My "to read" shelves are prioritised; "these can wait" and "these must be read soon". There are books that languish there, on the shelves, if not coveMy "to read" shelves are prioritised; "these can wait" and "these must be read soon". There are books that languish there, on the shelves, if not covered in cobwebs (my wife would never allow that ignominy) then certainly enshrouded in an invisible thick web of time. It is my shame that this book languished on my shelves for so long. It has sat there, in the "these must be read soon", for a number of years. It has sent out signals that "there things here of great worth" but I have constantly glanced, momentarily paused and then moved on to another. Shame on me. This is a superb book, a work of true scholarship. It explains the roots of so many problems and provides so many answers in a part of the world I love well. It is a work of real significance in the understanding of the history of the former lands of the Rzeszpospolita, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It clarifies the evolution of political ideas in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine and explains the history of enmity that developed between these once united "nations". It begins by describing the dominant role of Poland in the relationship, the roles of language and religion, of culture. It exposes the flaws, especially in the Rzeszpospolita's relationship with the Ukraine, which ultimately contributed to the disappearance of this great, "modern" state. It tracks the growth of nationalism and the conflict of interest between those who believed in an ethnic nation state and those who believed in a federation that had its roots in the Commonwealth. We see the rise of suspicion, fear and hatred; the emergence of war and ethnic cleansing in times of chaos, and we see the way the Poles evolved a means of overcoming these stumbling blocks in order to create a successful transition in the movement towards the creation of independent states in this part of Europe. This is a magnificent book, a great history and a superb commentary. It is so well-written and easy to read; there are very few points at which I had to pause and re-read a part in order to take it in. Timothy Snyder had already attracted my attention in his marvellous work "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin", now he has been raised to the Pantheon of the greats. ...more
Well it's not "Q" (although our hero does make an appearance). It's not that frenetic riot of religious and political radicalism that "Q" was but it IWell it's not "Q" (although our hero does make an appearance). It's not that frenetic riot of religious and political radicalism that "Q" was but it IS about a vision; creating a home for the Jews. It drifts along at a gentle pace, like a camel crossing the desert or a felucca on the calm Mediterranean. We languish on soft, exotic pillows in a drug-infused haze beneath exotic skies barely disturbed by the call to prayer... But it begins with an explosion! A ship sails, in flames, through the sky of Venice. Sabotage. The Turks... and at the heart of it all must be that Jewish spider, Yusef Nasi. His agents must be found. It might not be "Q" (and how I hoped for another book like that) but it kept me gripped. It twists and turns like a Cold war thriller - don't be fooled by that gentle pace. There is espionage, there is betrayal... ...more
This is, at times, a very dry read but in the end well worth persevering with. I have rated the book highly because of its impact on me; its informatiThis is, at times, a very dry read but in the end well worth persevering with. I have rated the book highly because of its impact on me; its informative content and even-handed yet critical analysis of a very difficult and sensitive topic. It looks at the Jewish experience in Poland during the Nazi Regime, and Warsaw quite specifically;
"Ninety-eight percent of the Jewish population of Warsaw perished in the Second World War, together with one-quarter of the Polish population: in all, some 720,000 souls, a number that dwarfs the destruction of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined and is undoubtedly the greatest slaughter perpetrated within a single city in human history. The flight of twenty-odd thousand Jews from the Warsaw ghetto seems by comparison a negligible phenomenon... Yet it was probably the greatest mass escape from confinement in history..."
Paulsson goes on to investigate that escape, the difficulties that faced the Jews in the world outside the ghetto and the circumstances, and substantial network of support, that made Warsaw "the largest clandestine community of Jews anywhere in Europe, in fact probably the largest community of people that has lived in hiding in any city, ever." Half of those who fled perished, but so did 99 percent of those who did not flee.
A particularly touchy element is that of antisemitism amongst the Poles. Polish society had a large number of antisemites because of its Patriotic-Catholic tradition and the growth of a Nationalistic Right-wing movement prior to the re-establishment of the Polish State in 1918. I was, however, surprised to find how separate the Jewish community was considering how long it had been established in the old Polish Commonwealth; there were problems with language, behaviour and "cultural separateness". They weren't, on the whole, just that nice bunch of people next door who apart from eating kosher are no different than us; most of them lived very separate, and often isolated, lives. It is hardly surprising that Poles and Jews eyed each other suspiciously and each thought the worst of each other. This is something that comes across quite powerfully in the study; none of the resistance groups (Polish or Jewish) comes out smelling of roses - the real heroes are those who acted (Jew or Pole) despite their reservations, for whatever reasons. Even those Poles who stood and said nothing contributed towards the preservation of those endangered lives; "... if there was more antisemitism in Poland than in many other countries, there was also less collaboration."
