Monday, November 14, 2011

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust

Recently, I watched "Imaginary Witness," a terrific documentary about how Hollywood has depicted the Holocaust, and even though I think I know a lot about both Hollywood and the Holocaust, I found that I learned a number of things from this documentary. I mentioned to Danusha Goska that I had just seen the film, and she told me that she had also recently seen it and that she was writing a piece about it. When I said that I wanted to read it, she said that she'd be happy to pass it on to me when she finished.

Here's her review:

Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust


Directed by Daniel Anker

Produced by Daniel Anker and Ellin Baumel

Narrated by Gene Hackman

Commentators include authors Michael Berenbaum, Thane Rosenbaum, Neal Gabler, Annete Insdorf, Norma Barzman, Sharon Rivo,

And directors, producers, screenwriters and actors Steven Spielberg, Branko Lustig, Robert Clary, Rod Steiger, Sidney Lumet, Vincent Sherman, Stanley Frazen, Gene Reynolds, Malvin Wald, George Stevens Jr, Martin Starger, Abby Mann, Robert Berger

92 minutes

The Holocaust: I was not there, and neither were you, yet we both know it happened. We know it happened, we are certain of the immense, implausible evil of it all, because someone told us the story. See? Storytelling really is central. As incredible as it may sound, no storytelling, no Holocaust. Without storytelling, the Holocaust would disappear, like last year's snow.

Stories are not natural products that pop out of our mouths the way that flowers sprout from soil. Humans engineer stories. We select this fact, and not that one. We highlight this event, and not the other. We do this in response to our audience's ability to hear what we have to say, and to achieve our own goal. The story of the Holocaust has changed over time, from teller to teller. In the immediate post-war era, as the 2001 radio show "This American Life" episode, "Before It Had a Name," reported, people were overwhelmed, and even survivors themselves didn't know how to tell their own story. Under the decades of Soviet domination, communists tried to turn Auschwitz into a site of class struggle, rather than, primarily, Jewish martyrdom. James Carroll's much lauded 2001 book, "Constantine's Sword," played games with the number of Polish non-Jews who were imprisoned and died at Auschwitz, thus rewriting the camp's history and significance to Poles and Jews. It is essential in understanding the Holocaust that we understand storytelling, too.

"The TV miniseries 'The Holocaust' had more impact in Germany than the original event." Film historian Michael Berenbaum's joke is an exaggeration. The kernel of truth at its heart is this: a Hollywood production forced Germans to confront the Holocaust in a way that many had not confronted the original event. Again and again the commentators in the 2004 documentary "Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust" attest to the power of storytelling through film to affect audience understanding of a world-historical event. As the documentary reports: "This most horrific chapter in modern world history happened far from America's shores. It has been American movies, perhaps more than any other medium, that have shaped how we understand and remember these events."

"Imaginary Witness" is an excellent introduction into understanding how the Holocaust story is told. The original music, by Andrew Barrett, creates a mood of intellectual inquiry, but also of the ache of a deep, unhealed wound. The scripted narration is beautifully, powerfully written – something one can't say about most documentaries, where words play second fiddle to images. Gene Hackman's narration hits the proper note of authority, respect and compassion. At several points in the documentary, I had to pause the frame because the film clip I had just watched was so overwhelmingly moving. This is especially true of the scenes selected from two different films, shown in two different media, and made in two different eras. "War and Remembrance" is a 1988 TV miniseries made five decades after the start of World War Two. It depicts naked victims falling to Nazi bullets and Zyklon B. "The Mortal Storm" was a very polite and reticent Jimmy Stewart movie made in 1940, under Hollywood's strict Production Code, while the Holocaust was happening. It is a film so careful the word "Jew" is never used. Even so, a "Mortal Storm" scene of Jimmy Stewart responding uncomfortably to a Nazi song sung in a restaurant gave me chills and will remain in my memory for a long time.

As published reviews show, one of the most shocking segments of "Imaginary Witness" reports on the passivity of Hollywood moguls in response to the rise of Nazism. The moguls themselves, including Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, The Warner Brothers, and Carl Laemmle, were largely Central and Eastern European Jews. Reviewer Nancy deWolf Smith wrote in the April 1, 2005 Wall Street Journal, "Perhaps nothing, including powerful movies, could have generated the force necessary to get rid of Hitler in time to save his victims. What's sickening to contemplate is that Hollywood, and by extension society at large, didn't even try."

"Imaginary Witness" reports that "From the moment Hitler became chancellor in 1933, Hollywood treated Nazism with kid gloves… Even the newsreels, produced and distributed by the major studios, ignored the implicit threat in Nazi propaganda, often recycling it uncritically for the American audience." A newsreel treated a Nazi book burning as if it were a high-spirited teen prank: "It's a big night for the younger Hitler set," the newsreel narrator reports.

Hollywood, like the rest of America, was slow to wake up to even the most detailed, first-hand accounts of the Final Solution. As "Imaginary Witness" puts it: "Hollywood's vision of Germany was marked by an innocence that was in stark contrast to a growing body of information about the war." Director Vincent Sherman said, "We heard about concentration camps. And we thought, as the Germans said, that they were just a place that kept people. Nothing was ever mentioned about the ovens. Nothing was mentioned about the horrors that took place in the concentration camp." In a scene from 1942's "To Be or Not to Be," a notorious comedy about the Nazi occupation of Poland directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jack Benny, star Carole Lombard appears in a sleeveless lame evening gown; she plans to wear the dress in a concentration camp. "Hitler's Madmen" included a cheap, titillating scene of a Nazi officer, John Carradine, ogling a lineup of sexy young women. "The Ducktators" was a comedy cartoon.

As powerful as the masters of Hollywood were, they feared retaliation from anti-Semitic Americans if they spoke out, and from Germany, as well. They relied on international audiences for profits. Germany provided ten percent of their overseas market. When Nazi Germany demanded that studios fire Jewish workers in Germany, nearly all the studios complied.

It's clear that Hollywood's early failure to respond in full to the rise of Nazism is worthy of its own documentary dedicated to the topic, rather than the preliminary view "Imaginary Witness" can provide. There is already an excellent documentary on the wider American failure to respond adequately to Hitler's rise: PBS' 1994 "America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference."

"Imaginary Witness" praises Harry Warner, of Warner Brothers, for showing the courage and determination to speak up. In 1939, after the 1938 arrest of Nazi spies in the US, Warner Brothers made "Confessions of a Nazi Spy." The entire production was under wraps. It was code-named "Confessions of Nancy Drew." More than half of the cast requested that their names not appear in the credits. The part of Adolph Hitler was dropped when Warners could not find a single actor willing to play the role. The film came under attack. A propaganda leaflet, published in America, by Americans, identified everyone involved in the film as Jewish. The film was banned in almost every European country.

