Two reviews of Norman Davies's
RISING 44 :
In New York Times and in New York Review of Books
'Rising '44': Betraying Warsaw
by CARLO D'ESTE
Sunday Book Review
New York Times, July 25, 2004
AUGUST 2004 will mark the 60th
anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, when 40,000 members
of the Polish underground Home Army spilled into the
streets to liberate the city from its Nazi occupiers.
The revolt was inspired in part by the belief that the
Red Army would come to the aid of the rebels. Russian
units had advanced to the eastern bank of the Vistula
River and were within supporting distance of the Warsaw
fighters, but once Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, commander
of the First Belarussian Front, declined to intervene,
the Germans were freed not only to suppress the uprising
but also to carry out appalling reprisals. Stalin would
later dismiss the rebellion as the act of ''a gang of
Norman Davies, a fellow at Wolfson
College, Oxford, is the foremost historian of modern
Poland. Of his previous books, ''God's Playground: A
History of Poland'' is widely regarded as a landmark
account. This new work, ''Rising '44,'' draws on a wealth
of original material. Yet Davies says he is frustrated
at how disappointingly little is available from either
Russian or British archives. While Russian unwillingness
to release documents (except selectively) is well known,
there is no accounting for why 95 percent of the records
of the British intelligence services during World War
II have remained closed, with little prospect of their
being opened in the future. The British penchant for
secrecy 60 years after these events hardly seems justified,
particularly since a vast majority of the participants
are no longer alive.
In any case, ''Rising '44'' is
much more than the story of the Warsaw uprising. It
is one of the most savage indictments of Allied malfeasance
yet leveled by a historian. Unsparing in his depictions
of the slaughter of the Polish fighters and the destruction
of their capital, Davies challenges the popular assumption
that World War II was entirely the triumph of good over
Of the nations caught in the
hell of World War II, history's most devastating conflict,
Poland became the biggest pawn. The German invasion
in September 1939 was merely the opening act of the
tragedy. Although they fought valiantly, the Poles were
overwhelmed by the sheer weight of 53 German divisions.
Far worse was to follow. The inaptly
named Soviet-German nonaggression pact signed in August
1939 contained a secret provision to partition Poland,
and by early October 1939 it had become the territorial
meal of Hitler and Stalin. Until June 1941, when Hitler
invaded the Soviet Union and rendered the treaty a cynical
sham, the Poles were subjected to the cruelties of both
the N.K.V.D. and the Gestapo. In addition, the most
notorious of the Nazi extermination camps were established
on Polish soil at Treblinka and Auschwitz.
In April 1943 the Jews of the
Warsaw ghetto revolted. Despite their valiant and desperate
fight, the rebellion was brutally suppressed. The ghetto
was smashed; 36,000 people were either killed or sent
to death camps.
As Davies explains, the Warsaw
uprising of 1944 -- which should not be confused with
the ghetto uprising -- ended just as tragically. After
Hitler commanded the SS chief Heinrich Himmler to take
charge of operations in the city, orders were issued
to put down the rebellion and reduce the Polish capital
to ruins: ''We shall finish them off,'' Himmler declared.
''Warsaw will be liquidated.'' Every inhabitant was
to be killed, every house burned. By October the rebellion
had been crushed. Fifteen thousand of the partisans
had been killed, and between 200,000 and 250,000 civilians
Why didn't the Allies intervene?
The reasons are complex, almost byzantine, but ultimately
they boil down to the failure of the United States and
Britain to deal resolutely with Stalin. Roosevelt and
Churchill both perpetuated the fallacy of ''a benevolent
Uncle Joe,'' described here as ''the mass murderer who
was leading the fight against the fascist mass murderer.''
Poland's final betrayal occurred at Yalta in 1945, when
the Allies abandoned it to Stalin's mercy with barely
a whimper. The result was that ''in the eastern half
of Europe, one foul tyranny was driven out by another;
and liberation was postponed for nearly 50 years. By
the yardstick of freedom and democracy as proclaimed
by the Western powers, this outcome must be judged an
Davies accuses the Allies of failing
in virtually every respect in August 1944, because their
priorities lay elsewhere: they were obsessed with unconditional
surrender, with the invasion of southern France and,
in the wake of the stunningly successful victory in
Normandy, with the belief that the war would end in
Of the three allies, only the
British made a genuine attempt to aid the Poles. Acting
on Churchill's orders, Royal Air Force aircraft operating
from Brindisi, Italy, undertook extremely hazardous
flights to resupply the Home Army with urgently needed
arms and ammunition. R.A.F. losses were horrendous:
for every ton of supplies delivered one aircraft was
lost. Davies calls the Warsaw airlift of 1944 ''one
of the great unsung sagas of the Second World War.''
