Lewis Weinstein's Reviews > Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939

Bitter Glory by Richard M. Watt
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's review
Dec 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: history-bio-memoir, a-research, a-research-reviews, to-read

The first parts of "Bitter Glory" present what I found to be a fascinating look at the events of WWI from Poland's perspective, a point of view most of us may never have considered. Pilsudski accurately predicted the major flow of the war, and then positioned Poland in a way that led to Polish independence at Versailles.

After the war, the re-united and free (for the first time since roughly 1800) Poland faced a daunting series of tasks. Watt describes the attempts of the 1921-26 period, when a plethora of political parties and interests prevented government from acting decisively.

Next comes a dramatic presentation of Pilsudski's May 1926 coup, where he returned from 'retirement' and in three days took control of Poland's government, after which he was elected President and declined to serve, although he remained very much in charge.

It occurred to me, although Watt does not address them, that there are some interesting similarities and differences between Pilsudski's objectives and accomplishments and Hitler's failed coup attempt in Munich three years before.

"Bitter Glory" is written, not in academic style, but in many ways like a novel, and is therefore very accessible to those who don't usually like to read straight history.

What I have read so far (250 pages) will carry me through the time period of the next section of my new novel. Time to start writing!

UPDATE 3/19/13 ...

I've now read through the events of 1935. It's just as good as the earlier chapters. Particularly fascinating are the interchanges between Poland and Germany in the years (1933-35) after Hitler became Chancellor ...

... After Hitler became Chancellor, Pilsudski did not believe Poland was in any immediate danger … he felt Hitler would first have to consolidate his internal position and deal with a host of domestic problems

... Pilsudski decided to test his view of Hitler by forcing a direct confrontation with Germany through the Danzig Harbor Police Force … the Polish naval transport ship Wilja appeared near Danzig and disembarked 120 Polish troops to reinforce the garrison, thus exceeding the agreed upon number of Polish troops permitted ... this was done without consultation with the league of Nations or anyone else ... This created an international incident, after which Poland withdrew the extra troops ... Pilsudki and Beck believed they had accomplished their objectives, which was to show that Poland was unpredictable, aggressive and alert ... they had thrown down the glove and Hitler had not picked it up

... Pilsudski and Beck instructed the Polish minister in Berlin, Dr. Alfred Wysocki, to meet with Hitler and discuss Danzig … Wysocki was to ask Hitler to issue a press communiqué stating that he was against any action directed against Polish rights and legal interests in the free city of Danzig ... To his astonishment Wysocki got a meeting with Hitler and Hitler agreed to issue the requested statement, somewhat watered-down ... This appearance of a detente between Poland and Germany created intense surprise throughout Europe ... Why did Hitler agree? ... Hitler feared a determined alliance between France and Poland which he prevented by giving peaceful assurances to Poland.

... Polish Minister Lipski was summoned from Berlin to Warsaw to consult with Pilsudski … as another test Lipski was instructed to ask for an interview with Hitler and to seek reassurance that Germany had no aggressive intentions regarding Poland … Hitler responded - surprisingly - with a declaration of nonaggression that was signed in Berlin on January 26, 1934 … creating another great surprise throughout Europe when it was announced.

... Some accounts state that Pilsudski sent certain private persons to France to make an unofficial suggestion that the time to stop Hitler was now and that this could be done by a preventive war … The French did not agree

CONCLUSION ... In the early years of Hitler's rule, when Germany was still weak and Hitler's power not fully accomplished, it would have been relatively easy to shut him down. No political or religious leader had the courage to do so. Pilsudski, Poland's hero, seems to be the only one who even tried.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Helen (new)

Helen Thanks for this review, Lewis. Sounds like I should read it, too!

Lewis Weinstein I'm just today picking it up again as I am re-setting my understanding of the history as I begin a new chapter where the focus is my Polish character, Anna Gorski. It is 1930, and she is attending the University of Warsaw. She has just returned from Munich where she met the main German character, Berthold Becker. Her purpose in going to Munich was to gather information for an article she is writing for a Yiddish paper on antisemitic behavior in German universities. He is clearly smitten with her. Is it reciprocal?

Perhaps we should share our reading lists. Most of my research reading is listed under the category "ch-research." (The "ch" stands for "Choosing Hitler," the tentative title of my new novel.) I will try to make sure that list stays complete as I add new titles to my list.

message 3: by Helen (new)

Helen Great idea. My Holocaust books are listed under "World War II" and "Holocaust." Your book sounds intriguing!

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