Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bitter Glory Poland and its Fate 1918-1939 (by Richard M. Watt)

(The placard says: “TO ARMS” as in “a call to arms”.)

Bitter Glory Poland and its Fate 1918-1939 is a unique history book that is written so well it reads like a normal novel. It’s quite objective and in a perfect way shows why Poles were such a fierce fighters during World War II.

The book starts with a short, but good description of Polish history before 1918 and then it shows in detail how Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I. It was a great achievement – after 123 years of partition between three empires (Russia, Germany and Austria) Poland re-emerged as the sixth largest country in Europe with 27 millions of inhabitants.

The Treaty of Versailles – the main peace treaty at the end of World War I – was signed in 1919, but Poland’s final borders were officially accepted in 1923 after series of border wars, including a successful war against Soviet Russia in 1919-1921.

The middle part of the book shows how difficult it was to create
a modern country from territories that were previously under three different systems of law. It also shows all the economic problems of an independent country with a totally new administration, magnified by the Great Depression in 1930s.

The last part of the book shows Poland’s diplomacy dealing with the growth of power of both its biggest neighbours – Nazi Germany in the west and Soviet Union in the east. It couldn’t have ended well, but Poland stood firm and was ready to defend its hardly fought independence at all costs.

The book ends with a description of the start of World War II when Poland was invaded by Germany and 17 days later by Soviet Union. The book describes an often-overlooked reason why Polish army lost so quickly – Great Britain and France hoped till the very end that the war could be prevented and they were afraid that a general mobilization of Poland’s army would worsen the situation. They
put a pressure on Polish government and such a mobilization was officially started just 1 day before the outbreak of the war. Many Polish soldiers were only on their way to their army units when Germany attacked.

Peace is a precious and desirable thing. Our generation, bloodied in wars, certainly deserves peace. But peace, like almost all things of this world, has its price, high, but measurable. We in Poland
do not know the concept of peace at any price. There is only one thing in the life of people, nations and countries which is priceless. That thing is honour.

(Józef Beck - from the speech at the Polish Parliament on the 5th May 1939)

(Saturday, 8 June 2013)

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