Davies challenges the historical
community to ''stop grubbing around in the minutiae
of Polish affairs, and . . . examine the broader picture.''
He argues that ''the workings of the Allied coalition
were decisive to the catastrophe,'' and that its roots
''will never be uncovered until the conduct of the major
players is examined with the same rigor that has heretofore
been reserved for the minor actors.''
''The disaster . . . was a joint
one,'' he concludes. ''Any objective reviewer of these
grave failings must judge every single member of the
Allied coalition to hold a share of the responsibility.
In essence, the tragedy of the Warsaw Rising resulted
from a systemic breakdown of the Grand Alliance.''
Sixty years on, the uprising remains
one of the most unforgettable episodes of the war. But
unlike the world of fantasy, where the good guys always
triumph, the brave resistance fighters of Warsaw met
a very different fate. In the post-9/11 world, ''Rising
'44'' is both a morality tale and an unforgiving illustration
of what can happen when oppression and terror replace
Carlo D'Este is the author of ''Patton: A Genius for
War'' and ''Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life.''
A Great Betrayal
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
by Norman Davies
New York Review of Books,
Vol 51 No 12, July 15, 2004
"My aim in writing Rising
'44," Norman Davies begins his huge book, "was
nothing more complicated than to tell the story of one
of the great tragedies of the twentieth century."
Of course, his stated aim is not as modest as it sounds.
He has written a prodigiously ambitious book. There
are few subjects more complicated-diplomatically, politically,
and militarily-than the destiny of Poland during World
War II. In the Warsaw Uprising, between August 1 and
October 5, 1944, as many as 20,000 members of the Polish
Nationalist Underground died fighting the German troops
occupying the city while the Soviet army, across the
Vistula River, refused to intervene. At the same time,
between 150,000 and 250,000 Polish civilians were also
killed by the Germans.
The slaughter of the Polish Resistance
was the dreadful climax of Polish history during that
benighted time-and it is far more complex than just
a tale of supremely courageous Poles confronting the
degenerate savagery of Hitler's brutal SS legions, though
of course it is that too. The story is above all about
Poland's terrible fate, which was to be crushed between
the two most ruthless tyrants and the two most aggressive
nations of the century. One of Davies's themes is that
the uprising was fatally aimed at both tyrannies-and
destroyed by both, whether directly or indirectly.
The uprising remains one of the
totemic events of the war. Many people know two things
about it-the bravery of the Polish Home Army and the
deliberate and callous inactivity of Stalin. Just about
everything else to do with it is obscured by ignorance
and myth. Some readers, for example, may confuse it
with the rising of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 which,
despite the huge scholarly attention directed toward
the Jewish Holocaust, remains equally obscure and requires
the same sort of analytical treatment as Davies gives
the uprising here.
The uprising's historical importance,
however, has been put into question because of its tragic
futility for the rebels themselves and its political
irrelevance for the Great Powers. Any history of the
battle for Warsaw, as the rebels called it, is a tale
of Great Power realpolitik at its most cold and simple.
Stalin's enigmatic personality, his brutal politics,
and his serpentine diplomacy, a diplomacy always informed
by the most frigid of calculations and the most ruthless
analysis of traditional Russian interests-these dominate
Davies's book, which shows how he used these qualities
to outmaneuver and outfox Roosevelt, Churchill, and,
of course, the unfortunate Poles. Then there is the
human story of the Polish Home Army and its destruction
by the Germans; and the story of the military campaign
itself, with its espionage and intrigue. And finally
the Warsaw Uprising is also a quintessentially Polish
event of popular culture: the historian of the uprising
must also be a literary critic, for in the ruins there
was a flowering of poetry.
