ukrainians.” (p. 532). Obviously, the OUN-UPA, when not collaborating with the Germans, had less enmity against them than against the Soviets (and Poles).
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