Zaglada Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej, 1945-1947

By Aleksander Jan Gella. Warsaw. Agencja Wydawnicza CB. 1998. 236 pages. Illustrations, index.

Anna M. Cienciala

Aleksander Gella, b. Lwów 1922, is a former soldier of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army), a sociologist educated in Poland and teaching at SUNY, Buffalo, since 1970, and a senior associate fellow of St. Anthony's College, Oxford. He has many publications to his credit, the most recent ones focusing on the phenomenon of the intelligentsia in first world countries. He is the recipient of several awards for his work.[1] In the book under review, he writes about the anticommunist underground leaders, their aims and fate in the immediate post-World War II period. His declared aim is to make sure the last heroes of the Second Polish Republic will live with honor in the memory their countrymen. The book is useful because it contains many documents that the average interested Polish reader may find hard to find, but this is counterbalanced by the author's intemperate statements and judgments, and by his misinterpretations of history both within and outside his chosen period.

Gella is right in claiming that the destruction of the Polish Underground State still awaits a comprehensive study [2], though he acknowledges throughout the book some works and collections of documents published in the last few years. However, these publications do not diminish his anger against Polish postcommunist governments. His grievances against them are stated right at the outset. He faults them for not acknowledging the fact that the Second Republic did not end with the catastrophe of 1939. He blames the participants in the Roundtable talks between Solidarity and the communist government (February-April 1989) for ignoring this historical truth. In his view, this negligence put the talks on the same level as that represented by the Polish Workers' Party (PPR) established by the Soviets, Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), and Stalin. He then makes a suggestion that this omission was partly due to the desire, on the communist side in the talks, to exclude Polish emigrants and their children from playing too important a role in the Third Republic. In his view, the Roundtable winners should have honored some living representatives of the armed forces in the West, or the Home Army, or leaders of the Underground State, with at least symbolic posts in the new government. [3] At the end of the book, he claims that the government ignored the Congress of Polish Combatants held in Warsaw in 1992, while the combatants felt as if they were in a foreign city.[4] He also condemns the present Polish political elite, whom he sees not as members of the traditional Polish intelligentsia, which included the officer corps of the Home Army and the Polish armed forces in the West, but as the descendants of power hungry "Commandos" who later entered the structures of Solidarity. He condemns all these new leaders, also former "nomenclature cynics," for their embrace of "bandit capi talism," for the lack of de-communization, the chaos in social services, especially hospitals, and disregard for ecological rights. He also attacks the present Polish assumption that Poland is more secure than ever before in its history. To counter this view, he cites a memorandum titled "German Hegemony in Europe," allegedly submitted by a body called "The Council of Free Germany" to the United States government in November 1990, as proof of the German aim to retake Polish Pomerania (Pomorze) and Silesia. He does not explain how he secured this memorandum, nor what the U.S. government reaction was, if any. Finally, he claims that without rebuilding the "state ethos" of the Second Republic, Poland's chances of survival among the free nations are negligible, while the chances of her dissolution in a multilingual "Europe without fatherlands" are increasing all the time.[5]

To say that Gella's ideological views are strange is an understatement. He also interprets history to suit his purpose. He writes that "neither Polish propaganda, nor any Western source of information, nor any individual historian of World War II emphasizes the fact that without the Polish armed effort, the fate of Europe would have been total catastrophe."[6] It is true that Poland's isolated battle with Germany in September 1939 won time for her western allies, France and Britain, of which only the latter made good use by producing 600 fighter planes per month. But it is impossible to prove that if Poland had agreed to Hitler's demands, he would have succeeded in invading Britain in the fall of 1939, assuming of course the collapse of France in the same space of five weeks as in 1940. Another possibility would have been a Franco-British, or at least British peace with Hitler by recognizing his conquests, a peace that some members of the British Cabinet, particularly Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, favored after the fall of France. Such a peace in either 1939 or 1940 might have led Hitler to attack the USSR. In sum, Poland's contribution to allied victory deserves much more recognition than is the case so far, but to claim that Poland saved Europe from catastrophe borders on megalomania.