The questions are colossal, subtle,
and often unsettling for the reader. If this is to be
the definitive full story of the uprising, it cannot
be so partisan that it denies the interests of other
powers. It must answer the big questions. Was the uprising
aimed as much against the Soviets as the Nazis? Did
the Red Army really need to rest and regroup on the
Vistula before it could come to the uprising's assistance
or was this only Stalin's brutal political logic? Was
not the entire Polish enterprise futile since it was
aimed at pre-empting the advance of the Soviets while
simultaneously requiring their assistance? Why had this
assistance not been secured before it was launched?
Was it true that the uprising had anti-Semitic aspects
suppressed by Polish historians? Of course, there are
still gaping holes in our knowledge of how Stalin, his
magnates in the State Defense Committee, and his Stavka
High Command created his Polish policy.
Norman Davies, as the author of
the best-selling Europe: A History, has never been afraid
of large subjects. Here he has written a magisterial
work. He takes pride in reconstructing the doomed Polish
triumph of courage. He wants to show the war from the
perspective of Poland-and the fierce condemnation of
the Great Powers that results is to his credit, since
he lets the evidence speak for itself. No subject is
more messy than the Polish question before, during,
and after the war. Davies, today's most distinguished
historian-and advocate- of Poland, lets it remain that
way, so that the Poles emerge as flawed, fissiparous,
politically inept, sometimes anti-Semitic-as well as
noble, brave, and humane.
Davies's book has much to say
about the history of modern Poland, which was part of
the Russian Empire until World War I and the Russian
Revolution combined to grant it a fragile independence.
Its tragedy ever since its elective monarchy degenerated
in the eighteenth century was to be sandwiched between
three ravening eastern empires. By the end of the eighteenth
century, Russia, Prussia, and Hapsburg Austria each
consumed a third of Poland and the country officially
disappeared from the map until the fall of the tsars.
Then, following World War I, the swashbuckling Marshal
Pilsudski managed to recreate Poland out of the corpses
of the three empires. When Lenin and Trotsky tried to
crush the new republic and use it as their road to Berlin
and toward a Red Europe, Pilsudski soundly defeated
the Bolsheviks in 1921, winning twenty years of independence
in the flawed democracy that he dominated as a part-time
strongman until his death in 1935. (A large gap in modern
Polish history is an adequate biography of Pilsudski;
surely Norman Davies is the person to write that book.)
Lenin's trouble-shooter, Joseph
Stalin, had served with the Red Army on the Polish front
and had ineptly interfered with military matters there.
He never forgot that humiliating defeat or lost sight
of the danger of a resurgent Poland. Stalin had also
studied Russian history, particularly that of Ivan the
Terrible and the Time of Troubles after his death, when
invading Polish armies looted a recumbent Russia. Adopting
what Lenin called "Greater Russian chauvinism,"
this Georgian-turned-Russian-imperialist henceforth
regarded Poland and Poles as a deadly menace.
Many leading Bolsheviks were Poles: indeed, as Davies
and many other writers remind us, there were many Jewish
Bolsheviks. But there were also a great many murderous
Polish Bolsheviks, especially in the secret police including
many of the founders of the Cheka, most famously its
creator, Felix Dzerzhinsky. Stalin's brother-in-law
Stan Redens, another top Chekist, was also a Pole. We
know from the newly opened archives that Stalin, constantly
expecting a new war with Poland and distrusting the
mixed Polish loyalties of such colleagues, ordered a
mini-Polish genocide during the 1937–1938 Great Terror
and killed virtually all the ethnic Poles in the top
Bolshevik leadership, including his own brother-in-law
and many of the leaders' Polish wives. Thus the notorious
Katyn Woods massacre in 1940 of about 28,000 Polish
officers by the Soviets on Stalin's orders following
the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 was just a continuation
of Stalin's Pole-aphobic purge during the Great Terror.
The shattering of the Hapsburg
Empire left Poland squeezed between a resurgent Germany
and Communist Russia, both of which regarded it as a
bastard child of degenerate bourgeois-capitalist powers.
Having abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler, the Western
Allies finally drew the line at Poland, guaranteeing
its borders. Hitler, for his part, in exchange for Stalin's
willingness not to fight against Germany, was prepared
to offer him a new tsarist empire consisting of Finland,
the Baltics, eastern Poland, and Bessarabia. Stalin
accepted, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed
in August 1939. Hitler then invaded Poland from the
west, and Stalin took his share of the country from
the east. A nightmare settled on Poland as Nazi and
Bolshevik secret policemen slaughtered their potential
opponents, whether they chose them by race or by class.