This is an excellent study of the plight of the Jews in this tragic period. I would recommend that, if nothing else, all historians should read the superb conclusion. ...more
I don't think this is one of Simon Scarrow's better books. It's an adventurous romp but there are a few too many cliches in it for me. Macro and CatoI don't think this is one of Simon Scarrow's better books. It's an adventurous romp but there are a few too many cliches in it for me. Macro and Cato have been assigned (in their new role as chief troubleshooters for Narcissus - the spider behind the throne) to Judaea in order to investigate suspicions of treachery. The Parthians look like they could be rattling their cages a bit and the Judaeans - well, they're just an ungovernable lot with weird religious ideas and constant rabble-rousers... and who do you think crops up?...more
Before the war the small town of Gdow, the nearest large community to my grandfather's farm, had a sizeable number of Jews living in it. My father useBefore the war the small town of Gdow, the nearest large community to my grandfather's farm, had a sizeable number of Jews living in it. My father used to talk about them; they ran some of the shops and inns, they traded with his parents, he went to school with them (they gave him their chicken sandwiches and he gave them his pork kielbasa ones). One of these Jews, a trader called Samuel, often came round to the farm and would chat with my grandparents. He would make complimentary comments about my grandmother's Bigos, hinting at being given a bowl. She would joke with him and warn him that the Rabbi would have something to say if he knew he was eating pork... and he would joke back. When the Germans came Samuel came to see my grandfather and asked him to help him. My grandfather said, "I can hide you for three days but no longer, if the Germans find out then they'll not only kill me but my wife and children as well." Samuel replied that he would not impose himself on his good friends but would find another way of surviving. He didn't. He and all the Jews of Gdow; shopkeepers, innkeepers, tradesmen, schoolfriends, ended up in Belzec and were turned into ashes, bones and dust. This book is about something that is almost taken for granted throughout. It is not really about the courage it took to survive in the sewers of Lvov because survival is not about courage, more about determination to live despite all the hazards. This book is about the courage of one man, Leopold Socha. To put your life in danger for others is a brave choice, but to put the lives of those you love at risk... that takes a kind of courage few people actually exhibit - yet so many in Poland did in that nightmare time. Socha may not have started with saintly aspirations but there can be no doubt that saint he became. I was inspired to read "In the Sewers of Lvov" after watching Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness" (it's the original book that the film is based on - "The Girl in the Green Sweater" is a more recent 'compilation' of reminiscences written partly by the small girl who survived). It's a very easy read and gives us a reasonable picture of what life was like for the individuals who hid in the sewers as well as in the ghetto and the concentration camp, Janowska, nearby. It's not intellectually demanding since, I believe, it was written for the general audience. I was quite surprised at how much the film reflects the book yet, whilst there is little new in the book (having seen the film), I still enjoyed it and still found it fascinating. It's surprising how little of the dirt and smell, even danger, comes across. The small group of Jews helped by Socha had obviously grown so used to the horrible circumstances in which they found themselves. It's only really towards the end, when outsiders become involved, that that one becomes aware of the dirt and smell and conditions they had to endure. Most of the story, based on the written reminiscences of the leader of the group, Ignacy Chiger, and interviews with other survivors, deals with their day-to-day survival, the relationships within the group, the arguments. Whilst there are deaths they are largely almost incidental... this story is about life... and the courage of that one special man who found safe havens and brought them food, Socha. The moment that really stands out for me is that one when the dirty, hunched, almost blind group finally come to the surface. People stand around amazed, stunned. The little boy is frightened and wants to go back down. Socha stands there proudly. "This is my work," he says, "These are my Jews." How many of us can ever hope to have that courage and that pride? And the final chapter, the one dealing with the aftermath is new stuff to those who have seen the film, apart, that is, from that final tragedy and those disgraceful words... ...more
I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. My mother endured forced labour under the Soviets in 1940 and sI was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. My mother endured forced labour under the Soviets in 1940 and slave labour under the Nazis after 1941. She saw some of her family being deported by the Soviets to almost certain death in Kazakhstan and discovered the rest in a mass grave, shot by the Nazis. Her best friend survived Auschwitz. My Godfather was a partizan in the forests around Lwow, fighting both Nazis and Soviets. My Godmother lived through the Stalinist regime, survived the battles for Kharkov and slave labour in Germany. I was taught chess by a White Russian whose memories of that time were horrific. Even I visited Auschwitz in 1963 - when I returned to England I was shocked to realise non of the English people I knew knew anything about the place. Until recently who, apart from the Poles, knew the truth about Katyn? So, when I started reading Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands” my first impression was “There is nothing new here”. I’d heard it all in one place or another. But what Snyder does do is take all those evils and puts them together in his Pandora’s Box - only one thing is missing, Hope. Because there was no hope, only fear and death. The depressing bleakness hollows out the soul. One has to pause to take stock, to look away, to absorb the evil and hear the dead cry out for justice, and an understanding that what happened there, on the “Eastern Front”, in the “Bloodlands”, actually exceeded anything the