I recently heard from my friend Halina Koralewski, a Polish-American interested in making sure Americans know about Polish and Polish-American history. She told me that that she had just read a book called World War II Through Polish Eyes, and she wanted to recommend the book. It sounded interesting, and I asked her to write a piece about it for this blog so that others could hear about this book.
Here's what she wrote:
I just read the best book ever on Polish history, by M. B. Szonert - World War II Through Polish Eyes – a history of one Polish family (as well as the nation) before and during the war. What a great, great book. The family lost their relatives in the east, due to the Russian attack (which resulted in the deportation of Poles deep into Russia and Siberia).
After the war this part of Poland (almost ½ of its prewar land) was annexed to Russia and forever lost.
The boyfriend of Danusia (the protagonist in the book), a young Polish officer, was captured by the Russians in September of 1939. A couple of months later, in April 1940, he was executed along with 4,100 fellow Polish officers and 11,000 Polish government/administration officials, who were Poland's intellectual elite. These murders were all done on Stalin’s orders, and carried out by the NKVD (currently KGB), the infamous Soviet Secret police. The burial place of thousands of other Polish officers, also executed in 1940 by the Russians, is still unknown. This crime was never put to trial.
Also covered in the book is the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, which is undoubtedly one of Poland's most heroic events, yet only a few lonely souls know of it. The Russian Army was on the other side of the Vistula River and didn’t help, while the Germans methodically suppressed the uprising, destroyed Warsaw, and murdered its citizens.
Another event is the battle of Monte Cassino – won by the Poles' famed Second Corpus after all other attempts by the Allied forces had failed. Roughly 1100 Polish soldiers lost their lives in this famous battle.
When the war ended, for Poland it was only the changing of an oppressor - from Germany to Russia. Although Poland fought Germany together with Allied forces, the West gave in to Stalin's demands and sacrificed Poland. Our best patriots, the Home Army fighters, were treated like criminals and executed by Russians. Russia in fact brought from Moscow their own puppet government that was never accepted by the majority of Poles. This terror continued until the Solidarity movement was born and eventually brought down communism.
What is both interesting and disturbing is that you will never find any of these facts in American history school textbooks.
In this particular book the family went through all the stages of Poland's troubled 20th century history and loses everything - only one family and so much suffering. A great, mind-opening book to read.
Poland was the only country in German-occupied Europe where there was an ultimate sacrifice - a death-sentence for helping Jews. Germans would kill Jews and Poles on the spot.
Nevertheless many Polish families helped their Jewish neighbors to survive in hiding. In Yad Vashem, where a tree is planted for each saved Jew, over 80% is attributed to the Poles, who were risking their own lives. Who indeed knows about it?
Poland's history and present is about forgiveness – yet how much can one nation forgive?