Gella continues to distort history by saying that England owed her salvation above all to the fact that she succeeded in "persuading" Poland to (a) reject Hitler's offers of cooperation; (b) reject his territorial demands, and (c) accept British guarantees. [7] In reality, no Polish government could have accepted cooperation with Hitler along with his territorial demands without being overthrown. Also, both Józef Pilsudski and Józef Beck had been trying for years to secure British support for Poland, so Beck did not hesitate to accept the British offer to guarantee Polish independence. Furthermore, Beck could not secure a British guarantee of aid for Poland against any other country than Germany, because the British Cabinet deliberately excluded the USSR from the guarantee, keeping open the possibility of an Anglo-Soviet alliance against Hitler. Negotiations for such an alliance, including France, took place between early May and late August 1939, but Stalin chose to align with Nazi Germany. Therefore, Beck cannot be blamed for not securing a guarantee against both German and Soviet aggression. [8] Finally, as far as France is concerned, General Gamelin's decision not to launch an offensive against Germany in order to help Poland--as France was obligated to do by the military agreements of May 1939--was not motivated by the desire to save French strength when it was clear that Poland could not withstand the German onslaught. In fact, the French High Command never intended to launch such an offensive. As Gamelin admitted at the first meeting of the Supreme Allied War Council on September 12, he would not change his strategy even if the Poles held out for two or three months because he saw their role as winning time for the allies to prepare for the German attack in the West.[9]

Gella favors a conspiratorial theory of history in attributing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policy toward Poland to the "communist penetration of America," especially by the Communist Party of the USA. He includes Secretary of State Cordell Hull (not ambassador as the author describes him), among American "liberal leftists and crypto-communists," and cites a map of the postwar world with explanatory text, as published in Philadelphia in 1942. It shows most of the globe in red. [10] He sees the United States and the Soviet Union as dividing the world in a "Vodka-Cola" deal. [11] In fact, Roosevelt's policy of writing off Eastern Europe was most likely motivated not by communist influence--although there were American spies in high places reporting to the USSR--but by his perception that this was needed to keep the Soviets in the war and to secure their later help against Japan. He was also confident of moderating Soviet policy in Eastern Europe through his powers of persuasion with Stalin and by having the USSR as a member of the United Nations, though he began to have doubts shortly before his death. [12] As for Truman, at first he tried to continue Roosevelt's policy of friendship with Moscow, but switched in March 1947 to a policy of containing the USSR known as the "Truman Doctrine," which heralded the beginning of the Cold War.

As far as repression in Poland is concerned, Gella cites Stefan Pelczynski's figures that 200,000 people were murdered by the NKVD and Red Army in 1944-45, and that some 400,000 were in prison in 1952.[13] The first figures may never be verified, but recently opened archives of the Ministry of Public Security (Ministerstwo Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego, or MBP) show the prison numbers were lower. Thus, on January 1, 1948, there were 26,400 political prisoners, and in mid-1950, they numbered 32,200. [14]

Gella's book, ostensibly dealing with the liquidation of the Polish Underground State, includes a chapter on the British government's dissolution of the Polish armed forces after the war. Chapter 6 is titled: "Pozbycie sie Polskich Sil Zbrojnych przez Brytyjski Rzad Jego Królewskiej Mosci" (How His Majesty's British Government Got Rid of the Polish Armed Forces). The author views the setting up of the "Polish Resettlement Corps" as another act of gross betrayal by Poland's ally Britain. However, it is difficult to see what else the British government could have done with the Polish soldiers who did not wish to return to Poland--which they were not forced to do. As it was, the soldiers who did not choose to emigrate elsewhere were housed, fed and trained for new jobs at British expense. Gella condemns general Wladyslaw Anders and other Polish generals for not opposing the PRC. He believes they should have kept the armed forces in one place and ordered them to mutiny, claiming this would have forced the British government to intern them, which in turn, would have been a means of Polish émigré pressure on the policies of the allies in the years 1945-47. He also thinks the mutiny could have been used by the British government as leverage to secure free elections in Poland.[15] Leaving aside the fact that most of the Polish soldiers in the PRC accepted their fate and thus were unlikely to mutiny, the author's speculation about British policy is not supported by any evidence whatever. There is an earlier study of the PRC, based on Foreign Office documents, which presents a more balanced picture of British policy and the problems it faced in dealing with Polish war veterans.[16]