This frenzy culminated in the Katyn Woods massacre in
which Stalin executed many of the elite officers of
the captured Polish army. On the Nazi side, the Holocaust
started in the shtetls of Poland.
A key point about the Warsaw Uprising
and the fate of Poland is that Stalin never gave up
his claim to the borders that Hitler had granted him
in 1939 nor the hatred of Poland he had gained in 1920.
Nor did he lose his murderous suspicion, expressed in
the Katyn massacre, of any Polish elite that might interfere
with his vision of a Stalinist Poland. However arbitrarily
he alternated between charm and threat, his is the most
consistent vision of Poland in Davies's book, and he
possessed all the cruel and persistent cunning to realize
Davies gives an excellent account
of the murderous and irrational Bolshevik terror society,
from Stalin and his secret policemen to his superb commander
on the Vistula, the ethnically Polish Marshal Konstantin
Rokossovsky. Davies explains how the Soviet dictator
had purged the entire Polish Communist Party, leaving
him to insert his own thoroughly submissive vassals
into Poland when it suited him. He begins with a superb
analysis of how the Nazi invasion of Poland started
World War II: to make his point that Poland was a Western
ally against Hitler long before Stalinist Russia, Davies
calls it the "First Ally" throughout the text.
From the start of the Nazi–Soviet
partition of Poland, Stalin had been clear that Poland
could not return to its pre-war borders and his views
did not change even when Hitler invaded Russia. Indeed,
far from treating it as the "First Ally,"
Stalin would effectively treat Poland as the spoils
of war. Roosevelt and Churchill, whether from weakness
or steely concentration on defeating Germany, allowed
Stalin "to act as he thought fit" in imposing
borders on the new Poland.
Despite this looming reality, the exiled Polish government,
based in London and led by Premier Stanisl/aw Mikol/ajczyk,
hoped that with the backing of the Western Allies, a
compromise could be worked out with Stalin both about
the borders and about support for an uprising of the
Home Army. "One cannot repeat often enough,"
Davies reminds us,
that anyone who thinks that it
was the frontier of Russia, not the Soviet Union,
which the Germans crossed in June 1941 will already
have lost the plot.... All the interested parties
without exception had their own interpretation of
history, their own claims, their own propaganda....
In fact the Germans in June 1941
invaded not Russia but the sector of Poland occupied
by the Soviets. Stalin quickly learned from Molotov's
first negotiations with the Allies and his own meeting
with them at Tehran in November 1943 that Churchill
and Roosevelt were anxious to win his favor; the interests
of Poland were secondary to this. Indeed, as it turned
out, Stalin could do as he saw fit with the eastern
borders, keeping what he liked, eventually compensating
Poland with German territory in the West.
Davies shows that before the German
invasion of Russia, the Soviet treatment of the Poles
in the territory Hitler took over was often as savage
as that of the Nazis. One wonders how much difference
it made for most Poles whether they fell under the control
of the SS or the NKVD. The big exception, of course,
was in the case of the Jews. Davies is acutely aware
that the questions raised about the treatment of Polish
Jews have damaged the image of the Poles in Western
eyes. On the question of Jewish loyalty to Poland, it
is hard to fault his analysis that "most Varsovian
Jews had the same...inclination to be regarded as Poles
as New York Jews had to be regarded as Americans."
Yet the situation was all the more complicated because
some poorer Jews looked to the Soviets to liberate them
from Polish prejudice or to communism to improve their
lot, and this undoubtedly increased Polish anti-Semitism.
Davies acknowledges that "massacres
of Jews had begun as soon as German forces...moved into
towns." In one country town, Jedwabne, "a
group of locals" took part in a "particularly
brutal massacre." Davies argues that this "cannot
be used to fuel stereotypical misconceptions about all
Poles being...eager participants in the Holocaust."
He observes that occupied Poland contained between 10,000
and 20,000 such villages, and those in which such massacres
were reported "can be counted on the fingers of
one hand." The Home Army, Davies points out, created
a Council for the Rescue of Jews in 1942. "Owing
to the unusual size of Poland's Jewish community, the
Nazis managed to kill more Jews in occupied Poland than
elsewhere. Yet it is also true...that more Jews were
rescued in Poland than anywhere else"-between 100,000
and 150,000, Davies estimates.
