Category Archives: Poland

Review of ” The Book of Aron” by Jim Shepard

Powerful child’s-eye view of the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto.

Jim Shepard has produced an oddly dispassionate child’s-eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto. I say oddly because the most shocking incidents are described in such a matter of fact way which both underlines the innocence of children, but also the normalcy that violence became in those times.

This short book packs a massive punch as Aron describes his descent into the hell of being Jewish under Nazi rule in Poland.

Not one for the faint hearted, but a worthy addition to the many books detailing this dark period of history.

Review of ” The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath” by Dan Stone

Dan Stone is professor of modern history, Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published fifteen books on the Holocaust, genocide, and twentieth-century European history.

In a highly readable style Dan Stone describes the moment of liberation by Allied armies which sadly came too late to the many thousands who died in the following weeks as the Allies struggled to get the necessary expertise and supplies in place to support these poor ravaged souls.

What makes the book is the detail on the aftermath which echoes continue to this day. Using powerful and moving eyewitness accounts Stone portrays a story littered with misunderstanding, prejudice and in some cases downright cruelty to the survivors.

Despite helping inmates initially, over the months and years these DPs (Displaced Persons) became a headache that the Allies couldn’t easily resolve forcing many into illegal immigration, conflict with the local population, as well as conflict with the military and civilian authorities.

This is highlighted by details of a 1949 demo in Munich against an anti-Semitic letter published in a local paper. German police violently broke up the demonstration by camp inmates and attacked Jewish DPs whilst US soldiers looked on.

Some may think this is old history of over 70 years ago but Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 created a new group of DPs – the Palestinians – whose displacement continues to this day.

An excellent account of the bittersweet road from camp inmate to survivor and the reclamation of shattered lives.

Review of ” My Polish Spring” by Heather Campbell

Eyewitness account of a pair of British Communist idealists who gradually become disillusioned as they realise all within the socialist garden isn’t as rosy as they thought.

The title, “My Polish Spring” refers to a little known piece of Polish history that was overshadowed by the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. In Poland Władysław Gomułka had replaced the previous hard line Stalinist Bolesław Bierut. Gomułka insisted that he be given real power to implement further reforms. The Soviets viewed events in Poland with alarm. Simultaneously with Soviet troop movements deep into Poland, a high-level Soviet delegation flew to Warsaw. Gomułka made it clear that Polish forces would fight if Soviet troops advanced, but reassured the Soviets that the reforms were internal matters and that Poland had no intention of abandoning the communist bloc or its treaties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets stood down.

The writing style is very 1950s but it does add to the authenticity to the book. There’s no mistaking their admiration for the courage of the Polish people, but the distance between the party members privileged lifestyle and the general populace erodes their beliefs.

What I did find disappointing was how short the book was and that it ended very abruptly with no mention of exactly how they managed to return to England in 1959.

Nevertheless “My Polish Spring” is a fascinating piece of 1950’s history and provides a valuable eyewitness account of a little known part of the Cold War.

Review of ” The Birthday Gift” by Anthony Scott

A gripping balanced combination of thriller and romance that’s a real page turner, but ultimately a little unfulfilling.

Noah lives in St Ives with his mother Tess, grandfather Joshua, and Flora, the girl he loves. His relationship with Flora underpins the story as she is about to marry Jake.

Now this is sounding like a classic romance novel, but it isn’t. As the action moves from Cornwall to London to France to Germany and then to Poland where there’s a final flashback to World War 2 as Joshua discovers the history of “The Birthday Gift”.

I really enjoyed the descriptions in this book. Cornwall and St Ives come across as idyllic places (which of course they are). The writing style is rich, which made the relationships between the characters more believable and compelling.

I loved this book right up until the end when it finished….very suddenly and with too many loose ends…a real shame which is why it gets 4 stars instead of 5.

Review of “The Mazovia Legacy: A Frank Delaney Thriller” by Michael E. Rose

A touching, sensitive and moving fast paced thriller.

It’s Quebec in winter and an elderly former Polish pilot in the Mazovia squadron of the Free Polish air force dies. Natalya his niece is suspicious and hires an investigative journalist, Frank Delaney to uncover the truth of her Uncle’s death.

The story soon spirals in tension and intrigue involving Polish art treasures hidden during the Cold War and foreign agents will stop at nothing to kill to keep things hushed up.

Michael Rose is a former journalist and it shows to great effect in the language he uses which is never overly verbose, but beautifully descriptive all the same.

I read the book as I have an interest in Poland, but the book is beyond that. It is around the nature of loyalty, love and memory and I was surprised as to how much the story and the characters captivated and moved me.

I won’t give away the story, but safe to say this is a very entertaining read and recommended for anyone who likes conspiracy, espionage thrillers beyond the usual misogyny typical of the some thriller writers.

Review of “The Third Reich in History and Memory” by Richard J. Evans

A multi-facetted book offering some very critical perspectives on contemporary views and interpretations of Third Reich history. It covers many areas not normally seen in the more populist publications, and is recommended reading for serious Third Reich scholars.

Sir Richard Evans is President of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge. His many books include The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power and The Third Reich at War.

This collection of essays is essentially his critical reviews of published Third Reich studies from the past two decades. He doesn’t pull any punches where he feels interpretations are wrong or exaggerations have crept in. You’d have to be on very sure ground if you were a student submitting a treatise to him at university!

The book is split into 7 sections, Republic and Reich, Inside Nazi Germany, the Nazi Economy, Foreign Policy, Victory and Defeat, The Politics of Genocide and Aftermath. Each section contains between three and six essays.

Some of the essays are more interesting than others, but that may be just down to my personal areas of interest.

I found particularly interesting his views on how Nazi policies in Europe formed around Hitler’s image of Manifest Destiny and the American colonisation of the Great Plains. Hitler was apparently a big fan of the novels of Karl May, a famous German writer of novels set in the old American West, even though May had never set foot there.

There’s also a fascinating essay on how Italy was never de-fascistfied (nearest I could get to de-nazified).There are some in Italy who still deify Mussolini and his mausoleum gets an estimated 80,000 visitors a year with shops in the town doing do brisk business in Fascist memorabilia. You can’t imagine that in Braunau or Berlin…

Evans’ is particularly scathing in his criticism of widely acclaimed Timothy Synder’s Bloodlands, despite the book being awarded numerous prizes, including the 2013 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought.

Overall this is a multi-facetted book offering critical perspectives on contemporary views and interpretations of Third Reich history. It covers many areas not normally seen in the more populist publications, and is recommended reading for serious Third Reich scholars.

Review of “Mister Doctor” by Irène Cohen-Janca, Maurizio A.C. Quarello (Illustrator)

A moving, powerful and beautifully illustrated true story of the Holocaust.

The story of  Doctor Janucz Korczak, the inspirational director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw who selflessly went with his wards to the horror of the gas chambers at Treblinka is quite well known.

All stories of the Holocaust are difficult to convey to a 9-12 year old, however, Irène Cohen-Janca has placed this story of compassion and love amidst the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto compellingly into the view point of one of the orphans that young readers will understand.

The words are greatly enhanced by the excellent illustrations of Maurizio A.C. Quarelloetto and although the subject matter is disturbing the book is very moving and leaves you with a powerful message of humanity and bravery in one of history’s darkest periods