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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rising '44

Norman Davies' Rising '44 - The Battle for Warsaw fits right into the - positive - stereotype of massive and incredibly detailed written history books dealing with the Second World War and written by UK authors. Davies, most known maybe for his monumental, all-encompassing Europe - A History, had previously written a history of Poland and in his take on the Warsaw insurrection he tackles most of the issues related to the Soviet-German invasion of Poland, the ensuing exclusively German occupation period, and finally the (re-)invasion by the Red Army.

The tragic fate of Poland during the Second World War, where it went, to use Davies' expression, from the First Ally of the United Kingdom to an afterthought barely remarked when its capital was razed and its sovereign government usurped, still is ignored in Western Europe to an astonishing extent. The country's horrifying experience may be seen epitomized in Warsaw's triple (!) destruction. Having been bombed in 1939, its formerly Jewish part or rather the one used for the Ghetto was burnt down house by house following the always doomed to fail Ghetto Uprising in 1943. In 1944, the Home Army, which was one of the best organized in German-occupied Europe, finally, decided to rise up against the German troops in anticipation of the Soviet troops stationed just on the under side of the Vistula just as the French had successfully done in Paris.

Yet, the Red Army stopped cold in its track and let the Germans handle the insurrection with astonishing cruelty and disgustingly pointless destruction. Davies discusses this Rising in great detail and much - a bit too much at times I felt - compassion. He talks about the lead-up to the decision for the Rising, the sinking fortunes of the Polish government-in-exile in London, the aftermath for the veterans of the Home Army many of whom were hunted down by Soviet forces.
The Warsaw Rising was inadequately prepared and faultily directed; it was a political gamble of the highest order. Psychologically, however, it could hardly have been avoided.
His is a book of mind-blowing detail, minutiae that serves to provide the reader with an overall understanding of the Rising and yet still leaving him (or her, or in this case: me) at a loss of words of a period and place where the - moral - laws of men had no meaning anymore.

How to understand that which is impossible to wrap your mind around? The only solution to this question has always been the stupefying collection of facts, which rarely offers a solution to anything, but never fails to serve as a welcome distraction.

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