In 1940, MGM made "The Mortal Storm," the story of a Jewish family during Nazism's rise. The word "Jew" is never used in the film. Rather, the word "non-Aryan" is used. Even under this self-censorship, the clips from "The Mortal Storm" shown in "Imaginary Witness" are disturbing. Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Robert Young are seated at a crowded restaurant when Dan Dailey enters and urges diners to rise and sing a Nazi song. Stewart is hesitant to do so. It's a powerful scene. A representative of the German consulate said that those involved in "The Mortal Storm" would be remembered after a German victory in the war. It was rumored that Goebbels called Louis B Mayer to complain. Germany soon banned the distribution of all MGM films.

The most notable anti-Nazi film made before America entered the war was not produced by a Hollywood studio, or by a Jew. 1940's "The Great Dictator" was produced, directed, financed by and starred Charlie Chaplin. Director Sidney Lumet, who saw the film when it premiered, said that when Chaplin used the word "Jew" "You realized you had almost never heard the word 'Jew' in a movie." "The Great Dictator" was a comedy; its criticism is light-hearted. In a famous scene, Chaplin, imitating Hitler, dances with a globe while fantasizing world domination.

Politicians in Washington were alarmed at what they saw as Hollywood's war-mongering. Joseph Kennedy flew to Hollywood to convene a meeting of the heads of the studios. A paraphrase of Kennedy's message: "I warn you: do not press for American involvement in this conflict. Because this will be seen as your war." That had a very chilling effect on the Jews of Hollywood, film scholar Neal Gabler remarks. Kennedy comes across as the heavy; this viewer wondered what FDR was doing while Hollywood's Jews were being scapegoated.

Even non-Jewish Chaplin's innocuous film inflamed Hollywood's critics. The US senate formed the Nye-Clark Committee to investigate charges that Hollywood was encouraging anti-German bias. The committee cited "The Great Dictator" and "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" as evidence of a Jewish conspiracy in Hollywood to propel the US into war. Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota declared in a nationwide radio address that it was Jews, not Hitler, who posed the greatest threat to America.

My own book, "Bieganski" argues that one use of the Brute Polak stereotype is to exculpate those, including anti-Semitic Americans and American Jews, who could have done more in response to the rise of Nazism, but did not. "Imaginary Witness" supports that argument in several respects. Hitler made his intentions clear. The world did not react as it should have: with unambiguous condemnation and a promise of firm response. The United States did not react as it should have at least partly because many in the US shared the Nazi worldview to some degree; in fact Scientific Racism, a response to immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe to the US, was an American export to Germany. "Imaginary Witness" includes footage of some of the ten thousand German-Americans who joined The Bund, a pro-Nazi group. As the documentary makes clear, anti-Semitism was widespread and socially acceptable. Mississippi Congressman John Rankin publicly used words like "kike." American anti-Semites referred to the "unchristian Jews" who controlled Hollywood.

Viewers can feel compassion for the moguls' plight, while also feeling disappointed that they did not do more. I was reminded of a passage by Romanian-born Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel:

"While Mordecai Anielewicz and his comrades fought their lonely battle in the blazing ghetto under siege … a large New York synagogue invited its members to a banquet featuring a well-known comedian … The factories of Treblinka, Belzec, Maidanek and Auschwitz were operating at top capacity, while on the other side, Jewish social and intellectual life was flourishing, Jewish leaders met, threw up their arms in gestures of helplessness, shed a pious tear or two and went on with their lives: speeches, travels, quarrels, banquets, toasts, honors … If our brothers had shown more compassion, more initiative, more daring … if a million Jews had demonstrated in front of the White house … if Jewish notables had started a hunger strike … who knows, the enemy might have desisted."

The point is not that Hollywood's Jewish moguls could or should have stopped Hitler and rescued six million Jews, not to mention the tens of millions of others who died during World War Two. The point is, rather, that the Holocaust burdens the world with overwhelming pain, guilt, and regret – all of which seek a target – an isolated scapegoat we can blame so that we can carry on feeling good about ourselves. The point is that speakers who resort to the Brute Polak stereotype use two different rhetorical strategies. When Poles are discussed, rhetoric acts as a prosecuting attorney. When Americans and American Jews are discussed in products like "Imaginary Witness," rhetoric becomes a defense attorney.

Scholar Lawrence Baron published a review of "Imaginary Witness" in the May, 2005 issue of "Film and History." In spite of its careful and sympathetic depiction of the moguls, Baron is very tough on "Imaginary Witness." Baron goes to greater extent than the documentary does to defend the moguls and justify their actions. His defenses, and others like them, are sound. "Congress would regulate the film industry," Baron reports, if the moguls had risked speaking out. True enough. Poles who helped Jews risked, not Congressional regulation, but murder of their entire families by Nazis. One might ask why the moguls should even have bothered to speak out. An anti-Semitic America might respond with hostility or indifference. The Polish Underground Home Army sent Jan Karski, at great risk to himself, into a concentration camp and the Warsaw Ghetto and then to Washington to deliver first-hand reports of the Final Solution to Roosevelt. Roosevelt did not respond with stepped-up action to stop the Holocaust. Again, how we tell the Holocaust story matters, including in a documentary dedicated to analyzing how the Holocaust story has been told, and in published responses to it.

On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Washington previously criticized Hollywood for alleged war-mongering. Now Washington demanded that Hollywood make films that would promote war. Even so, only few and minor films focused on Nazi atrocities. A few B movies without big stars or budgets, that were rarely sold overseas, and that fell beneath the censors' notice, offered a more serious look at Nazism. A scene from the 1944 Warners' B film, "None Shall Escape," shows Nazis massacring Jews.

"Imaginary Witness" argues that America knew, early and in detail, about the Holocaust but chose not to act on it directly. It features Holocaust survivor and film producer Branko Lustig stating, "We were sitting in the concentration camp in Auschwitz and American planes were flying over our head. If American planes would put only one bomb on the railway station before Auschwitz the four hundred thousand Jews who came at the last moment from Hungary would not be killed."

Within weeks of the victory in Europe, twelve Hollywood moguls, at the invitation of General Eisenhower, flew to Europe to see for themselves the horror of the camps. "Imaginary Witness" includes footage of their arrival. They are all wearing American military uniforms. The moguls made public declarations of their intentions to incorporate Nazi atrocities into films. Jack Warner said, "No one connected with motion pictures who has seen these things can allow themselves to assume responsibility for a screen which portrays only a make-believe world."

