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Post Does Poland Have Some Blame for WWII?
Created by John Eipper on 01/23/20 7:18 AM

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Does Poland Have Some Blame for WWII? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 01/23/20 7:18 am)

According to Edward Jajko, Putin may be trying to rewrite history.

Very good I say; the history of WWII really should be rewritten. First of all, the war was not the fault of a single evil, but for one reason or another everyone wanted a war.

Poland was not an innocent lamb, even if friends and foes later martyrized it.  This is in spite of my deep liking for Poland, which is the case among Italians generally.  See, for instance, Krysztof Strzalka's Between Friendship and Hostility. History of the Italian-Polish Relations 1939-1945, as well as the letter of 3 January 1940 from the Italian PM to Hitler, and the saving of the chief Rabbi Alter of Gora Kalwaraya, the wife of the general Sikorski, the PM of the Polish government in exile, the 103 professors of the University of Krakow and thousands of others.

Yet there are other considerations.  Like any other newly rebuilt nation, Poland was looking to its glorious past to construct the new state, remembering when it was powerful as in 1020, with its western borders on the Oder/Neisse line including also Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.  Or in 1635 at the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Union.  Or why not 1683, when King John III Sobieski saved all of Europe at Vienna from the Ottoman invasion?

The "miracle of the Vistula" of August 1920, in which the so-called great Tukacewski was badly defeated by the really great Jozef Pilsudski, and his authoritarian but efficient  (pseudo-fascist?) government spurred public opinion, convincing the people that Poland could beat any other nation.  Pilsudski wanted good relations with Germany, making a friendly treaty in 1934. However, regarding Russia he stated:

"Russia closed inside its borders of the 16th century, cut off from the Black and Baltic Seas... could be reduced to a second-class power. Poland, the greatest of the new states, could easily construct its influence sphere from Finland to the Caucasus."  (Does this sound familiar in the present?)

After 1920 Poland was a large country with many minorities. In the east there was a large German community of perhaps 1 million, mainly in High Silesia (in March 1921 the plebiscite was needlessly won by Germans) and West Prussia.  Another million Germans were said to have escaped.

In the east, the voivodeships of Stanislawow, Volinia, Tarnopol and Lwow had large communities of Ukrainians while in Nowogrodek, Vilnius, and Bialystok a large community of Belarusians was present.  The USSR after the invasion claimed to have "liberated" 7 million Ukrainians and 3 million Belarusians.  Also 1 million Poles were conquered, and I am afraid that very few of them survived the Soviets, Germans, Nationalists, etc. (Probably the father-in-law of our JE knows better.)

As more or less in all other European nation-states of the time, Poland attempted no integration of its minorities, but made a strong push toward assimilation with no respect for the various languages or identities.  However Poland did not hesitate to occupy Szczecin to correctly free Polish brethren.

Therefore, instead of refusing any reasonable ethnic accommodations with Germany, Poland should have explored compromise.  But it was duped by UK and France, who wanted to reduce the economic and military power of Germany.  On 23 March 1939 Poland ordered a partial mobilization against Germany.  On 31 March, the date of the guarantee from UK and France (please God keep us away from such guarantees!), Poland  started some blood persecutions of  the German minorities.  In June 1939  Marshal Rydz-Smigly stated "Poland wants the war with Germany," etc.

More or less at the same time, some deluded political/diplomatic circles in Italy dreamt of an alliance among Poland, Germany and Italy.

At present the German minority in Poland has ethnic guarantees.

JE comments:  I try to keep an open mind, but on WWII I'm quaintly old-school:  the European war began on September 1st, 1939, and the Pacific war on December 7th, '41.  (In China and Manchuria it started much earlier.)  There's no clearer blame for a war than actually starting one.  Granted, this makes me very uncomfortable with my own country's adventures of late:  Iraq in 2003, Iran this year...

I'd still like to understand why Putin has such a chip on his shoulder regarding Poland.  Can it be that the Poles were the only nation, except possibly for Afghanistan, that defeated the Russians in the century since WWI?

I anticipated a spirited response from Ed Jajko.

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  • With History, There are Two Kinds of Revisionism (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/23/20 1:46 PM)
    There is a certain amount of truth in what Eugenio Battaglia writes about Poland and WWII, but those facts there which are true, should not be used to obfuscate the story of how the war actually began.

    With all the archives open, we know very well how the war began, and alleged Polish provocations had nothing whatsoever to do with it. The war was started by Hitler, who had been planning since Mein Kampf to extend the Reich eastward and create "Lebensraum" for the German Volk at the expense of the "racially inferior" Slavs.

    Revisionist history is all well and good when it is grappling with myths, misunderstandings, or incorrect facts. But when it obfuscates true facts to artificially sustain an alternative narrative, it does harm. Intellectual honesty is a requirement for all kinds of history, revisionist, or not, without which the whole enterprise collapses the way we are seeing journalism collapse and fragment in the US today.

    JE comments:  In the English language, the term "revisionism" tends to be associated only with the second type of historical exercise Cameron Sawyer describes.  Correcting previous shibboleths is just "good" history.

    The most egregious form of "revisionism" is certainly Holocaust denial, but there are other (and earlier) types.  The romantic notion of the "Lost Cause" of the American Confederacy emerged almost immediately after the Civil War ended.  Are there even earlier examples?

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    • The All-Importance of Self-Determination in Europe (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/26/20 8:41 AM)
      I wish to thank Cameron Sawyer for his excellent comments of January 23rd. I concur with most of his clear arguments.

      However I believe that it is necessary to clarify my earlier position.

      I wrote as a defensor populorum and the basic rights to self-determination. See point 3 of the Atlantic Charter and point 13 of President Wilson's 14 points.

      In 1939 the wishes of the German people in the the Third Reich and in the Freie Stadt Danzig for a reunion with Germany was right, while the opposition of the Polish Government was wrong. This is incontrovertible.

      The ethnic passions in the Europe of the 20th century were extremely strong, even if for a non-European they may be difficult to understand.

      For example, in 1953 at the time of the massacre of six young Italians at Trieste by the British-guided local police while Tito was threatening an invasion, I was ready to go to fight as a volunteer, even though I was only 17.

      Maybe I could have earlier met our friend David Pike and exchanged some ideas, of course after the fighting died down...

      Let's have a joke:

      About the: Lebensraum for the German Volk at the expense of the "racially inferior" Slavs, maybe we should change this to: "Manifest Destiny" at the expenses of the "racially inferior" natives [Mexicans, too--JE].

      What is the difference? Perhaps the first was a silly idea not realized and unrealistically launched in a book of 1923. The second was instead a realized idea launched by John Gast more or less one century earlier, and celebrated by a great painter Ernest Lee Treveson in 1872.

      JE comments:  The painter John Gast ("American Progress," 1872) was actually born in Prussia.  Interesting.  Manifest Destiny goes back further, to another John (O'Sullivan), a journalist who coined the term in 1845.

      Wilson's 14 Points are cited often, but how many of us know them by heart?  Probably no one.  Here's a refresher.  Point 13 called for a Polish state, which is probably why he (Wilson) got a major square in Warsaw named after him.  Unsurprisingly in 1918, Wilson makes no provision whatsoever for German self-determination.



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