Andrzej Nowak, Ph.D.; ISBN 978-83-7553-290-6
Reviewed by: Chris M. Zawitkowski
The Armistice of 1918 ending the Great War, or WW1 as we call it to differentiate it from WW2, brought great relief to the war-weary populace of Europe. Some people of formerly captive nations were hoping for a restoration of their national statehood which they finally won; others received the war’s end with grief and anger – and a very strong desire for revenge.
A professor of the ancient Jagiellonian University, Dr. Andrzej Nowak, provides an in-depth analysis of the events leading up to the war as well as those accompanying its conclusion. Dr. Nowak, a well-known historian, Sovietologist, who spoke on many occasions at American scholarly and academic forums, provides us with this invaluable compendium, a result of his extensive research, presenting a cornucopia of valuable information including pictures, detailed descriptions, and facts. In exceptionally elegant language, he guides the readers through two centuries of events, which inevitably leads them to draw their conclusions. All this without bias and without presenting his own opinions as facts, but by presenting researched facts. In this rearmost talent of bringing many events together, Dr. Nowak helps the reader understand what was happening in East-Central Europe between Tsarist/Soviet Russia and their “Near-Abroad” neighboring countries, as Putinites call it today.
Dr. Nowak describes all the players involved during that period with special emphasis on the most influential figure of the region, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the unquestionable leader of Poles and other captive nations, as well as Vladimir Lenin, his opponent.
Dr. Andrzej Nowak enlightens us with historical facts, showing how the animosities between Russians and Poles grew into the cessation of Polish statehood and the progressing shrinking of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (page 150-151). Further, Dr. Nowak proves beyond doubt, that conflict between Soviet Russia and the new, Second Republic of Poland was a classic conflict of two civilizations – Latin and Turonian. Should we superimpose his detection process on more recent events, we may find the conflict between the USA and Russia as imminent as it was between Poland and Russia at the time. Dr. Nowak shows on one side democracy, freedom, and individual property rights vs. absolutism, the gulag system, and a country where everything belonged to the tsars. Tsarist Russia took 82% of Poland’s territory (with 11% Austria, and 7%, Prussia taking the rest) during the partition period. Later, in 1815, the Vienna Congress established a reduced-size puppet country, the Kingdom of Poland, with Russian tsars as its kings. Polish thinkers envisioned the switch from “white tsarism” to the “red, communist system” long before Lenin and Trotsky.
Indeed, writes the author, the Soviets were engaged in their domestic war with “White Russia”, led by former army generals (Denikin, Wrangel), so Russia had to humbly accept the humiliating and defeating peace accords with Germany in WW1.
Poles didn’t wait any longer and seized the moment. After three uprisings, left practically without any support from Entente allies, they took up the initiative, led by the charismatic leader Marshal Józef Piłsudski, sustained by the rural activist, Witos, and defended in the salons of Europe by the National Democrat, Dmowski. An entire nation rose against the invading Soviet Red Army under the skillful command of General Mikhail Tukhachevsky who attacked from the North (Belarus), and General Semyon Budyonny (Joseph Stalin was his political commissar) from the South (Ukraine). The Soviet troops were given an order by Tukhachevsky: “over the remains of the dead bastard Poland, march with the revolution onwards to Western Europe!” The entire Soviet Politburo (Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, and Stalin) supported this war with the hope of exporting the communist revolution to the West. Earlier, the communists annulled the 18th century partitions of Poland, but they planned to make Poland the 16th Soviet Republic, with Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka (predecessor of the KGB) as one of the executives.
Dr. Nowak painstakingly searched through Red Army archives (during Yeltsin’s times), as well as British and American archives, only to disclose how the abandoned Poles fought their way to freedom. President Wilson, although he was for resurrecting the Polish state, was at the same time “handing over” territories to the Soviets that were never Russian, even under the earlier partitions’ accords. (The Soviets took them anyway after WW2). The UK was openly favoring the Soviets over the Poles; only France sold arms to Poland. The small and reduced-in-size Kingdom of Hungary sent ammunitions to Poland or rather smuggled them across Romania, since Czechoslovakia refused to cooperate and was taking advantage of the dynamic situation by securing disputed territories with mixed Polish-Czech population.