One newsreel opens with words one would not see today: "German Atrocities." Germans have been rehabilitated. Any such film today would not open with the words "German Atrocities," but, rather, "Nazi Atrocities," or, simply, "Atrocities." The Film Daily reported record-breaking audiences for these newsreels. "Imaginary Witness" reports that after this initial saturation viewing, the concentration camp footage was put away, not to be seen again for several years; it would take decades, the documentary claims, before Hollywood would tell the Holocaust story in full. "Maybe," screenwriter Norma Barzman conjectures," "audiences didn't want to be reminded of their own anti-Semitism and racism. Maybe people don't go to movies to feel awful about themselves." Lawrence Baron, in his critical review, questions this, citing some films that made use of concentration camp footage. The films Baron mentions were not major productions.

Mainstream Hollywood's immediate response to the Holocaust included two 1947 films that never mentioned the Nazis or the murder of European Jews: "Crossfire" and "Gentleman's Agreement." Perhaps it was too soon after the war for Hollywood to produce a coherent response. Perhaps the events had not quite sunk in, guesses author Thane Rosenbaum.

"Imaginary Witness" again supports arguments in "Bieganski." Germany was important to America in a way that other countries were not. Neal Gabler states, "There was another factor here. The United States very rapidly wanted to rehabilitate Germany. We wanted to create a democracy there that would be hospitable to American ideas, American values, American goods. The last thing America wanted to do was to make films that would alienate a group of people that America was trying to woo." And, as in the pre-war era when it was important not to criticize the rise of Nazism too overtly, Americans who claimed German descent were the largest subset of the American ethnic mix. Titles like "German Atrocities" were put away, not to be seen again. "Imaginary Witness" does not mention, but should have, "Decision before Dawn," a 1951 Hollywood production that exculpates, not just Germany, but Nazi Germany. Hollywood went overboard to help America bring Germany back into its embrace.

Concentration camp survivors did not speak about their experiences. Robert Clary is familiar to Baby Boomer television audiences; he played LeBeau in the 1960s sitcom, "Hogan's Heroes." Clary was a French-Jewish concentration camp survivor. "I spent thirty-one months in four different camps. I never wanted to talk about it." Branko Lustig says, "A lot of people were ashamed. I never told my story to anybody." This silence was reflected in films. In "The Search" a child survivor won't speak; in "Singing in the Dark" a survivor has amnesia.

The single weirdest clip in "Imaginary Witness" is of an episode of the TV reality show, "This Is Your Life." In this normally chipper, upbeat program, guests are treated to a televised summary of the highlights of their lives. In a May 27, 1953 episode, the guest was Hanna Block Kohner, an extraordinarily beautiful Holocaust survivor. It's squirm-inducing to hear Ralph Edwards, the golden-voiced TV host recount to Hanna, as the camera focuses in tightly on her anguished face, the details of the loss of her family to Zyklon B, and to watch her on-camera reunion with a pal from Auschwitz and her brother from Israel. On the other hand, it is undeniable that this episode forced audiences to confront the reality of the Holocaust.

"Imaginary Witness" touches briefly on the 1947 HUAC hearings on communism in Hollywood. Screenwriter Norma Barzman says that the HUAC hearings were interpreted as a sign of the rise of fascism in the US. This fear, "Imaginary Witness" reports, caused Jews in Hollywood to further shy away from making films with Jewish themes.

In 1959, though, Hollywood made "The Diary of Anne Frank." "They tried to make Anne Frank more universal and less Jewish so that it would be more appealing to an American audience," reports film scholar Michael Berenbaum. Director George Stevens had been in the Army Signal Corps. He filmed in Dachau. He certainly felt a call to make films that would honor what he'd witnessed. Stevens also cited this call when making his 1965 all-star Biblical epic, "The Greatest Story Ever Told." "The Diary of Anne Frank," Stevens assured audiences, would be "devoid of Nazi horrors." It includes Frank's famous line, "I still believe in spite of everything that people are really good at heart," but it does not include scenes of Anne's death in Bergen-Belsen.

On April 16, 1959, television's Playhouse 90 aired Abby Mann's "Judgment at Nuremberg" dramatizing the American trial of Nazi war criminals. Mann himself identifies the antagonist of his play, not as Nazism, but as "patriotism." The documentary does not mention this, but Mann was one of many who would use the Nazis, the ultimate evil, as metaphor to attack another target – in his case, patriotism. A more recent example of this unfortunate trend would be singer Hank Williams Jr., who, in October, 2011, in a televised interview, compared Barack Obama to Hitler. Williams then lost his job on the television program, Monday Night Football, and his song, "Are You Ready for some Football," was dropped from the program as well. Polemicists have used Nazism to criticize Western Civilization, Christianity, Poland, Feminism, environmentalism, abortion, stem cell research – almost everything except Nazi Germany itself. This exploitation of Nazism to criticize one's chosen target is so ubiquitous it is satirized in Godwin's Law. Film scholar Michael Berenbaum expresses the appeal of Nazism, "It's absolute evil. Part of its attraction to filmmakers and to audiences is that you are touching the absolute."

In the 1959 television broadcast of "Judgment at Nuremberg," the extraordinarily handsome German actor, Maximilian Schell, asks questions that help to remove guilt from Germany and locate it in the entire world that watched Hitler's rise without doing enough to stop it. "What about the rest of the world, your honor?" Schell asks, rhetorically. "Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf? Published in every corner of the world?"

Playhouse 90's sponsor was the American Gas Company and the Magic Chef gas range whose slogan was, "Americans are cooking with gas." In a very dramatic scene, Claude Reins is shown obviously mouthing the words "gas chambers" but the sound is deleted.

In 1961, "Judgment at Nuremberg" was made into a feature film, and concentration camp footage was shown within the movie. That same year Adolf Eichmann's trial was broadcast on TV. Interestingly, clips are shown in which Jewish, Israeli victims of the European Holocaust are shown testifying in English. This may reflect a conscious desire to reach the widest audience possible.

Two Holocaust-related films were released in 1965 "The Pawnbroker" and "Ship of Fools." Though "Imaginary Witness" does not bring this up, the clips shown from both could be interpreted as, almost certainly inadvertently, blaming the victim. In "The Pawnbroker," an old man castigates Rod Steiger, playing a Holocaust survivor and pawnbroker: "You breathe; you eat; you walk; you take a dream and give a dollar. What survival? No passion. No pity. The walking dead." Like Abby Mann, "The Pawnbroker" uses Nazism to attack its own chosen target, poor living conditions for African Americans in Harlem. In "Ship of Fools" a friend warns a wealthy German Jew about the rise of Hitler. His chuckling reply, "The German Jew is something special. We are Germans first and Jews second. We have done so much for Germany. Germany has done so much for us. A little patience. A little good will. It works itself out. Listen, there are nearly a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do? Kill all of us?" The viewer might be tempted to blame this naïve German Jew for his own fate. Again, the Holocaust story is so horrific that those who hear it or tell it are constantly looking, consciously or

unconsciously, for a scapegoat to carry the horror in order that the hearer may be redeemed.

