Originally published 02/27/2013
Alex Joffe: Review of Halik Kochanski’s "The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War"
Alex Joffe received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 1991.The adage “history is written by the winners” is no more than a half-truth. Losers, too, have always written history and, more important, enshrined their losses in memory. A new history of Poland in World War II thus has particular significance. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth gradually vanished from the map of Europe at the end of the 18th century, when Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided it up among themselves; and the Poles regained their independence only in 1918. In their new republic, ethnic Poles were a majority, but Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans and, of course, Jews constituted a large minority. The Jews alone made up more than 10 per cent of the country’s population. Mustn’t any history of Poland in the Second World War therefore put the Jews and the Holocaust at the center? If it does not, is that originality or revisionism? Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War offers important insights into the Polish experience of the war, but her treatment of the Jewish Question is less satisfying.