The "state ethos" or patriotism of the Poles in the Second Republic was certainly admirable, and was expressed in the determination of the last resisters, most of whom were arrested and imprisoned by the Soviet-imposed post-World War II Polish government. Some were condemned to death in rigged trials and executed. Some of the leaders of one of the last underground organizations, WIN (Wolnosç i Niezawislosç, or Freedom and Independence), gathered documentary evidence on alleged Soviet plans to conquer the world and passed it on to the West, but it is doubtful that these reports had any impact on Western leaders. In any case, when arrested (possibly under torture), such WiN leaders as Col. Jan Rzepecki and Col. Jan Mazurkiewicz gave information about others to the U. B. (Security Office) and appealed for all resisters to reveal themselves and accept amnesty. [17] The fact is that most Poles were exhausted and pinned their hopes to the free elections promised in the Yalta agreements, expecting the victory of Stanislaw Mikolajczyk's Peasant Party, the largest political party in Poland after World War II. But the communists rigged the elections and Mikolajczyk fled the country, after which terror increased and lasted until 1955.

Gella claims that the traditional role of the Polish intelligentsia as leaders of society ended with the last resistance heroes of the Second Republic in 1947. He does not recognize the role of the Polish intelligentsia in the ranks of the Committee for the Defense of Workers (KOR) in 1976-81, in underground Solidarity and in the underground "civic society" in the years 1982-89.

Finally, one may ask whether the "state ethos" of the Second Republic can be recreated in today's Poland? This seems rather unlikely, unless Polish independence is threatened again. Indeed, this type of self-sacrificing patriotism can be expected of only a minority in any given society, and only in situations of extreme danger and duress which is not the situation in Poland today. In conclusion, the heroic resisters of 1945-47 should certainly be given their rightful place in Polish memory, but they deserve a more balanced advocacy than they receive in this book.


1. See Gella's biography in Who's Who in Polish America, lst ed. (New York, 1996), 123-124.

2. Gella, 14.

3. Ibid., 11.

4. Ibid., 211.

5. Ibid., 213-220.

6. Ibid., p. 17, par. 3.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., 32. On British and French policy toward Poland in 1939, see Anna M. Cienciala, "Poland in British and French Policy in 1939: Determination to Fight or Avoid War?" Polish Review, 34:3 (1989), 199-226; or Cienciala, "Polska w polityce Wielkiej Brytanii w przededniu wybuchu II wojny swiatowej," Kwartalnik Historyczny, 47:1-2 (1990), 79-102.

9. Gella on Gamelin, p. 13; for Gamelin's statement of September 12, 1939, see Cienciala's articles above.

10. Gella, p. 23, 26, 27, and annex 1 for the map and text.

11. Gella, p. 47: the name is taken from a book by Ch. Levinson, ibid., note 19; see also p. 63.

12. A good general account and analysis of Roosevelt's foreign policy can be found in Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945 (New York: Oxford, 1979). See also Anna M. Cienciala, "Great Britain and Poland Before and After Yalta (1943-1945): A Reassessment," Polish Review, 40:3 (1995), 281-31; and William Larsh, "Yalta and the American Approach to Free Elections in Poland," ibid., 267-280.

13. Gella, p. 105 and note 11 ibid.

14. Figures cited by Andrzej Paczkowski, Pól wieku dziejów Polski 1939-1989 (Warsaw, 1995), 259. This work, written as a textbook, does not have notes, but the author was one of the first to read MBP archival documents.

15. Gella, 205-6.

16. See Keith Sword with Norman Davies and Jan Ciechanowski, The Formation of the Polish Community in Great Britain, 1939-50 (London, 1989), 245-55.

17. For a listing of various opposition groups, including WiN, and their fate, see Paczkowski, Pól Wieku, 177-81.

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