Monday, September 1, 2014

75th Anniversary of the World War II

 Polish Cavalry

Seventy five years ago, on September 1, 1939, a bloodiest war in the history of humanity began with a German attack on an unprepared Poland.

In 1939 Polish Republic was a young country that has re-emerged on the map of Europe in 1918 at the end of the World War I after almost 165 years of partition between Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Russia. 

The war was undeclared yet, but by August 28, 1939, Europe knew that war was inevitable. The non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and Russia was signed only five days earlier. The two powers had already secretly divided the spoils of war that was yet to come. Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Romania were already "assigned" to, either the Russian or the German, spheres of influence. 

While Poland fought its September 1939 battle against the Germans and the Russians who attacked its Eastern borders on September 17, 1939, the Polish pre-war allies France and Great Britain waited uninvolved with the hope that Hitler would be satisfied after taking Poland. They could not have been more wrong. Although the two countries declared a war on Germany on September 3, 1939, their military aid to Poland was very limited.

The Polish expedition was not as easy for Hitler as he expected. Although abandoned by its allies, Poland did not give up without a fight. The small Polish army fought like mad. As a result, Germany sustained a relatively heavy losses in personnel and equipment.

There is a myth that the sabres brandishing Polish cavalry fought German tanks. This isn't quite true. While the cavalry fought bravely in 1939, it constituted only about 10% of the Polish armed forces*. Polish artillery, infantry, navy and the air force were definitely inferior in number and equipment, but not in bravery, determination and boldness. And they fought on two fronts! 

What is not widely known, Poland has never officially surrendered  to Germany. Under the incredibly brutal German occupation, the Polish Army continued to fight underground. Those who managed to cross the border joined other armies to fight against the Nazis. They fought in Battle of Britain, in Narvik, in Tobruk, in Monte Casino, and Normandy.  

Polish government-in-exile that was first based in France and then, from 1940 on, in Great Britain, exerted considerable influence in the Polish underground. Although widely unrecognized and without power, but very dear to many Poles, this government remained in existence until the end of the communist rule over Poland in 1990. 

The biggest tragedy of all was that at the end of the most atrocious war ever Poland was abandoned one more time. A decision was made at the conference of Yalta in February 1945 that offered the war exhausted Poland on a silver platter to the blood-thirsty Stalin.

Generation after generation asked the same question: Could have the outbreak of World War II been prevented? Historians argue that just like the Yalta conference in 1945 created the necessary conditions for the outbreak of the Cold War, so the Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919 after the end of the Great War created conditions for the German belligerence and re-militarization. Looking back in time we wonder why the Nazis were not contained in 1933. Why was Europe so indifferent to the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938? Why no one was alarmed at the union of Germany with Austria in the same year?

The Nazis did not hide their ideology. They openly proclaimed their racial superiority and their wish for Greater Germany. And yet, no one really took them seriously. No one really seemed to understand the perils of the ideology that was taking root in the minds of millions of Germans.

Seventy five years later we are unwilling to face another threat. The new threat is  geographically so remote and ideologically so improbable that we seem to collectively ignore it. Those who warn us about the imminent danger are dismissed as alarmists. Once again great lessons that history has taught us remain under a thick cover of dust. Alas.

But maybe we should pay attention to the wise words of an American playwright, Eugene O'Neill: There is no present or future - only the past, happening over and over again.
By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2014


Image source: world wide web

Note: *Seidner, "Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz - Rydz and the defense of Poland" p. 289–91