You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > The Fate Of A Forgotten Ally
 

  Tales from Poland's home front: A Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto 

This book supplies perhaps the last unwritten chapter in the history of the Second World War. One reason it has taken so long is that for Poland the war did not end until 1989 or, to be exact, 1990, when a treaty with Germany was at last signed. Another is the magnitude of the subject, involving as it does almost every theatre of the war and a human tragedy of staggering complexity and scale played out on several continents. The Polish armed forces were deployed widely, both conventionally and underground. The civilian population did not share a common experience, as the invaders broke it down by ethnic and social background and treated it accordingly. But the difficulties that faced historians taking on the subject do not end there, and they are part of the story.

The Soviet Union projected its own version of events, falsifying evidence on a massive scale. Poland's Western allies clung to their narrative of a good war fought for democracy and decency, in which Poland had no place and which its fate actually contradicted. The socialism and engouement with all things Soviet which reigned in academe and the media in the postwar period cast the Poles and their sympathisers in the role of crypto-fascists. Emigré Polish historians, usually incapable of shedding their emotional involvement, sounded strident at best. Foreign historians were impeded by language barriers and seemingly impossible complexities, and tended to be either too sympathetic or too condescending, or both.

For Britons, the fate of Poland after 1945 had the added inconvenience of being a painful reminder of their country's decline and diminished influence in the Allied councils at Tehran and Yalta. For Poles, it was difficult not to see the whole thing in personal terms: Poland had fought from the first to the last, and Poland had been betrayed.

There was little understanding of, or sympathy for, Poland in the West. Statistically, Russia had suffered far greater losses. Stalingrad and the siege of Leningrad, even Dresden and Hiroshima overshadowed the tragedy of Warsaw, even though the human and material losses were much greater. In terms of sheer horror, the Holocaust outranked all other tales of suffering, and although half of the victims were Polish citizens and it took place almost entirely on Polish territory, it did not figure in the popular imagination as part of the Polish story. 

The Nazis and Soviets deliberately set their victims against each other, and after the war Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and even the evicted Germans staked rival claims of victimhood which usually involved belittling the sufferings of the others and accusing them of collaboration, further clouding the picture. Not the least of the difficulties facing the historian was that what the population, Jewish or otherwise, endured bears no relation to the experience of the Second World War in any other part of the world, except in Manchuria and parts of southeast Asia. It was so grotesquely unthinkable that it was unbelievable to the average inhabitant of a Western democracy. 

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.