Apart from the Jewish people, I know of no other race or nationality that have suffered more persecution, brutality, deceit and imposed immorality than the Polish people, yet have somehow they have overcome their indignities. You might argue that black Africans, the Armenians or more recently the Rohinga, are being persecuted similarly, but the Poles have suffered for hundreds of years and they are still around!
I found this gem of a book in my local library. It is the memoir of an upper class Polish lady – Countess Maria Tarnovska. It’s the story of her life in Europe during WWI and in Poland during WWII. She married a Polish diplomat, trained as a nurse and rose to be 2nd IC of the Red Cross in Warsaw during WW2.
The first part of the book is an enjoyable romp through the lives of diplomats living in the capitals of Europe just prior to WW1 – Madrid, Vienna, London, Oslo, Paris, Belgrade and Washington. There are many delightful stories and anecdotes of what the people were like in each of these countries. They had no sense of the impending darkness that was about to engulf them all. Well connected, Maria even played bridge with England’s King Edward VII just before he died in 1910. When WW1 broke out, she and her husband Adam returned to Poland where she served as a nurse in front line battlefields tending to injured soldiers.
She joined the Red Cross in between wars. During WWII due to her many strengths and abilities, she became a key figure in the Polish Underground. She recants in simple prose the overwhelming might of the German war machine that violated the treaty of non aggression and overran Poland in 3 days in August 1939. Polish officers fled to Russia and were later secretly executed by the Bolsheviks because they were a political threat.
The Warsaw Uprising started 74 years ago today, and lasted for 63 glorious days until snuffed out by the soon to be defeated Germans. The Russian army camped on the east bank of the Vistula River failed to intervene on the side of the Polish fighters as they had promised. Stalin had made a secret pact with Churchill and Roosevelt that Poland would be theirs as soon as the Germans were defeated. 15,000 resistanceFighters and as many as 200,000 civilians lost their life for nothing as it was never the intent of the Allies to allow Poland to become a free state again! What infamy!!!
So why did the Germans and the Russians hate the Poles so much? They were hated for their strong (Catholic) faith and concept of freedom. You could not convert a Pole or beat it out of them – the only way was extermination. Maria makes a big distinction between the Wehrmacht – the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany and the Gestapo or SS police. Wehrmacht Generals and soldiers were professionals who insisted on according the Polish people the rights that prisoners of war were due. The Gestapo were hugs who delighted in the cruelest and vilest of indignities. At one point the SS would round-up 100 people in the street and shoot them as surely a few of them were underground fighters. It was the SS that ran the Concentration camps and implemented Hitler’s final solution for the Jews.
In all this Maria was never harmed herself. She was imprisoned several times and after questioning, freed. She must have had a commanding personality that enabled her to remain cool under pressure as she was connected with the Warsaw Underground at the highest of levels. As a rep of the Red Cross, she took a direct part in negotiating the end of the Uprising and evacuation of Warsaw that followed. She says no matter how vile the Germans were, the Communists were worse. The Germans would inform the family when one of their members was imprisoned or executed. The Communists after the war, would abduct dissenters in the middle of the night and the family would never know what happened. A neighbour could snitch about something you said and you were gone.
The book is written in a gentle steadfast style without dwelling on death or violence. She even forgave the Germans as the vast majority of them were good people who unfortunately fell under the spell of a madman when he told them that they were Gods. She is not as sympathetic to the Communists, many of who were Polish people with Russian names who fled to Russia and then returned to claim big government jobs in 1946.
Finally there is a Canadian connection to how this book came to life. Written in the 50s in Brazil, the manuscript was held by the Tarnovska family for a generation until a relative living in Montreal undertook to get it published in 2016. Wow, an amazingly fresh first hand story of what it was like to live in Warsaw with hope at a time when the darkest recesses of the human soul were on daily display. 9.5 out of 10 stars.
One response to “The Future Will Tell”
I look forward to reading this book. Into early adulthood, I discovered my Jewish ancestry/ethnicity. Maternal and paternal parents were of Czechoslovak/ Hungarian and Dutch/ German Jewish ethnicity.
I agree that not only have the Jews and the Poles not only survived but also thrived.
Much can be learned from this most darkest period of recent history.
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