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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Too late the Hejnal mariacki

The Polish 2nd Corps received their mauling at the hands of the German paratroops in the ruins of Monte Cassino; in that bloody meatgrinder of a battle, in which Anders sent even his cooks and bottlewashers to fight, a fourth and final determined assault won the key strongpoint and opened the Allied advance into Nazi Germany's soft underbelly. As the Polish flag was raised in the ruins and a trumpeter played the mournful five-note melody of the Hejnal mariacki, Poland regained her pride and honour.

Stalin's signed order to Beria for the execution of over 14,000 Polish officers at Katyn came to light after the fall of Communism, but Andrzej Wajda's film remains banned in Russia. Today, as Putin joins Merkel at Gdansk to mark the start of the second war, I recall clearly the more recent struggle for freedom at that port; Lech Walesa and the 'Solidarity' movement that sought freedom from Russian socialist totalitarianism.

And this week also, perhaps fifty years too late, the UK also honours the Polish war effort; not just at Monte Cassino, but in the air during the Battle of Britain, and during the liberation of France and the conquest of Nazi Germany. Finally, £300,000 has been raised by public subscription to raise a monument in the National Memorial Arboretum to the Poles. Many of the tens of thousands of Ander's Army who settled here after 1945 will now have passed, and perhaps it's too late for the Hejnal mariacki to sound in Staffordshire with any conviction, but whilst one remains alive it was worth doing.


Budgie said...

Fortunately a number of Polish officers escaped Katyn by donning the uniforms of privates and being away from the main scene of the murders. But they subsequently spent a couple of years as guests of Uncle Joe, in Siberia, before being negotiated out by Churchill to reform in the Middle East.

talwin said...

Not entirely sure that Poland's defeat by the might of Hitler's massive war machine meant that she actually lost her pride and honour for it to be regained at Cassino.

Poles will also tell you of their pride in the fact that theirs was the only occupied country in Europe (including Britain!), during the whole of the war, that did not collaborate with the enemy.

Anonymous said...

opened the Allied advance into Nazi Germany's soft underbelly.

Hyperbole - They were still advancing through Italy in May 1945!

tory boys never grow up said...

You should perhaps note that the thing which most upsets the Poles about the Russians is the manner in which they sat back and let the Nazis do their dirty work for them during the Warsaw uprising - but that is not to belittle what happened at Katyn.

Should also appreciate that is a degree of resentment to the UK and France because although we did declare war on Germany when Poland was invaded - precious little was done in terms of immediate assistance to Poland.

The lesson Poles have learnt, the hard way, is that they have to look after themselves - as others cannot be relied upon to do so.

You should perhaps also not forget that Poland has strong historic and cultural links with Russia, Ukraine and other slavic countries - and a divide and conquer approach is unlikely to get anyone very far. I suspect most ordinary Poles and Russians can get along quite well together given the chance.

PS Also just not right to say, as Talwin quotes, that there was no Polish collaboration with the Nazis.

talwin said...

Not saying there were no individual acts of collaboration.

And, also, on the invasion of Poland there were ethnic Germans in the west of the country, 'Volksdeutche', who were willingly organised and were real bastards.

What I (and the Poles, I guess)mean is that there were no Quislings; and no puppet regime or officialdom which collaborated with the Germans.

tory boys never grow up said...


There was a Polish Police force the Blue Police - and the Nazis did arm some right wing groups to fight the Soviets. Not sure where the claimed UK puppet regime was - the Channel Islands?

talwin said...

I had thought that the role of the Blue Police remains a matter of dispute. Although it would obviously not be true for all individuals, it is said the Blue Police were coerced (otherwise risking the death penalty!) into working and often carried out orders reluctantly. As we know, just about anyone who worked for the Germans risked death for just about any failure of duty.

Many Blue Police were from the Ukraine - arguably, no friend of the Poles - (Ukranians also provided 'efficient' concentration camp discipline and security, and manpower for the SS Galician Division). Most of the Blue Police senior officers were German.

I was thinking of the 'Selbstschutz' (self-defence), units created for the Volksdeutsche, which operated in the west of Poland and, I think, in Danzig, from September, 1939. They created such mayhem and inflicted such atrocities among the local population that they were disbanded at the beginning of 1940, the membership being transferred to the SS and German police.

As the for the Channel Islands; yes, I was thinking of things like cops filmed opening car doors and saluting German officers, and, along with local officials, effecting the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.

I was only trying to make a general point on 'official' collaboration which I still think holds largely true. For sure, it's one to which the Poles would robustly subscribe.

Raedwald said...

Anon - but justified hyperbole; how many divisions did Hitler divert from the Russian or Western fronts to hold back this upward thrust?

Budgie said...

I would think that the thing which most upsets Poles was that Poland was invaded from the west by the Germans and nearly simultaneously from the east by the Russians. They had to fight two superpowers at the same time. Funny that Britain only declared war on Germany and not the USSR.

Brian E. said...

There is, of course, already a Polish War memorial alongside the A40 by Northolt aerodrome, although is is not as prominent as it used to be before it was moved for road widening. I've passed it thousands of times, but have never actually stopped to have a close look. In view of its location, I assume that it just commemorates the Polish airmen, although everyone locally and also the road traffic reports simply refer to it as "The Polish War Memorial"