A handful of Holocaust-related films from the late sixties and early seventies are mentioned: "The Producers," a comedy, "Harold and Maude," "which," as "Imaginary Witness" comments, "uses brief holocaust imagery to imply a back story that need not be embellished," and "Cabaret" which used the Holocaust to serve as a metaphor for something else, according to the documentary. Baron strongly criticized that last point, arguing that "Cabaret" is no metaphorical treatment of Vietnam, but a worthy depiction of the rise of Nazism, especially in its undeniably excellent beer garden scene.

The 1977 television broadcast of "Roots" was the catalyst for a turning point in film depictions of the Holocaust. "Roots" was very ethnic, and it treated unpleasant subjects, and it scored very high ratings. The week it aired, producers gave the television miniseries "The Holocaust" the green light.

Broadcast over four consecutive nights in 1978, the miniseries tells the story of the Holocaust from the point of view of the assimilated German Jewish Weiss family. They were meant to personify something that was very much part of the American experience: people who came from somewhere else and became assimilated into the culture. Berenbaum says that they were "One family that seemed to have been everywhere and done everything. That's the magic of Hollywood, not the abstract, the concrete." Ratings were high. In NYC, during commercial breaks, the water pressure went down.

In the New York Times, Elie Wiesel published "Trivializing of the Holocaust." Wiesel calls the miniseries "morally objectionable" and "indecent." Thane Rosenbaum says, "The idea that we can recreate the event with props and set pieces and makeup is in many ways a desecration… We dominate world culture. We have to be careful of Holocaust films because they can be diluting or trivializing or distorting or simply false." Neal Gabler says, "Almost everyone had operated under the assumption that just dealing with the Holocaust is good. You are bearing witness. Wiesel says that any representation trivializes the event. This is something that is beyond any kind of traditional narrative form. What you are getting is a war between narrative on one hand and history on the other." A poster at the International Movie Database offered an interesting take on the question of whether it is morally objectionable or trivializing to dramatize the Holocaust on film. What about the destruction of the Native Americans, so often, and so inaccurately, depicted in Western films, he asks. His point, of course, is that a double standard is applied by some critics: other people's atrocities and genocides are okay to put on film, even in a grievously distorted fashion, but, for some critics, the Holocaust is not.

Theorists might debate the propriety of the depiction, but it is undeniable that "The Holocaust" miniseries had impacts that many might assess as positive. Scholar Sharon Rivo says that, "I watched teenagers watch that program, and it had an enormous effect upon them." In Germany, Chancellor Helmudt Schmidt watched it. As a direct result of the miniseries, the German legislature extended the statute of limitations on Nazi war criminals. The United States Holocaust Memorial Commission was set up. Survivors now began to tell their stories on film. A clip is shown from "Kitty: Return to Auschwitz." Robert Clary reports that he began to speak publicly. "Imaginary Witness" implies that a television miniseries, attacked by purists for desecrating the Holocaust, actually helped to make possible the telling – and the hearing – of the Holocaust story, more than a generation after it ended.

The Holocaust film to which all others are compared, of course, is Steven Spielberg's 1993, multiple Academy-Award-winning "Schindler's List." "Imaginary Witness" does not probe deeply into that film's central irony: the most significant Holocaust film to date stars a non-Jew, Liam Neeson, playing a handsome, heroic and sympathetic German Nazi Party member. As many previous commentators have pointed out, it had to be that way. It didn't have to be that way for reasons of representational truth. Your average Nazi party member was not Oskar Schindler. Your average rescuer of Jews was not Oskar Schindler. Yad Vashem records more Poles as rescuers of Jews than members of any other nation. But the most significant Holocaust film to date would not be about a Polish peasant who rescued Jews. Polish peasants are poor, dirty, relatively disempowered laborers, and few would want to look at them onscreen for a couple of hours. It would not focus on Raoul Wallenberg. Schindler was a German Nazi; Wallenberg was a Swedish Christian. Schindler went to Nazi-occupied Poland to make money and to party; Wallenberg volunteered to go to Nazi-occupied Budapest to rescue Jews. He knew he was risking death by doing so. Schindler saved over a thousand Jews; Wallenberg saved magnitudes more. Schindler was alive at the end of World War Two. He won. Wallenberg, whose exact fate remains unknown, probably died horribly in Soviet captivity. Few would go to see that movie, the one that ends with the obscure, tragic murder – at the hands of America's Soviet allies – of a noble hero.

Audiences would not choose to identify with typical Jewish Holocaust victims, who had been, because of no crime of their own, unjustly targeted, terrorized, humiliated, tortured, and mass murdered. Few people would ever purchase a ticket to that movie, a movie that ended as the Holocaust ended for its typical victim: with unredeemed, diabolical mass murders committed by fully empowered perpetrators, all too many of whom managed to escape any justice. A film that attempted to depict some of those horrors, Tim Blake Nelson's 2001 "The Grey Zone," has been little seen or honored.

No. "Schindler's List" was not made for reasons of representational truth. "Schindler's List" was made in obedience to the demands of narrative. Audiences want to look at tall, powerful, handsome, well-dressed characters. Audiences want to look at men who charm and seduce women and enjoy life's blessings. Audiences want stories to end in triumph. The handsome, well-dressed, powerful people, the men enjoying parties and girls and champagne, in Nazi-occupied, Holocaust-era Poland were all on the very wrong side, and so to give audiences what they want, a Nazi party member had to be the protagonist of the most significant Holocaust film yet made. The most successful Hollywood director in history is a slave to narrative rules, no less than the rest of us who attempt, in our own fumbling ways, to tell our own stories to our own small audiences. Again, that is why you can't understand the Holocaust story unless you understand story itself, its demands, gifts, and limitations.

And, of course, in "Schindler's List," Nazis are not the sole antagonists. There are other bad guys: vicious women who haul off and fling large fistfuls of mud at helpless Jews being driven out by Nazis, moppets who wait beside trains going to death camps in order to make slicing movements across their little throats and to terrorize Jews further, and elegantly dressed women who mince about Krakow's thoroughfares unimpeded, not realizing that the ash falling on their furs is from cremated Jewish bodies. All of these clips from "Schindler's List" are shown in "Imaginary Witness." In these clips from the most significant Holocaust film ever made, the antagonists are all Poles. Are these typical Poles? Is Hollywood telling the Holocaust story accurately here? My own book, "Bieganski," argues that it is not – and that it is not doing so for narrative reasons.

I was in Krakow this summer; indeed, I was in Oskar Schindler's former factory in Krakow, now a museum. I spent several hours in the "Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945" exhibit. The museum does record the anti-Semitism expressed by a poisonous and deadly minority of Poles. Unlike "Schindler's List," that is hardly the only Polish story the museum tells.