When a team of Polish cryptologists broke the Soviet codes, and when they fooled them by sending a text of the Bible over their military channels, later by regrouping troops, and fitting them anew in fresh uniforms and providing new arms, the commander of the Poles swiftly seized the moment over the Russians. When the enthusiasm of young Poles, their determination and will to defend the homeland prevailed over intruders who were driven by greed, looting, and alcohol – victory was imminent. Experts considered this Battle of Warsaw (August 16, 1920, later called “The Miracle of the Vistula”) as one of the 18 most important battles of history. Soon, the second Battle of Grodno was won by the Poles, and the third Battle of Komarowo against Budyonny (and Stalin) forced Lenin to ask Piłsudski for peace.
After six years of war (in WW1 around 600,000 unwilling Polish conscripts were killed as subjects of the three partitioning giants) Poland was completely exhausted. The peace accords were signed in Riga, Latvia, on March 18, 1921. Under the provisions of the treaty, Russia was to surrender works of art and other Polish national treasures taken over from Polish territories after 1772, paying 59 million rubles in gold, and granting Poles on Soviet territories cultural, language, and ethnic privileges. The new border was established as proposed by the Poles. This situation lasted until September 17, 1939, when the Soviets violated the treaty and broke other agreements signed with Poland by invading her per the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, (an agreement between Adolph Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union). This new Pact resulted in the cessation of the Polish state again, implementing German-Soviet aggression on Poland at the beginning of WW2. The rest is well known.
Beyond any doubt, Dr. Nowak shows the Soviet-Polish War of 1919-1920 as the battle for Europe. He reaches deep into the sources of that victory. On the other hand, he shows the betrayal of the Entente Cordiale countries with the United States playing a supporting désintéresment.
Finally, Andrzej Nowak tells us that the Treaty of Riga didn’t put a stop to the atrocities. The war for national memory continued and continues. Russia still has a totalitarian system, and Putin’s regime still wants to overturn what was already countermanded. The Putinites want to re-write history in Orwellian style, not having learned from history. In any event, they do not consider it necessary to establish a friendly relationship with its neighbor, Poland.
Case in point, as one of their main holidays, a few years ago the Russians established a commemoration of the 16th-century departure of a Polish volunteers’ garrison from the Kremlin after their occupation in support of the tsar-usurper. In contrast, the anniversary of the Battle of Kulikowe Pole, ending centuries-long humiliating Tartar occupation of the Grand Duchy of Moscow isn’t as important as the end of this Polish presence in Moscow.
Despite poor American support, it is worth to notice Dr. Nowak’s mentioning Americans helping Poland. The future director of the film King Kong (1933), Merian C. Cooper, founder of the Kosciuszko Squadron of American pilots was one of the volunteers who flew many times in the Soviet-Polish War, significantly sustaining Poland’s war efforts. Hopefully, the book is going to be translated into English to enrich our knowledge of the Soviets/Russians.
Dr. Nowak emphasizes the participation of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Latvians, and Russians (Savinkov’s Legion) in the war led by Piłsudski, the real creator and promoter of the Intermarium, known today also as the “3-Seas Initiative.” Estonians, Latvians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians didn’t fully understand the benefits of such an arrangement, but they undoubtedly benefitted from this Polish victory. Otherwise, the Baltic States wouldn’t have existed before WW2.
It is also worth mentioning the many illustrations, maps, and graphs, which enrich this publication. Finally, Dr. Nowak included close to 50 wartime photos taken by captain Paulo da Silva, a highly decorated hero of the Soviet-Polish War of 1920. Like most of the officers, the WW2 POWs in the Soviet Union that fought in that war, da Silva’s life ended in Katyń by a shot in the back of his head.
To this day, Russians haven’t forgotten or forgiven the Poles for the humiliating defeat.
One would wish this book were published in English!