Saturday, April 29, 2017
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World War II and its Impact on Everyday Life in Poland: A Personal Perspective

How Second World War affected us in Poland? Enormously. I would say, Poland to this today did not fully recover from five years of Nazi and Soviet occupation. Many facts of the Soviet occupation were not officially discussed until early 90s.

I was born almost twenty years after the war, in the early 1960s but, the impact of the war on my childhood was just very significant. Even as kids we were very conscious of the war. To this day I remember my fifth birthday, not because anything special happened or because I was given some beautiful toys. I remember it because my older brother was teasing me that the war was going to start on the day of my birthday. I was a very sensitive kid I guess and I took words seriously. It had such an impact on me that I could not really enjoy my birthday, waiting for the war to start at any moment. I still remember vividly fragments from my fifth birthday. For many Poles, long after the war, hearing an airplane low in the sky was associated with the irrational fear that it may be a bomber.

The vivid memories of war were everywhere, in the mass media, radio, TV, movies, but also in minds of our parents, family and all adults who lived through it. It was something more overwhelming, than the communism around us.

Warsaw after Luftwaffe bombing in 1939I did not even live in regions which were the most affected by the war, Krakow in Southern Poland and Katowice in Silesia were the least destroyed in the war. Compare it to Warsaw, Polish capital which was destroyed in over 90% or a region of central and easter Poland where many villages were burned and destroyed because of partisan guerrilla war. I wonder sometimes whether the communist propaganda did try to focus people's attention on the war to divert their attention from problems of everyday life. But you also have to start to wonder at some point, when healthy and constructive criticism of the communist system turns into an irrational obsession.

Why the impact of war on Poland was so deep? Lets remember that the attack on Poland in September of 1939 started War World II. Poland, unlike Austria did not welcome Hitler's army with flowers. Poland was the first be hit hard by the war. Two weeks later, on September 17th Soviets invaded eastern part of Poland. Polish military scattered around the region was taken by surprise and trapped. Nobody knew then about the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact to divide Poland. How a fascist-communist union could ever be possible? It was almost unthinkable, until you studied the facts of history and saw how alike both are.

Until then many countries of Western Europe and the USA were trying to please and in many cases actively support Hitler. They agreed on Germany's occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, there were still some diplomats who were trying to please Hitler by convincing Poland that it should return the so called Polish corridor back to Germany. They were also asking that Poland would cease any claims to the town of Gdansk (Danzig), that was under international protection at that time. The policy of pleasing Hitler led nowhere, it also escalated Hitler's demands as the history showed.

When the war started Poland was counting on France and Great Britain. These countries were bound by a treaty with Poland, that in the case of aggression they would help. Poles were convinced that when France and Great Britain became officially in state of war with Germany they would start fighting. But nothing happened, on either the British or the French side.

The war started in the time when Polish economy was finally recovering after years of international crisis from the early thirties. We also need to remember that the Polish sovereign state at that time was very young. Polish independence between the First and the Second World War lasted for no more than twenty years, after over a hundred of years of partitions between Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

The war brought terrible economic losses as it destroyed infrastructure, housing etc. Poland was in fact the most destroyed country in the world, except for Germany and Japan who were the aggressors. The war also brought terrible human losses - six million Poles, half of them Jewish and half of non-Jewish. The fact that over 90% of Polish Jews were murdered during the war is horrible and at the same time well known around the world. What is less well known is that every Polish family lost somebody also, either in combat against Germany or Soviet Union, or in German extermination and labor camps, or in Siberia.

Recommended reading(s):

Question of HonorI recommend a book about famous Polish airforce pilots from Great Britain A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, by Lynne Olson, Stanley Cloud

Forgotten HolocaustI also highly recommend a book written by Richard C. Lukas, Norman Davies entitled: Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944

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