Even as the Nazis solidified their rule, the Poles managed
to maintain a stronger infrastructure of resistance-
the "Secret State"-than any other people under
occupation. It is startling that the largest resistance
force, the Home Army, controlled by the government-in-exile
based in London, had over 40,000 men-at-arms in mid-1944,
while the various armed wings of Stalin's Communists,
led by the sycophantic Boleslaw Bierut, had scarcely
eight hundred fighters.
Davies describes how Marshal
Rokossovsky's armies reached the Vistula in the summer
of 1944. Would they stop for a breather or roll on toward
Warsaw? No one knew—except Stalin. The moment of decision
had arrived for the Home Army. The timing had to be
extremely precise. Its insoluble dilemma was how the
Home Army could use its forces most efficiently when
faced both with the overwhelming power of the retreating
Nazis and with the army of advancing Soviets. The aim
of the uprising was not just to expel the Germans but
to consolidate an independent Polish force, which Stalin
would have to make part of postwar Poland.
The Polish leaders wanted to deal
with Stalin "from a position of strength."
Many of them, including General Kazimierz Sosnkowski,
their commander-in-chief-in-exile, were firm disciples
of what was called Poland's "Doctrine of Two Enemies"-both
the USSR and Germany-and therefore had no illusions.
They knew the Soviets were not going to support a rebellion
that would undermine their own (Soviet) interests. Nonetheless,
both the government-in-exile and the local command under
General Tadeusz Komorowski were keen to start the uprising,
even though there was ample evidence that Stalin did
not regard the Home Army as useful or friendly to his
purposes. Indeed Premier Mikolajczyk had not yet managed
to win Soviet agreement to support the rebellion. Thousands
of fighters and civilians were therefore placed at risk
before their leaders had secured any real help from
outside: courageous this undoubtedly was, splendid even,
but also a terrible, perhaps necessary, perhaps quixotic,
gamble. The odds were vastly and obviously weighed against
it. One thinks of the famous French comment on the Charge
of the Light Brigade: "C'est magnifique mais ce
n'est pas la guerre."
There is so much bravery and
poetry in Davies's book that one's heart sinks in hindsight
as a young man recalls the exciting days in a Warsaw
on the eve of the uprising:
I remembered what the date was
-"1 August-Sunflower Day".... I was still
young and sentimen-tal. After all, those times were
naive, primitive, carefree, romantic, conspiratorial....
Across Poland, "teams of
runners were at hand to carry the order to every Underground
unit in Warsaw":
Alarm-by hand!...I am fixing V-Hour
for 5 p.m. on 1 August.
Warriors gathered, buildings were
taken, the uprising began. Himmler informed Hitler,
"We shall finish them off.... Warsaw will be liquidated....
Poles themselves will cease to be a problem for our
children...." Hitler agreed enthusiastically.
As the Germans moved to crush
potential uprisings across Poland, they raided a house
in Cracow where Karol Wojtyl/a, a twenty-four-year-old
underground actor and an aspirant priest, hid in a secret
compartment. They did not find him and he was guided
to a hiding place in the archbishop's palace. Davies's
book abounds with such moments. When the fighters liberate
a Nazi death camp on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto,
the Jewish prisoners join the uprising, forming ranks
in the square while one of them reports: "Sergeant
Lederman, sir, and the Jewish Battalion ready for action!"
A witness to the scene adds, "My wonder at these
people knew no bounds." In the chaos of this terrible
fight, we also hear the account of a German law professor,
a conscripted soldier, who was ashamed of the horrors
committed by Himmler's thugs-especially the diabolical
Ukrainian renegade SS Colonel Mieczysl/aw Kaminski,
whose atrocities were so appalling that the SS themselves
later murdered him. A recent documentary on the uprising
suggests that the Nazis killed one hundred Poles for
every German killed.
Davies is also frank in showing
how Stalin's claim that in early August the Red Army
was too exhausted to attack the Germans and relieve
the uprising was essentially true:
As is now known for certain, the
Soviet Army was running into a determined German counter-attack....
In the first week of August, there was little chance
that Rokossovsky could easily have crossed the Vistula
But Stalin, as Davies also makes
clear, was hostile to the uprising from the first moment.
