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Rising 44 by Norman Davies

Rising 44 (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Norman Davies

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479732,520 (3.86)6
Title:Rising 44
Authors:Norman Davies
Info:Viking USA (2004), Hardcover, 784 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, war, world war II, ww2list

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Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies (2003)


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What everybody knows about WWII Poland is that the war started there, that there was a revolt in Warsaw, and that the Red Army swept through on its way to Berlin. In this book, Norman Davies explains that there was a lot more going on than that; in particular, that there were two “Warsaw Risings”, the ghetto rising of 1943 (which is usually thought of, in the West at least, as “the” rising) and the Home Army rising of 1944. The book is concerned with the second.

Davies starts with background: the first third of the book discusses the pre-rising situation from the points of view of the Western Allies, the Germans, the Russians, and the Poles themselves. The middle third is the dramatic, tragic story of the Rising itself, and the final third is the even more tragic aftermath, where many Home Army soldiers who had been treated as legitimate POWs by their enemies, the Nazis, were executed or imprisoned by their “friends”, the Soviets.

The background section presents the dilemma of Poland, sandwiched between Germany and the Soviet Union. There’s a map of the Polish state at its greatest extent (in the 16th century), extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea (as an aside, unlike a lot of other histories I’ve been reading, this book has excellent maps), a discussion of the various subsequent trials and tribulations, the victory over the Bolsheviks in 1920, subsequent events, including the German/Soviet partition. Davies acknowledges that Poland was a de facto military dictatorship in 1939 (Soviet apologists have gotten a lot mileage out of that, during and since); however, he doesn’t volunteer that Poland flirted with Hitler, including occupying its own little chunk (400 square miles) of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Davies does not gloss over the considerable anti-Semitism that existed in Poland during the prewar and war years. He’s not particularly apologetic about it, citing Polish claims that Jews enthusiastically welcomed Soviet troops in eastern Poland in 1939, and the astonishing statement that the Stern faction of the Irgun contacted German officials in Turkey and proposed an alliance against England. At the same time Davies acknowledges that, during the rising, some units of the Home Army rounded up and shot Jews who had managed to hide out from the SS in occupied Warsaw for four years. Other units welcomed Jews into their ranks; the Home Army staged a “forlorn hope” frontal assault on the Warsaw transit camp; it was unexpectedly successful and the storming units were amazed to find a formation of Jewish ex-soldiers, emaciated and dirty but lined up in orderly ranks on the camp’s parade ground. An ex-sergeant stepped one pace forward, saluted, and said “Reporting for duty” to his rescuers.

The accounts of the Rising are full of sometimes grim, sometimes touching stories like this. The big questions are: (1) Was the rising coordinated in advance with the Western Allies and Stalin, and (2) Could the Red Army, in sight across the Vistula, have done more to help the rising? Davies answers “Yes” to the first, although his evidence isn’t as good as it possibly could be, and “Yes” to the second, although he acknowledges that Rokossovsky was having more difficulty with German resistance than normally supposed.

Thus most of the supplies air-dropped during the rising came from RAF units based thousands of miles away in southern Italy rather than Soviets across the river. Davies cites the well-known claim that Stalin deliberately allowed the Rising to fail so Poland would be free of potential resistance groups when the Red Army moved in; this makes perfect sense, although evidence for it is surprisingly sparse. In any event, the Home Army held out for two months with what they had and eventually surrendered with military honors.

The aftermath, of course, is ugly. I grew up in the Cold War and was taught that Poland was one of those Communist countries that hated the US. Davies makes no bones about blaming Britain (and, to a lesser extent, the US) for what happened. The British Foreign Office and newspapers were heavily penetrated by Communists and sympathizers, and Poland was dismissed as “ungrateful” and “unreasonable” for expecting the West to intervene against Stalin. Roosevelt comes off as a hopelessly naive dilettante, and Churchill as a Machiavellian pragmatist. In light of all this, it’s pretty amazing that the Poles trust us enough to be the fourth largest contributor of troops to Iraq. It’s also telling that it’s perfectly acceptable - in fact, moderately amusing - to be an ex-Communist in the US or England but utterly damning to be an ex-Nazi; and that almost everybody knows who Himmler and Eichmann were but very few can identify Dzerzhinsky or Beria.