In fact the Nazis had genocidal designs on Poles – and this complicates the Holocaust story. Their designs were made clear in the opening days of the occupation of Krakow, when Jagiellonian University professors were sent to concentration camps. Some argue that Polish culture is fundamentally anti-Semitic. A casual viewer could certainly gather that from "Schindler's List." That the Nazis themselves did not assess Polish culture so is evident from their actions in Krakow. There they destroyed landmarks of Polish culture. The Nazis destroyed Krakow's monument to Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's national poet. Mickiewicz is said to have been of partially Jewish ancestry. He was a proud son of a multicultural Poland, celebrating both Lithuania and Poland, and he celebrated Jews' contributions to Poland in numerous ways, including his depiction of Jankiel, a key character in the national epic poem. The Nazis destroyed Krakow's monument to the Battle of Grunwald, the largest battle in medieval Europe, in which pagan Lithuanians and Catholic Poles defeated genocidal Teutonic Knights who practiced conversion by the sword. The Nazis planned to destroy Krakow's monuments to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who approached Poland's Jews with respect, and Josef Pilsudski, who was much loved by Jews for his dedication to a multicultural Poland. None of this Nazi cultural genocide in Krakow, of course, in mentioned in "Schindler's List" or any other Hollywood treatment of the Holocaust, though Polish anti-Semitism is now a frequent theme in Hollywood and TV productions.

"Cabaret" includes an unforgettable scene. This scene tells the viewer all he needs to know about the benefits, and failings, of tight focus. A beautiful, young, blond boy is shown in tight focus. You certainly see every detail of his face. He is singing a song. The song is rousing and uplifting. The camera pulls back. You see the boy's clothes: a Nazi uniform. You hear more of the song's lyrics. The scene becomes terrifying.

"Imaginary Witness" maintains a tight focus. It focuses on Jewish victims. That is a good thing. We need to know that story. But it never pulls back. It never mentions that the first and last group the Nazis mass murdered were handicapped people. It never mentions that the first to die from Zyklon B were Soviet POWs. It never mentions the Nazis' plans re: Poles or Poland. This tight focus itself distorts history. A mere mention of Hitler's other victims would have been enough to provide context, both in this documentary and in films like "Schindler's List."

In "Bieganski" I quote two memoirists and children of survivors: Julie Salomon and Anne Karpf. Salamon pointed out that Steven Spielberg, maker of Schindler's List, has never made a film about American anti-Semitism. Indeed, Spielberg, a Hollywood mogul himself, has never made a film about Hollywood moguls who dropped the ball before and during World War Two. Karpf pointed out that Claude Lanzmann, director of Shoah, though himself "A French Jew, remained silent on the wartime fate of Jews from France: though one of the film's dominant languages is French, Lanzmann nowhere brings in French witnesses to talk about the events on his doorstep." There are reasons these two powerful filmmakers made these choices. Narrative reasons. "Imaginary Witness" is an excellent primer addressing the narrative pressures faced by the world's most powerful storytellers in telling one of the world's most important stories.


Danusha Goska teaches at William Paterson University. Her book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture (Academic Studies Press, 2010) is available from Amazon. She blogs about anti-Polish stereotypes at Bieganski the Blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two Lives Shaped by World War Two: A Video

Recently, I was invited to do a poetry reading at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, New York. The reading, titled "Two Lives Shaped by World War Two," focused on my parents and their experiences as Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany.

Here's a video of the poetry reading. It's about an hour long, 40 minutes of poems and then some time for questions.

The reading, organized by Gregory Tague of Editions Bibliotekos and sponsored by St. Francis College, was written up for the college site. The piece contains some background information about my mom and dad and a couple of photos of me. Please stop by and take a look.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two Lives Shaped by World War Two: A Reading


Two Lives Shaped by World War II

->Reading, Book Signing, Discussion<-

Born in a refugee camp after World War II, John Guzlowski came with his family to the United States as a Displaced Person in 1951. His parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, he met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. His poetry, fiction, and essays try to remember them and their voices.

11 October 2011 – St. Francis College

Founders Hall Theater / Callahan Center

180 Remsen St., Brooklyn Heights

4:00pm – 6:00pm

- Free and Open to the Public – Refreshments -

John Z. Guzlowski is retired from Eastern Illinois University, where he taught contemporary American literature and poetry writing. In his books Lightning and Ashes, Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, and Language of Mules and Other Poems, he writes about his parents' experiences in German Concentration Camps. In 2001 he won the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award, and his poems have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. He has also published extensively on contemporary American fiction in journals such as Shofar, Modern Fiction Studies, Polish Review, Critique, Polish American Studies, Studies in Jewish American Literature, and Ascent.

♦ The reading is presented by Editions Bibliotekos and sponsored by the English Department of St. Francis College. John’s reading and discussion will be the third such event initiated by Bibliotekos and hosted by St. Francis College.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 -- Ten Years Later

One of the things that the past teaches us is that there is really no end to the past. I saw this in my parents. For them World War II never ended -- even after liberation, even after forty, even after fifty years. The war and the camps my parents suffered in were always there. A snowy day in November would put my mom back in the frozen beet fields that the German guards forced her to work in that first winter in Germany. A TV show as harmless as Hogan's Heroes would leave my father shaking.

I've seen this in other survivors and veterans, and I'm sure you have too.

What the war taught them was that war has no beginning and no end.

It's the same for a lot of us with 9/11. We want it to have an end. We want what people call closure. We want to get beyond what happened.

We've been fighting the War on Terrorism for 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Islamic world is changing rapidly where ever we look, and we've killed Osama bin Laden. So why does 9/11 still feel like it happened yesterday? Why does a film clip of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers stop us? Why does a voice recording of a stewardess on that plane talking to ground control about not being able to open the door to the cockpit bring us to tears?

We want an end, and we've wanted it for ten years, and it hasn't happened, and it never will. That's one of the things that 9/11 has taught us.

I've written a number of poems about 9/11 over the years. The first one was written a couple days of 9/11. That poem talked about how I wanted an end to 9/11. It didn't happen then, and it hasn't happened since.

Here it is:

Sept 13, 2001

I want to come home
and turn on the evening news
and not see bin Laden,
his terrible lightning
piercing the sky
and showering clouds
of metal down on the streets

I want to say to my wife,
Linda, do you think
it will rain tomorrow?
If it doesn’t, maybe we can
plant those mums in the garden
to replace the verbena
that have been struggling
all summer with the heat,
the sun drying them
to brown slivers, nothing
red or green about them

And I want her to say,
if it rains let’s go to the bookstore
and have a cup of Starbucks
and read some travel books
and talk about where we’ll go
when Lillian comes home
during Christmas break

She’ll need something
to take her mind off
her first year of law school


I've posted three other times about 9/11.

The first post was a letter I wrote shortly after 9/11. It's called "The Short View and the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks."

The second was an update to that post -- talking about what 9/11 looked like in 2007.

