Halik Kochanski. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012. xxxi + 734 pp.
World War II is the most traumatic event in the history of Poland, a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Thousands of books and articles have been devoted to the Polish contribution to this war but most of them concentrate on particular events, military operations, organizations, diplomatic negotiations, and other individual phenomena related to World War II. All these publications cannot substitute a general panoramic history of Poland during the war. There are only a handful of books of this kind and most of them are either outdated or unimpressive. The situation is particularly difficult if one looks for publications in English. The appearance of the book under review awoke great expectations by scholars, educators, and general English language readers. To most of them a history of Poland during World War II is an unknown topic. The Eagle Unbowed can change this. Unfortunately, due to many shortcomings, it cannot be accepted as a definite work in this field.
The book, supplemented with two appendices (“Order of Battle of the Polish Army, 1939-1945” and “Principal Polish Personalities”), is divided [End Page 151] into 18 chapters. The first, “The Rebirth of Poland,” offers a history of Poland in a nutshell. The next three chapters depict the unfolding events in a chronological order: “Polish Foreign Policy, 1920-1939,” “The September 1939 Campaign,” and “The German and Soviet Occupation of Poland to June 1941.” Chapter 5, “Exile in the Soviet Union,” describes the tragic fate of the Polish citizens deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The next chapter, “Escape from the Soviet Union,” shows how a part of these deportees moved to Iran with the Polish Army formed in Russia in late 1941. Chapter 7, “Poland’s Contribution to the Allied War Effort, 1940-1943,” reviews Polish participation in the French campaign, the Battle of Britain, and the Allied intelligence. Chapter 8, “Polish Non-combatants Outside Poland, 1941-1943,” portrays Polish refugee communities all over the world and is followed by chapters “The Dark Years: Occupied Poland, 1941-1943,” “The Holocaust, 1941-1943,” and “Sikorski’s Diplomacy, 1941-1943.” Chapter 12 and 13, “Threats to the Standing of the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Polish Underground Authorities” and “The Polish Dilemma: The Retreat of the Germans and the Advance of the Red Army,” describe the worsening of the Polish situation in 1943 and 1944. Chapter 14, “Poland: The Inconvenient Ally,” describes a desperate diplomatic fight for the postwar borders and sovereignty of Poland. In chapter 15, “Fighting under British Command, 1943-1945,” the author returns to military history but chapter 16, “The End of War,” is again about diplomacy, the Yalta Conference, and the Allied compromise on a new government in Poland. Chapter 17, “The Aftermath of the War,” depicts the post-1945 “near civil war” in Poland and the situation of the Poles in the West. “The Final Chapter” is devoted to the struggle for the truth about the Katyn massacre and to the Polish contemporary reckoning with the history of World War II.
The text is written in a lively and interesting way but is very uneven. The parts devoted to military events are informative and well researched. Kochanski has taught at King’s College London and University College London and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History. The fragments about the deportations to the Soviet Union and the Poles in the West are moving and gripping. The author’s parents and many members of her family went through the Soviet exile to the West. The diplomatic fragments, particularly those devoted to the British-American-Soviet relations, are also erudite. The description of the war events in Poland, however, is less impressive; the analysis of the Soviet Polish policies and the establishment of the communist power [End Page 152] in Poland is poor and sketchy; and “The Holocaust, 1941-1943” (notice the time frame!) is the most controversial.
The author did her best to portray Polish...