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The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War

jan peczkis|Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Detailed Broad-Based Analysis of Poles and Poland During WWII--Marred by Inaccuracies, December 18, 2012 This review is from: The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (Hardcover) The author, Halik Kochanski, is a Briton born to Polish parents. She wanted to discover what her father had gone through. The result is this comprehensive work. It not only covers the Polish experience during WWII, but also provides a brief glossary of Polish pronunciations, a glossary of abbreviations, and a detailed index of biographies.

Owing to the fact that the author covers so much ground, there are naturally differing areas of emphasis. Obvious strengths of this book include the treatment of the 1939 war, the experience of the Polish deportees in the USSR, the Polish-British alliance, Poles and Jews during the Holocaust, the west's betrayal of Poland to the USSR, and the Ukrainian fascist-separatist OUN-UPA genocide of Poles (although she underestimates the Polish civilian death toll by a factor 3-5).

Some of Kochanski's statements are especially perceptive. Consider the contention that Poland's pre-WWII boundaries were unjust because they encompassed millions of non-ethnic Poles. The "injustice" went both ways. Approximately 1 million Poles were stranded in the Soviet Union, to the east of the Riga line (Poland's "unjust" pre-WWII eastern border). (p. 21). On another subject, considering all the attention given to the small civilian death tolls at Guernica and Rotterdam, the reader learns of the 1,600 Polish civilians who perished at Wielun, at the hands of Luftwaffe, on the first day of WWII. (pp. 61-62). On still another subject, Kochanski appreciates the complexity of the matter of Jews in General Wladyslaw Anders' Army. (pp. 197-200).

The author sees through the accusations directed against A. K. commander Bor Komorowski. (p. 284, 655). His anti-banditry order had been twisted, as by the Jewish Communist author Ainsztein (and, unfortunately repeated by respectable Holocaust sources), as a veiled command for Poles to kill fugitive Jews. In actuality, banditry in German-occupied Poland was very real (in fact, rampant), and nothing about Bor Komorowski or his orders hints at any anti-Jewish tendency. Finally, on another issue--that of Poles being sometimes reluctant to return Jewish properties after the war--she realizes that this partly owed to the severe postwar housing shortage. (p. 549).

Halik Kochanski includes little-known information. For instance, the Germans' GENERALPLAN OST included long-term plans for the resettlement of 30 million Slavs further east, during which some 80% would perish. (p. 269). Jews and Gypsies were obviously not the only ones targeted by the Nazis for genocide. On another subject, there were Polish reservists trapped in Switzerland who would have been put into action had Germany attacked Switzerland. (p. 245).

This book has more than its share of disappointments. Unfortunately, for all the work that went into it and the valuable information and insights it provides, errors mar this work--a fact obvious to those readers knowledgeable on the issues. The main problem is Kochanski's reliance (or over-reliance) on secondary sources--furthermore ones of dubious authority. It is unfortunate that the manuscript did not go through more comprehensive editing.

Kochanski essentially repeats stale German propaganda on the Poles' 1939 "Bydgoszcz Massacre" of 700-1,000 German civilians. (p. 70). To learn what actually happened, please click on, and read, the detailed English-language Peczkis review of
Dywersja niemiecka i zbrodnie hitlerowskie w Bydgoszczy na tle wydarzen w dniu 3 IX 1939 (Polish and German Edition).

She repeats the fallacious argument that there was no Polish Quisling because the Germans never wanted one. (pp. 96-97). They certainly did. [Nor is there any inconsistency between Germans seeking a Quisling and despising the Poles, for the Germans set up Quislings in other Slavic nations that they despised.]

The author (p. 121) quotes Jan T. Gross (and his wife) that many of the Jews cooperating with the Soviets were refugees from the west, grateful that they did not fall into Nazi hands. (p. 637). Actually, Jews were not then particularly afraid of the Nazis (as proved, for example, by those Jews in Soviet-occupied Poland who soon thereafter moved, or tried to move, to German-occupied Poland). In addition, most Jewish-Soviet collaborators were locals, and went far beyond cheering the arriving Soviets. They had earlier formed fifth-column militias, often planned long before the war, and fought against the remaining 1939 Polish forces on behalf of, and with, the Soviet invaders. See the detailed, English-language Peczkis review of Polacy i biaorusini w zaborze sowieckim: Stosunki polsko-biaoruskie na ziemach ponocno-wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej pod okupacja sowiecka 1939-1941 (Historia najnowsza) (Polish Edition).

The reader learns about "extreme nationalist Polish claims" that Jews did not deserve to be saved because of their collaboration with the Soviets (p. xxvii,) and that the NSZ regularly killed fugitive Jews. (p. 368). She provides no evidence to support her statements.

Halik Kochanski repeats the mistranslation/misquotation, by the likes of Jan T. Gross and Tony Judt (p. 658), of A.K. commander "Grot" Rowecki's "overwhelming majority of the country is anti-Semitic" statement. (p. 314). Actually, what Rowecki wrote was that the "overwhelming majority of the country is in an anti-Semitic mood."

Despite the errors and shortcomings, including still others not mentioned, Kochanski has produced an invaluable work. It provides the reader with an exceptionally comprehensive range of topics related to the Polish war effort, the unenviable Polish situation, and the Polish experience, during WWII.
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