The last was about an anthology of poems on how we look at God since 9/11.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

John Guzlowski: Radio Interview

Lois P. Jones will be interviewing me Wednesday, August 10 at 830 PM PST on her program The Poets Cafe (KPFK Radio - Los Angeles 90.7 fm.)

Here's a piece of the blurb she wrote for the program:

One of my most profoundly moving interviews, please tune in to Poets Cafe with guest John Guzlowski who reads from Lightning and Ashes and Language of Mules. Works detailing his parents' experiences as Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany.

His mother Tekla Hanczarek came from a small community west of Lviv in what was then Poland where her father was a forest warden. His father Jan was born in a farming community north of Poznań. John was born Zbigniew Guzlowski in a Displaced Persons camp in Vienenburg, Germany in 1948, and changed his name to John when he was naturalized as an American citizen.

Guzlowski writes "to remember his parents and their voices."


There will be a temporary link to the show which stays on line for a few weeks at and then later, a permanent archive will be created at


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free Documentaries about the Nazis and World War II

Some of the best recent documentaries about the Nazis, their motivation, and the suffering they imposed are available for free from (The only down-side is that the documentaries are broken into segments that tend to be about 10 minutes long.) I would be happy to add other documentaries to this list. Just let me know what's available for free online.

I highly recommend the following:

The Nazis: A Warning From History BBC, part 1 (many interviews with German soldiers, politicians, and civilians about their attitudes toward the Nazis)

Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution BBC, part 1
(very well produced, includes re-enactments of key moments and interviews with former SS men who served at Auschwitz)

The Third Reich, part 1, from the History Channel (relies heavily on personal films and photographs)

The World at War: Inside the Third Reich, part 1 (Older BBC series, still compelling)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Warsaw Uprising, August 1, 1944

On August 1, 1944, the Polish resistance and the people of Warsaw rose up to throw off the Nazi oppressors. The Poles fought with guns, bricks, stolen grenades, sticks, and their hands and teeth. The Nazis retaliated with tanks, bombers, and fire.

63 days later the last Poles surrendered to the Germans.

250,000 men, women, and children were killed in the fighting, and the city of Warsaw was leveled by the Germans.

As a boy growing up, I would often hear my father talk about the fight the Poles made in the face of German military superiority. He would talk and sometimes he would weep for the dead.

My father wasn't there, of course. He had been taken by the Germans to Buchenwald Concentration Camp several years before. But when he talked about the Warsaw Uprising, he spoke like a man who had been touched by something that he would never forget.

I tried to capture this in a poem called "Cross of Polish Wood."


Told to take nothing
he took the cross
his mother gave him
two clean planed strips
made one by four nails
and a figure in lead

But he didn't pray in the box cars
he whispered and listened to whispers
talk of Polish honor
and the strength of lances
of Anders and Sikorski
and someone always said
"Warsaw will never fall
Panzers are only made of steel"

The fall of Warsaw taught him to pray
sent him to his knees in Buchenwald
to the nails and the lead
and the clean-planed Polish wood

Friday, July 15, 2011

What My Father Ate: A Reading

My father spent more than 4 years in Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a Polish slave laborer. He was captured in a round up when he went to his village north of Poznan to buy some rope. When he was taken by the Nazis, he was a kid, just 19 years old.

A lot of times when he talked about his experiences, he couldn't help telling me about how hungry he was for those four years. He said that most days he got about 500 calories of food. Once when he complained about the food, the Nazi guard hit him across the head with a club. From that day on, my dad was blind in one eye.

When the Americans liberated the camp, he weighed 75 pounds. He was one of the lucky ones. A lot of the guys in the camp didn't make it.

I've written a lot of poems about how hungry he was during those four year. The following is one of them. It's called "What He Ate." It appears in my book Lightning and Ashes. Here's a youtube of me reading the poem. I'm posting a copy of the poem itself after the video.

What My Father Ate

He ate what he couldn’t eat,
what his mother taught him not to:
brown grass, small chips of wood, the dirt
beneath his gray dark fingernails.

He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark.
He ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
He ate what would kill a man

in the normal course of his life:
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything
small enough to get into his mouth.
He ate roots. He ate newspaper.

In his slow clumsy hunger
he did what the birds did, picked
for oats or corn or any kind of seed
in the dry dung left by the cows.

And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that.

And the other men did the same.


The photograph at the start is by Margaret Bourke-White, an American woman reporter and photographer, one of the first people in Buchenwald after the liberation. Her story and some of her photos appear in her memoir of being with the advancing Allied army, Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly (1946). The book is out of print but some libraries may still have a copy. You won't regret tracking it down.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beets: A Reading

"Beets" is one of four poems I wrote after watching Schindler's List with my mother. She wasn't the kind of person to talk about what had happened to her in the war, the way the Nazis killed her mother and sister and her sister's baby, and the years my mom spent as a slave laborer. Most of the time when I asked her about her past, she would wave me away and tell me simply a piece of wisdom she learned in the camps: "If they give you bread, eat it. If they beat you, run away."

This changed after we watched Schindler's List together. She liked the movie, thought it was powerful, but finally judged it inadequate. She said that no film could ever capture the things that happened in the camps. After saying that, she started telling me a series of stories about her life in the war. The poem "Beets" is one of those stories.


"Beets" appears in my book Lightning and Ashes (available from Amazon and Steel Toe Books).

I posted another poem in this series about the stories my mom told about the slave labor camps earlier. It's called "What the War Taught Her" and you can see the reading by clicking here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

D-Day Remembrance

Today, June 6, is the anniversary of the invasion of Europe, and by chance I was in a high school about to begin a presentation about my parents and their experiences in the Nazi concentration camps when an announcement came on asking the students in the school to remember the anniversary of D-Day.

As the speaker talked about what D-Day was, I thought about all that day meant to me, my parents' long years as Polish forced laborers in Nazi Germany, the refugee camps after the war, the family killed and left behind, our coming to the US as DPs.

When the announcement ended, I began my presentation with a poem about my father's liberation from the camps. Here's the poem:

In the Spring the War Ended

For a long time the war was not in the camps.
My father worked in the fields and listened
to the wind moving the grain, or a guard
shouting a command far off, or a man dying.

But in the fall, my father heard the rumbling
whisper of American planes, so high, like
angels, cutting through the sky, a thunder
even God in Heaven would have to listen to.

At last, one day he knew the war was there.
In the door of the barracks stood a soldier,
an American, short like a boy and frightened,
and my father marveled at the miracle of his youth

and took his hands and embraced him and told him
he loved him and his mother and father,
and he would pray for all his children
and even forgive him the sin of taking so long.


The poem appears in my book Lightning and Ashes, about my parents' experiences during the war and afterward.

My daughter Lillian sent me the following link to color photos from before and after D-Day from Life Magazine. The photos are amazing, and a large part of that amazement comes from the color. The color gives me a shock, a good one--it takes away the distance, makes the photos and the people and places in them immediate in a profound way.

