The Second World War gripped Poland as it did no other country in Europe. Invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union, it remained under occupation by foreign armies from the first day of the war to the last. The conflict was brutal, as Polish armies battled the enemy on four different fronts. It was on Polish soil that the architects of the Final Solution assembled their most elaborate network of extermination camps, culminating in the deliberate destruction of millions of lives, including three million Polish Jews. In The Eagle Unbowed, Halik Kochanski tells, for the first time, the story of Poland's war in its entirety, a story that captures both the diversity and the depth of the lives of those who endured its horrors.
Most histories of the European war focus on the Allies' determination to liberate the continent from the fascist onslaught. Yet the "good war" looks quite different when viewed from Lodz or Krakow than from London or Washington, D.C. Poland emerged from the war trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and it would be nearly a half-century until Poland gained the freedom that its partners had secured with the defeat of Hitler. Rescuing the stories of those who died and those who vanished, those who fought and those who escaped, Kochanski deftly reconstructs the world of wartime Poland in all its complexity-from collaboration to resistance, from expulsion to exile, from Warsaw to Treblinka. The Eagle Unbowed provides in a single volume the first truly comprehensive account of one of the most harrowing periods in modern history.
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About the Author
Halik Kochanski has taught at both King’s College London and University College London. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Two: Polish Foreign Policy, 1918-1939
Among the 'new' countries of eastern Europe, Poland occupied an unenviable position. As the largest country in the region she aspired to great power status, yet she was too weak economically and militarily to fulfill such a role. Sandwiched between two weakened yet potentially powerful countries, Germany and the Soviet Union, Poland struggled to find a satisfactory and long-lasting way to ensure her security. Poland's rebirth had been a difficult struggle and one which left Poland largely surrounded by hostile neighbors: only Rumania, with whom Poland had a treaty of friendship, and Latvia were on good terms. Germany was angered by the existence of the Polish Corridor which separated East Prussia from the rest of the Reich. The Soviets had been thwarted in their ambition to spread world revolution through their defeat in the Polish-Soviet war. The Lithuanians were outraged by the Polish seizure of Wilno, the city the Lithuanians coveted as their capital. The Poles themselves were furious with the Czechs for having taken the opportunity of the distraction of the Polish-Soviet war to seize the majority of the Duchy of Teschen, including areas where the Poles were in a clear majority.
Poland was restored as an independent country at the time of the prostration of the countries who had partitioned her during the eighteenth century. Two of them, Germany and the Soviet Union, were united in their hatred of this new Polish state. In 1922 representatives of the two states met at Rapallo in Italy and signed a treaty by which they renounced territorial claims against each other. The rationale behind this treaty, however, eerily foreshadows the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. As the head of the German Army, General Hans von Seeckt explained to the chancellor, Joseph Wirth:
“When we speak of Poland, we come to the kernel of the eastern problem. Poland's existence is intolerable and incompatible with Germany's vital interests. It must disappear, and will disappear through its own weakness and through Russia with our aid… The attainment of this objective must be one of the firmest guiding principles of German policy, as it capable of achievement – but only through Russia or with her help. A return to the frontier of 1914 should be the basis of agreement between Russia and Germany.”
Throughout the inter-war period, the German foreign ministry followed a strongly anti-Polish line. This policy reflected the sentiments of German statesmen even before Hitler came to power. For example, in August 1930 a German minister without portfolio, Gottfried Treviranus, spoke emotionally in front of the Reichstag: 'In the depth of our souls we remember the torn land of the Vistula, the bleeding wound on the eastern border, this crippled split in the Reich's lungs', and added an ominous warning for the future: 'Frontiers of injustice will not withstand the right of the nation and the national will to live'.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
List of Maps xi
Definitions of Poland and the Poles xvii
Guide to Polish Pronunciation xix
1 The Rebirth of Poland 1
2 Polish Foreign Policy, 1920-1939 34
3 The September 1939 Campaign 59
4 The German and Soviet Occupation of Poland to June 1941 94
5 Exile in the Soviet Union 136
6 Escape from the Soviet Union 163
7 Poland's Contribution to the Allied War Effort, 1940-1943 204
8 Polish Non-combatants Outside Poland, 1939-1945 237
9 The Dark Years: Occupied Poland, 1941-1943 257
10 The Holocaust, 1941-1943 291
11 Sikorski's Diplomacy, 1941-1943 325
12 Threats to the Standing of the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Polish Underground Authorities 358
13 The Polish Dilemma: The Retreat of the Germans and the Advance of the Red Army 384
14 Poland: The Inconvenient Ally 434
15 Fighting under British Command, 1943-1945 464
16 The End of the War 499
17 The Aftermath of the War 532
18 The Final Chapter 579
Appendix 1 Order of Battle of the Polish Army, 1939-1945 593
Appendix 2 Principal Polish Personalities 604
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent and greatly needed book. "The Eagle Unbowed" provides a comprehensive account of what happened to Poland during the second world war. Poland's wartime suffering was extraordinary and its subsequent neglect and distortion leave a sense of outrage. The country lost a fifth of its population and its freedom. For Poles the war was three-sided. The Western allies were duplicitous and the Soviets for the most part as bad as the Germans. This book closes the biggest gap in most histories of the second world war.
The most comprehensive, objective and "anodyne," history of Poland during WWII ever written! To Harvard & Dr Halik Kochanski: Superbly done! The research and writing make for an immersing and flowing read. A must for every university! Bravo!