In Moscow, where the outcome of
the uprising would be decided, Premier Mikol/ajczyk,
on August 3, finally met Stalin, who vaguely offered
help, but also showed his disdain for the Home Army.
One thinks of a particularly cruel cat playing with
a naive mouse when one reads how Stalin suggested that
Mikolajczyk get in touch with the Lublin Committee,
the pro-Communist puppet group the Soviets had set up
to rule Poland on their behalf.
Back in Warsaw, the Germans, assisted
by Kaminski's apocalyptic brigade, were brutally massacring
civilians by the thousand while crushing the uprising.
A poet helped to build a barricade but apologized to
her daughter in verse for her modest role:
Let me tell you, dear daughter
That I was no heroine....
But I did see heroes;
And I must tell you about them....
Davies has unearthed tales of
heartbreaking courage and adventure and horror, telling
of how moments of chance saved some lives and destroyed
others. A German soldier writes a semiliterate diary:
17.VII. Poles want to drive us
away with the fire and with the bottles of benzene....
Several men lost the nerves and committed the suicide.
Terrible stink from the bodies, who are lying on the
At the front, on the Vistula,
Rokossovsky proposed to Stalin an offensive in the third
week of August with a major push to take place on the
25th. In his talks with Premier Mikol/ajczyk Stalin
remained genially ambiguous about the possibility of
military aid, but he did nothing. Even by late August
there was still time for the uprising to be saved by
a Soviet offensive, but Stalin delayed it. On August
18, he revealed his real view in the message read by
the vicious Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Vyshinsky
to Western diplomats in Moscow. It attacked the uprising
as an "adventure" and said that the Soviets
believed there would be difficulties in dropping supplies
Nonetheless the Warsaw Airlift-"one
of the great unsung sagas of World War II"-began
with American and British aircrews flying some 930 miles
from Brindisi, in Italy, risking their lives to supply
the uprising; one bomber out of every ten was lost.
But Davies has also found plenty of evidence in the
British Foreign Office archives that the British were
hostile to the uprising and anything else that was inconvenient
to their Soviet allies. A British official wrote:
The Poles are now blaming everyone
else for not sending them help.... As usual, they
impute sinister motives to the Russians, such as...not
pressing their assault on Warsaw because they wish
the Poles to be exterminated....
Of course, this ignorant London
mandarin did not understand that Stalin had only recently
ordered the liquidation of 28,000 Polish officers at
Katyn and was now letting the Germans finish the job
of eliminating Polish interests hostile to Soviet domination.
Meanwhile, despite heroic Polish
fighting, the Germans and their Ukrainian protégés were
crushing with barbaric cruelty not only the uprising
but the civilian population. Davies quotes from the
memoir of a wounded Polish fighter sent to help save
more severely wounded patients from massacre in a beleaguered
hospital. His account of carrying out stretchers is
remarkably dignified and moving:
Whenever an approaching missile
could be heard, we did not lie down but stood the stretchers
on their legs and knelt beside them, so that the patients
did not feel worse than we did. None of my colleagues
left their stretchers even though we had wounded men
now wounded for a second time.... I saw truly awful
In mid-September, pro-Soviet
Polish forces under General Zygmunt Berling actually
crossed the Vistula in an apparent attempt to relieve
the uprising, even though it was too little and too
late, for they were pushed back. Stalin, who presumably
allowed Berling to make a minimal effort as some sort
of alibi, was receiving all sorts of confused and deliberately
misleading NKVD reports, which Davies memorably describes
as "an indigestible macédoine of fantasies, falsehood,
and occasional facts...quite incapable of rendering
a recognizable picture." While the NKVD under General
Ivan Serov was unleashing another brutal purge against
the Poles in the liberated territories of Poland, Stalin
still held back. In any case, by mid-September, the
uprising was in extremis.
Yet Davies also wants to show
how love and religion sustained the desperate fighters,
describing two of them who thought more about Love,
and about the survival of Love.... Lt. "Hawk"
and [Halina] had been "going out together."
...Now they insisted on a marriage-in the cathedral....
The ceremony took place in the evening when the shelling
died down.... [Shortly after,] the twenty-three-year-old
couple were buried alive during a Stuka attack.