I do have some negatives: Davies is convinced that English speakers won’t be able to deal with Polish names. Thus all the participants are identified by either an Anglicized first name and an initial (“Adam S.”, “Thomas A.”) or by an English translation of the nom de guerre used during the war (General “Boor”, Captain “Butterfly”). Admittedly, it might be hard to keep track of (for example) Zbigniew cibor-Rylski, but it somehow seems to dishonor these people by reducing them to abbreviations. Similarly, Poland is consistently referred to as “The First Ally”, rather than as “Poland”; once or twice would be a good reminder but always is an affectation. Next, Davies is fond of reverse name-dropping: omitting the names of well-known people when describing their actions. Thus you have to check the endnotes to find out that, “an artillery officer in Rokossovsky’s army” who writes a poem about the Red Army is Alexsandr Solzhinetsyn, and an Englishman critical of Communism is Robert Conquest. Although all references are included in the endnotes, there’s no bibliography; since the book has 35 appendices already, it shouldn’t have been that difficult to add another with general reference works and specific books on the Rising. Finally, the index is not very good. However, these don’t detract much from the overall value. It makes me appreciate the first lines of the Polish national anthem: Poland has not yet perished, While we are still alive... ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 17, 2017 |
Fini. Very thorough ( )
  clarkland | Sep 15, 2015 |
Well written and researched. A very depressing piece of history. ( )
  Whiskey3pa | Aug 9, 2014 |
Davies has quite simply created a masterpiece with this one. A long neglected story of the Warsaw Rising and a searing condemnation of the Allies who considered keeping Stalin sweet more important than Polish independence and the people of Warsaw. His knowledge of the subject matter knows no bounds and the excellent use of "capsules" to convey first hand accounts brings the story of the Rising alive.

Before having visited Warsaw in 2009 I was, like many others, only aware of the Ghetto Rising, a tragic but separate event which took place in 1943. However, I had the great fortune of visiting the Warsaw Uprising Museum which made me aware of the tremendous sacrifice of all of the citizens of Warsaw in the face of the Nazis in 1944 and brought about the city's total obliteration. Davies brings the spirit of the museum and the story of the Home Army to modern readers and it is one book that anyone studying resistance movements in the Second World War should study thoroughly. It is a truly phenomenal work. ( )
1 vote twp77 | Apr 27, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143035401, Paperback)

One of the most dramatic and shameful episodes in World War II was the doomed Warsaw uprising of 1944—an uprising that failed because the Allies betrayed it. Now that story comes to its full terrible life in this gripping account by the bestselling historian Norman Davies.

In August 1944, encouraged by the advance of the Red Army, the Polish Resistance poured forty thousand fighters into the streets of Warsaw to reclaim the city from the hated Germans. But Stalin condemned the uprising as a criminal venture. For sixty-three days the Wehrmacht methodically set about crushing the rebellion and destroying the city. Following the battle’s desperate progress through the cellars and sewers of Warsaw, Rising ’44 retrieves its subject from the shadows of history, revealing its pivotal importance to the outcome of World War II and the Cold War that followed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:48 -0400)

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Summary: "In August 1944, Warsaw appeared to present the last major obstacle to the Soviet army's triumphant march from Moscow to Berlin. When the Wehrmacht was pushed back to the Vistula River, the people of Warsaw believed that liberation was at hand. So, too, did the Western leaders. The Polish Resistance poured forty thousand armed fighters into the streets to drive out the hated Germans, but Stalin condemned the Rising as a criminal adventure and refused to cooperate. The Wehrmacht was given time to regroup, and Hitler ordered the city and its inhabitants to be utterly destroyed.""For sixty-three days, the resistance battled the SS and Wehrmacht - in the cellars and sewers. Tens of thousands of defenseless civilians were slaughtered week after week. One by one, the city's districts were reduced to rubble as Soviet troops watched from across the river. Poland's Western allies expressed regret, but decided that there was little to be done. The sacrifice was in vain. Hitler's orders were executed. Poland was not to be allowed to be governed by Poles." "Largely sidelined in history books and often confused with the Ghetto Uprising of 1943, the 1944 Warsaw Rising was a pivotal moment both in the outcome of the Second World War and in the origins of the cold war. Now on the sixtieth anniversary of the Rising, Norman Davies's extraordinary book brings it vividly and movingly to life."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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