Monday, 16 September 2019

A tribute to Poland

Poland is a country I’d wanted to visit for some considerable time, so towards the end of last month (August), I finally took the bull by the horns, booked a return flight, selected a suitable hotel and the weekend before last, set off for a short three night visit.

The southern city of Krakow was always going to be my destination of choice, given its long and illustrious history, and the fact that it escaped relatively intact from the devastation of World War II.

No nation endured the suffering that Poland did for much of the 20th Century, as after re-emerging as a proud, independent nation in 1918, just twenty years later the country was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. After the former attacked from the west, the latter piled in its forces from the east; the two dictatorships dividing up the country between them.

A brutal six-year occupation then followed, during which around 6 million Polish citizens perished – nearly one-fifth of country's population. Over 90% of these deaths were non-military in nature. Around half of the number killed were Polish Jews,  as  Poland at the time was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.

Following the end of hostilities in 1945, Poland’s borders were shifted westwards on the order of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The shift in boundaries allowed Stalin to keep hold of the eastern part of Poland, which Soviet forces had originally occupied in 1939. Over 2 million Polish inhabitants of this region were forcibly expelled

At the same time the Poland’s western border became the line of the  Oder-Neisse rivers, which meant the annexation of a slice of eastern Germany. This included the provinces of Pomerania, Eastern Brandenburg and Silesia, and involved the expulsion of around 8 million ethnic Germans.  This shift in boundaries, is said to have involved the forced migration of around 20 million people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.

I’ve always felt an affinity with the Poles, especially as in 1939, Britain went to war with Germany, to try and assist them.  It was a symbolic and largely futile gesture as there was little Britain and her ally France, could do to assist the Poland, but the UK did provide a home for the Polish Government in exile, and attempted to act as the nation’s guarantor as World War II drew to a close.

In the end these guarantees came to nothing, as the British Government was powerless against Stalin and the all-conquering Red Army. Poland came under Soviet influence, and with the installation of a repressive, communist government, the country’s suffering continued for a further 45 years.

It wasn’t until the emergence of the Solidarity movement, and the collapse of the country’s socialist government, that Poland’s citizens finally regained their freedom and took their place on the world stage. In 2004 the country became a member of the European Union and has benefited enormously, both economically and socially from joining the EU. It does make one wonder then, why narrow-minded individuals in the UK are desperately trying to force us out of the world’s largest trading bloc.

So for the above reasons, and several more personal ones, I wanted to visit Poland to say sorry to its people for appearing to have abandoned them, both during and after WWII, but also to thank them for the enormous contribution made by Polish servicemen during that conflict, both on land and in the air – and in particular during the Battle of Britain.  


RedNev said...

A good post, although I'd question "to say sorry to its people for appearing to have abandoned them, both during and after WWII". The UK was - in real terms - defeated in 1940, the British Expeditionary Force having been chased out of France by the Wehrmacht. Dunkirk was a tremendous achievement, but it was a retreat. Without the English Channel, we would have been occupied. Hitler couldn't understand why we didn't surrender.

After the war, the UK was completely bankrupt and we survived only with massive loans from the USA and Canada which weren't paid off until the end of 2006. Bankrupt, much of our infrastructure destroyed and with a disintegrating empire that we still had to administer until the colonies gained independence, we were in no position to help Poland against USSR domination.

However, I agree completely about the massive contribution of Polish servicemen to our armed forces, including the Few in the Battle of Britain.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Nev, on reflection my comment about abandoning the Poles was somewhat harsh, although if Britain and France has acted together in September 1939, and launched our own invasion of Germany from the west, things might have turned out differently.

I can understand the reluctance to do this, especially after the carnage of 1914-18, but if you declare war on someone, it does mean you intend to fight them, however reticent you might be.

Things were different in 1945, and Stalin certainly held all the cards, so I agree we were in no position to help Poland. There wasn’t much we could have done anyway. The post-war boundary changes were down to the victors, but moving Poland’s borders westward caused massive disruption, along with some rather nasty and extremely unpleasant “ethnic cleansing.”

Stalin of course wanted to eliminate any remnants of Poland’s government in exile, which is why after encouraging the Poles to rise up against their German oppressors, he stood by and allowed the Nazis to systematically destroy Warsaw, along with the Polish resistance forces.

The defenders of the Polish capital were banking on the Red Army coming to their aid, but Stalin cynically halted his forces within sight of Warsaw, and allowed the city’s defenders to be eliminated. This ensured there was little opposition to a communist takeover of the country, after the war.

The Soviet leader was also responsible for the murder of around 20,000 Polish army officers, and intellectuals at Katyn, earlier in the war. He even tried to pin the blame for the killings on the Germans.

A thoroughly unpleasant individual, and that's putting it mildly!

RedNev said...

I agree completely about Stalin. He was a monster, and I cannot understand why some fellow Lefties admire him.