West could understand: “...The American and British soldiers who liberated the dying inmates from camps in Germany believed that they had discovered the horrors of Nazism. The images their photographers and cameramen captured of the corpses and the living skeletons at Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald seemed to convey the worst crimes of Hitler...this was far from the truth. The worst was in the ruins of Warsaw, or the fields of Treblinka, or the marshes of Belarus, or the pits of Babi Yar.” Timothy Snyder is the conscience of us all. Snyder fills his Pandora’s Box and then he reveals its contents to us. He deals with the real terrors of Stalinism; the tragedy of the Great Famine of the Ukraine, the nightmare of the Great Terror, and the cold-blooded elimination of the educated classes and all forms of potential resistance in Poland. He goes on to deal with Nazism; once more, the elimination of educated Poles, the attempts to depopulate Belarus, and the Final Solution. He looks at Post-War Cold War anti-Semitism in a very knowledgeable manner that makes the era clearly understandable. He does a wonderful job of sorting the truth out from the “false history” we have in the West by reminding us (for example) that “by the time the gas chamber and crematoria complexes came on line in spring 1943, more than three-quarters of the Jews who would be killed in the Holocaust were already dead.” The name of Belzec is less well known than that of Auschwitz because it was a death camp - those who survived it were highly lucky and could be counted on the fingers of one hand. “The vast majority of Jews killed in the Holocaust never saw a concentration camp.” Snyder debunks the modern attempts to “balance” out history: the Nazis and the Soviets were not inhuman beasts - they were ordinary men and women like you and me. These men and women had ideals which they tried to live up to. They saw themselves as victims of other groups and their actions were a form of self-defense. They forced others to collude in their plans by giving them a choice between that or death. He reminds us of the real atrocities carried out in the war, for example, “About as many Poles were killed in the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as Germans were killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945. For Poles, that bombing was just the beginning of one of the bloodiest occupations of the war... “ and that “German journalists and (some) historians ... have exaggerated the number of Germans killed during wartime and postwar evacuation, flight, or deportation...” Snyder’s “Bloodlands” are, for me, the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth partitioned between 1772 and 1794. The horrors that took place here are just a continuation of the policies of the Germans and Russians to control those lands. Perhaps I fall into that category of historians who try to understand the horrors in nationalistic terms - he debunks the Russian myth of the “Great Patriotic war” and points out that most of the “Russian” dead were “Soviet” and came from Belarus, the Ukraine and Eastern Poland - themselves victims of Stalinism in 1939 (and earlier). I said there was nothing new here - that isn’t completely true. Snyder’s research is so broad as he brings the strands together that there will always be a fact that will surprise you, no matter how much you think you know the history. I never knew that the invading Germans, in 1939, tended not to treat captured Polish soldiers as prisoners-of-war but simply shot many of them as they surrendered. Snyder filled his history with facts and figures throughout. One simple fact stands in for so many in the book: “On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.” There’s nothing new in this book. The story and the facts have always been available. In this post-Cold war era the truth about what went on in the East has been slowly revealed to the West: all the “false” history is been revealed as another version of the West’s anti-Communist propaganda, a Big brother version of history in which Polish troops, for example, were not allowed to partake in VE celebrations because the country was Communist (albeit sold out by the allies at Yalta). Snyder brings the true history of this era to the attention of the West. Everyone should read it - but then I would say that, wouldn’t I, I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. ...more
Whenever I go to Poland I'm aware of the fact that it is completely different to the Poland my parents knew - half of it is missing. The destruction oWhenever I go to Poland I'm aware of the fact that it is completely different to the Poland my parents knew - half of it is missing. The destruction of the Polish Jews was a great crime but it was also another nail in the Polish cross since it made a very good job of wiping out upto 700 years of an important aspect of Polish history: at the times of the Partitions over 70% of the world's Jews lived in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and just before the start of World War 2 over 90% of Europe's Jews lived in Poland. The ghosts remain - not just in the slaughterhouses set up by the Germans in the most convenient place for extermination of the Jews but also in the cities. Buildings, town halls, synagogues, cemeteries survived. This book is a wonderful record of those surviving fragments whose existence was once an everyday part of Polish society and now... just fade away into memory....more
Imagine you're a child sat at a table with your family; father, mother, uncles, aunts, grandparents, on one of the great festivals celebrated by yourImagine you're a child sat at a table with your family; father, mother, uncles, aunts, grandparents, on one of the great festivals celebrated by your people. You are waiting, listening for that one reference to the destruction of the great enemy so that you can whoop with joy. But the conversation turns to matters of concern that you can't quite grasp. Arguments begin about whether resettlement might mean something else. When I first read the opening chapter to "Bread for the Departed" I was mesmerised; it was as though I was really there, part of the gathering. "Bread for the Departed" is the tale of the Warsaw Ghetto as seen through the eyes of one small boy. You share the memories as you sink into the almost everyday "normality" that the nightmare has become. It is a novel that will never leave you. ...more