Typically, Davies quotes two very
different and telling accounts of the Jews in the uprising:
one relates how some Home Army fighters summarily murdered
six Jews for being "Bolsheviks." Another tells
of the Jews' heroic part in the uprising.
The last shot of the uprising
was fired in the evening of October 2, sixty-three days
after its start, and 11,668 Poles surrendered. Premier
Mikolajczyk had been conned by Stalin. When Churchill
visited Moscow soon afterward and began negotiating
the new Polish borders on October 13, he worked hard
to push the London government-in-exile toward a compromise
with Stalin, but it turned out, to the Poles' chagrin,
that at Tehran, Roosevelt had already casually agreed
to the Soviet border demands. Churchill shouted at Mikolajczyk:
"You are callous people who want to wreck Europe....
You only have your own miserable selfish interests in
mind...." Eden, "exhausted and depressed,"
was also tormented about ceding to the USSR the previously
Polish city of Lvuv, which the Soviets had annexed to
the Ukraine in 1939. He asked his colleagues, "If
I give way over [Lvuv], shall I go down in the history
books as an appeaser?" This was not Churchill's
finest hour and he knew it. Davies comments that "Eden's
belated soul-searching, and Churchill's rage, were undignified
symptoms of their impotence. Both British statesmen
had fallen into a pit of their own making; and they
did not enjoy it."
As for Stalin, Davies pulls an
intriguing cat out of the archival bag with a document
of October 1944 in which Beria reports that ethnic Poles
in Belorussia were resisting "repatriation"
to Poland. This is significant because it shows that
even before the negotiations on the borders later that
October, Stalin was already swapping the populations
of these regions. This is evidence that he regarded
his agreement with Roosevelt at Tehran in November 1943
as binding; he must have been shocked to find the borders
questioned all over again in October 1944. After taking
over Poland and Stalinizing it with NKVD purges, the
triumphant Soviet dictator unleashed the NKVD against
anti-Soviet elements, deporting vast numbers of Poles
to camps. At the same time, in a forgotten struggle,
thousands of Underground fighters now fought a small
war of raids and ambushes against the Red Army and the
forces of the new Stalinist regime. Stalin arrested
Home Army leaders and put sixteen of them on trial in
When one considers the behavior
of the Polish leaders such as Mikolajczyk, or of Churchill
and Eden, or Stalin's Polish vassals like Bierut, or
Stalin himself, no one comes well out of the tragedy
of the Warsaw Uprising, no one, that is, except the
noble young fighters themselves. In a work that moves
as much as it informs, Norman Davies has written a masterful,
readable, and poignant narrative, filled with heroes,
villains, battles, slaughter, poetry, and peerless courage,
and illustrated with vast new materials (archival, photographic,
anecdotal), yet never failing to confront the unsettling
truth. The book is a superb achievement. (Two minor
warnings: Davies has a modernist taste for structural
"models" that he calls "nonlinear,"
so the text is peppered with "capsules" containing
excerpts from memoirs that might in a less forceful
book shatter the narrative and irritate the reader.
Yet they contain such fascinating anecdotes that the
reader is grateful. His other eccentric decision is
to call Poles with difficult names by letters-"Vera
L"-or nicknames- Premier Mikolajczyk becomes "Mick."
This works better when the character is an underground
operative so that Davies can call him by one of the
dashing noms de guerre such as "Bear Cub."
But Davies's practice here has the effect of distancing
the reader from his characters. It probably would have
been better to give us the Polish names.)
As for the uprising, it is hard
not to agree with the fury and contempt of the Polish
General Wladyslaw Anders, commander of the Polish troops
abroad, at the ways the members of the Polish leadership
wasted the lives of their own warriors:
I was completely shocked by the
outbreak of the Rising. I regard it as the greatest
misfortune in our present situation. It didn't have
the slightest chance of success.... No words can express
our pride and wonder at the heroism of our Home Army
and of the capital's population....
Anders, a former prisoner of the
NKVD, was only too aware of Soviet perfidy and ruthlessness.
He was not the only observer (Polish or otherwise) who
understood the naiveté and desperate gamble of launching
a rebellion aimed partly against the Soviets on whose
support the enterprise depended for its success. Davies
starts with a dedication that catches the complexity
of the tragedy he describes so brilliantly: "To
Warsaw and to all who fight tyranny regardless."
In that last hopeless word lies the essence of his story.