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Defending Home, From Afar

November 27, 2012

Daniel Ford in WSJ Books:

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When World War II ended in 1945, Poland became the “country on roller skates,” shoved 125 miles to the west by Joseph Stalin. Hundred of thousands of Germans were expelled from the new Polish land in the west, and hundreds of thousands of Poles were expelled from the eastern borderlands, now annexed to the Soviet Union.

Halik Kochanski’s parents were among the dispossessed. Like many Poles, they made their way to England, where their daughter attended Oxford, earned a doctorate at King’s College London, and became a professor and writer of British military history. As if paying her dues to the country in which she found herself, her first book was the deliciously titled “Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero,” a biography of the revered military leader. Only later did she turn to the nation from which she is in a second-generation exile.

Poland’s history during World War II was one of unremitting tragedy. And not just the tragedy of the Holocaust, which took place largely in Poland and which claimed the lives of 90% of Polish Jews over the course of five years. For concentrated awfulness, the “liberation” of Warsaw in September and October of 1944 deserves a special place. Three contending forces were engaged in that great battle: the German Wehrmacht, the Soviet Red Army and the desperate people of Warsaw. And much of the time, it was Poles on one side, Russians and Germans on the other, as if the first priority of Hitler and Stalin wasn’t so much to defeat each other but to crush the Poles.

Ms. Kochanski tells Poland’s 20th-century story in absorbing detail, from the rebirth of modern Poland in 1919 to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. But her great interests are the war years, 1939 to 1945, and the multiple and repeated atrocities inflicted upon the Polish people.

It is a complicated story. The Polish army was defeated in September 1939 by a double invasion, Germany from the west, Soviet Russia from the east. Nearly 200,000 Polish soldiers escaped through neutral countries or were later released from Soviet prisons, to fight under British command in France, North Africa and Italy. [More]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 8:38 PM

    Reblogged this on .

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