Here's the link: Life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What the War Taught My Mother

This is a reading of "What the War Taught Her," a poem about my mother's experiences in the slave labor camps of Nazi Germany. She spent 2 and a half years in those camps. The poem appeared in my book about my parents, Lightning and Ashes.

The reading is one of a series posted by Henryk Gajewski. To see more of the readings, click here.


The Gajewski site also contains videos of Polish American writers Cecilia Woloch, Linda Nemec Foster, Mark Pawlak, Leonard Kress, and Phil Boiarski.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Warsaw Rising--An Award Winning Video

The Warsaw Uprising began on August 1, 1944, and lasted for 63 days. When the fighting stopped. The city was in ruins. A quarter of a million Poles were dead, and the city's population of 1.3 million had been reduced to less than a 1000.

The following is a film commissioned by Museum of the Warsaw Rising of 1944.


Polish filmmaker Michael Adamski has posted a series of videos on youtube regarding what Warsaw was like at the end of the war and what it's like now.

Part 1

Part 1 Continued

Part 2

Part 2 Continued

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Adolf Hitler's Suicide Day, April 30: A Poem

66 years ago today, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Some historians say he killed himself with a cyanide capsule, others say he shot himself first.

My mother didn't know how he killed himself, and she didn't much care. She was happy that he did it.

She had never met him, but she had felt his fist across her face, his whip across her back. She was taken to Germany as a slave laborer after watching her mother, her sister Genja, and Genja's baby daughter murdered. My mom's sister Sophie was raped too. My mom escaped by jumping through the window and escaping into a forest. The Nazis caught her pretty soon after that.

My mother didn't talk much about what happened to her and her family. When I was a kid, I thought her silence came from annoyance with my questions about the war. Later, I realized that she didn't talk about her experiences because she wanted to protect me from the terrible things that happened, even though I was a grown man and a teacher.

Here's a poem I wrote about what Hitler did to my mom and her family.

My Mother was 19

Soldiers from nowhere
came to my mom’s farm
killed her sister Genja’s baby
with their heels
shot her momma too

One time in the neck
then for kicks in the face
lots of times

They saw my my mother
they didn’t care
she was a virgin
dressed in a blue dress
with tiny white flowers

They raped her
so she couldn’t stand up
couldn’t lie down
couldn’t talk

They broke her teeth
when they shoved
the blue dress
in her mouth

If they had a camera
they would’ve taken her picture
and sent it to her

That’s the kind they were

Let me tell you:
God doesn’t give
you any favors

He doesn’t say
now you’ve seen
this bad thing
and tomorrow you’ll see
this good thing
and when you see it
you’ll be smiling

That’s bullshit


The poem first appeared in the Chattahoochee Review.

The photo was taken by my wife Linda in 1979 or so. From left to right in the back row, it's my dad, my mom, my sister Donnna, her daughter Denise, and me. In the front row are my sister's daughters Kathie and Cheryl.

To read other poems about my mom, check out The Guzlowski Sampler, a site set up at Eastern Illinois University, where I taught.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

91 Essential Books about Poland and World War II

The following list was compiled by William Szych and his friends at the the Facebook group "The Way Back -- Stories of Poland's Rape, Murder, Enslavement 70 Years Ago."

The introduction was written by Mr. Szych:

This living bibliography is dedicated to all in Poland who suffered so much during WWII...those who died, those who lived through untold horrors, those who lost their country and found refuge through out the free world, and those who fought so bravely within Poland and with the Allied forces to free Poland.

The books below (now over 80 in number) are linked to amazon or other sites where you can read reviews of the book. Remember you can usually request your local library to get books for you through regional book-lending agreements.

If you know of other books you think should be added, let us know.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." John 8:32


1. The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom [Paperback]

by Slavomir Rawicz

(Note: It has been recommended that this book be removed from this list because of the controversy and allegations that this is not a true story. But that is exactly the whole point of this book have people think about what happened in Poland...what is true, what is lie, what is omission.

What we know: Stalin's Gulags existed and Polish citizens were enslaved there and in the Siberian labor camps and collective farms. We know millions of Polish citizens perished both in Siberia and in occupied Poland (Jews and Christians) including the 1940 murder of 23,000 Polish officers on orders from Stalin, initially an ally of Hitler and fellow invader of Poland.

We also know that many Poles fought bravely in conventional land and air forces with the Allies in key battles of the war and in the underground resistance forces in Poland. We know that Polish children were stolen and sent to Germany never to see their familites again and we know that many women were raped by both Germans and Soviets. And we also know that at the end of the war, Poland was handed over to Stalin leaving many Polish people without a country.

The name of this Group includes "The Way Back" for reason. It is not just to acknowledge and commend the movie by that same name which depicts the brutality of the Soviet Gulag. It is, rather, to note that a long journey must begin to take the "way back" to the truth of what really happened to Poland just 70 years ago.


2. When God Looked the Other Way: An Odyssey of War, Exile, and Redemption by Wesley Adamczyk (May 15, 2006)


3. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944 [Paperback] Richard C. Lukas (Author), Norman Davies (Foreword)


4. Katyn: Stalin's Massacre and the Triumph of Truth [Paperback] by Allen Paul


5. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder (Oct 12, 2010)


6. Waiting to be Heard: The Polish Christian Experience Under Nazi and Stalinist Oppression 1939-1955 [Paperback]Bogusia J. Wojciechowska


7. Stolen Childhood: A Saga of Polish War Children [Paperback]

Robert Twele (Author), Lucjan Krolikowski (Author)


8. The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom [Hardcover] Stefan Waydenfeld Article by the author.


9. The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman's Eyes 1939-1940 [Paperback] Rulka Langer (Author)


10. Quiet Hero: Secrets from My Father's Past [Hardcover] Rita Cosby


11. Code Name: Żegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Wartime Europe [Hardcover]

Irene Tomaszewski Tecia Werbowski (Authors)


13. The Officer's Daughter by Zina Rohan (FICTION--NOVEL)


14. 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron


15. A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka


16. The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story [Paperback]

by Diane Ackerman


17. Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska, 1942-1944 [Paperback] Krystyna Wituska

(Author), Irene Tomaszewski (Author)

(note: she was executed by the Gestapo in her early twenties)


18. A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II [Paperback] Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud (Author)


19. World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West [Hardcover] Laurence Rees


20. My Dear Mr. Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin by Susan Butler (Jan 10, 2006)


21. Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939-1945 [Hardcover]

M.B.B. Biskupski (Author)


22. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Tadeusz Borowski (FICTION by a Camp survivor)

(Author), Barbara Vedder (Editor, Translator), Michael Kandel (Translator), Jan Kott (Introduction)


23. I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American ambassador reports to the American people (The Americanist library) by Arthur Bliss Lane (1965)


24. No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland's Forces in World War II

Kenneth K. Koskodan (Author)


25. DUPES: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century [Hardcover] Paul Kengor


26. Books by Norman Davies

Europe at War 1939-1945
Europe: A History
Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw
White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War 1919-20
God’s Playground: A History of Poland (Volume I & Volume II)
Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland

27. Suggested by John Bartoszynski

Stalin and the Poles; An Indictment of the Soviet leaders [Hardcover]

Bronislaw Kusnierz (Author)


28. Suggested by John Bartoszynski

THE RAPE OF POLAND, Pattern of Soviet Aggression. Whittley House, 1948, 309 pages H/B

Stanislaw Mikolajczyk


29. Suggested by John Bartoszynski

AN ARMY IN EXILE the Story of the Second Polish Corps [Hardcover]



30. Poland Betrayed: The Nazi-Soviet Invasions of 1939 (Campaign Chronicles) by David Williamson


31. Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe by Adam Zomoyski


32. Genocide and Rescue in Wolyn: Recollections of the Ukrainian Nationalist Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Against the Poles During World War II by Tadeusz Piotrowski


33. Other books by Tadeusz Piotrowski


34. Story of a Secret State [Paperback] Jan Karski (Author)


35. Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust [Paperback]

E. Thomas Wood (Author), Stanislaw M. Jankowski (Author)


36. Irena Sendler: Mother of the Children of the Holocaust by Anna Mieszkowska (Hardcover - Nov 18, 2010)


37. Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War [Paperback]


38. The Polish Club in San Francisco Recommends Movies and Books...


39. "Poland in the Rockies" recommends...


40. Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek


41. Polish Greatness Book List (some repeats from above, but many new ones also)


42. Escaping Danger by Dorothy Dubel (HISTORICAL FICTION)


43. Via Krysia Styrna Facebook Page

Tell The West, Jerzy G Gliksman (Author), 1948

For Recent review see:,9171,798432,00.html


44. The Ghosts of Europe by Anna Porter


45. The Polish Officer by Alan Furst


46. Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier


47. The Black Devils' March - a Doomed Odyssey: The 1st Polish Armoured Division 1939-45 [Paperback] by Evan McGilvray


48. Lightning and Ashes by John Guzlowski

Poems about his Polish Catholic parents who were taken as slave laborers to Nazi Germany.

Recent review:


49. As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me by Josef Bauer


50. Suggested by Danusha Goska

Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture (Jews of Poland) by Danusha Goska


51. Suggested by Stephen Stelmaszuk

The Lion and the Eagle: Polish Second World War Veterans in Scotland (Voice of war series) by Diana M. Henderson


52. A Blog by Group Member John Guzlowski

Writing the Polish Diaspora -- News and information for Polish Writers and Writers of the Polish Diaspora


53. Victims of Stalin and Hitler: The Exodus of Poles and Balts to Britain [Hardcover] by Thomas Lane


54. A Blog by Group Member Martin Stepak

Polish Legacy Poems


55. Suggested by John Burke

Man Is Wolf to Man: Surviving the Gulag [Paperback]

Janusz Bardach (Author), Kathleen Gleeson (Author), Adam Hochschild (Foreword)


56. Suggested by Denise Jachimowicz Coughlin

Dragon In My Pocket [Hardcover]

Denise Coughlin (Author), Bill Kastan (Illustrator)


57. Suggested by Stephen Stelmaszuk

Lost Between Worlds: A World War II Journey of Survival

by Edward H. Herzbaum

Amazon books link:

Web Site:

58. By Parachute to Warsaw by Marek Celt


59. Memoir of Stanisław Jaskólski -- Victim and Witness to German Death Camp during WWII


60. Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum


61. Polish Civilians Killed in World War II: Janusz Korczak, Rutka Laskier, 108 Martyrs of World War Two, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Meir Balaban [Paperback] Books LLC (Editor)


62. Soldiers Of Evil -- The Commandants of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Tom Segev


63. Andrzej Pityński Sculpture [Hardcover]

Anna Chudzik (Editor), Andrzej K. Olszewski, Irena Grzesiuk-Olszewska (Introduction)

Can be directly ordered from the publisher: Wydawnictwo Bosz, email:

web site is Andrzej has been called the leading Polish American sculptor and has created many memorials directly related to Polish American and Polish interests


64. The Samaritans: Heroes of the Holocaust

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (Author), Zofia Lewin (Author) ( For Reviews )

Out of print but used copies are available at:


65. Witold's Report (Episodes from Auschwitz)

66. Et Papa tacet: the genocide of Polish Catholics.: An article from: Commonweal [HTML] [Digital]


67. War Through Children's Eyes


68. The Polish Army, 1939-45 (Men-at-arms) [Paperback]


69. First to Fight: Poland's Contribution to the Allied Victory in WWII


70. The Forgotten Few: The Polish Airforce in WWII


71. Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg


72. The Polish Campaign 1939


73. Polish Resistance in WWII Collection of essays, articles, links, and an excellent readking list of dozens of books too numerous to list here


74. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945 [Hardcover]

by Dr. Gunnar S. Paulsson


75. The Mass Deportation of Poles to Siberia: A Historical Narrative Based on the Written Testimony of the Polish Siberian Survivors by Michael Carolan


76. Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags: Recovering a Lost Literature [Hardcover] Halina Ablamowicz (Author)


77. Legacy of the White Eagle; Includes a CD at the Back of Book [Paperback] by Julian Kulski

also available at:


78. Exiled to Siberia [Hardcover] By Klaus Hergt


79. Children of the Katyń Massacre: Accounts of Life After the 1940 Soviet Murder of Polish POWs [Abridged] [Paperback] Teresa Kaczorowska

also at:


80. Out of the Cross by Rev. Charles Jan Di Mascola (Scroll down to get to the review and name of is not avalible through Amazon unfortunately) This book is about the 108 members of the Polish Catholic clergy designated as WWII martyrs.


81. The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 [Paperback] by Joanna K. M. Hanson


82. Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland, 1939-1945 [Hardcover] by Ewa Kurek


83. Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero by Aileen Orr



84. Enigma: How the Poles Broke the Nazi Code (Polish Histories) [Hardcover]

Wladyslaw Kozaczuk (Author), Jerzy Straszak (Author)


85. The report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee: Intelligence co-operation between Poland and Great Britain during World War II


86. Fighting Warsaw: The Story of the Polish Underground State 1939-1945

by Stefan Korboński


87. The Spring Will Be Ours: Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom

By Andrzej Paczkowski


88. Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II [Hardcover]Douglas W. Jacobson


89. A World Apart: Imprisonment in a Soviet Labor Camp During World War II [Paperback]


90. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (9780553494112): Irene Opdyke


91. DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 and

Round-Trip to America, both by Mark Wyman