"Write, for when a person dies, a whole library is lost...." (p. xvii)
Vengeance of the Swallows is a personal history of a Polish family from the eastern provinces of Poland. Professor Piotrowski recounts the experiences of the village in which his family lived during the Soviet and Nazi invasion, as well as the reign of terror launched by Ukrainian nationalists upon the Poles with the silent blessing, and sometimes complicity, of the occupiers. The Nazi and Soviet invasions have been covered in historical studies before, but the Ukrainian dimension has seldom been discussed in English language publications.
Piotrowski recounts in detail the cold blooded murder of relatives and friends, and the random burning of village homes in Volhynia, a province of Poland of mixed Polish and Ukrainian population. He examines the Ukrainian alliance with Nazi Germany and criticizes international postwar policy that classified all Ukrainians under the umbrella term of "displaced persons." Technically listed as de facto stateless persons, Ukrainians were allowed to emigrate out of Germany to the United States and elsewhere prior to many displaced Poles, he points out.
This account differs from many other accounts of that kind in that it is a life history that encompasses the entire period of World War II, from the brutalities witnessed in Volhynia through deportation to Germany as forced labor, postwar life in United Nations Displaced Persons camps, subsequent immigration to the United States, and finally, reunion with those family members who survived and who were "repatriated" to Soviet-occupied Poland by the post-war Polish government.
Although the first half of the book dealing with the war will hold the most interest for readers, the full circle of Piotrowski’s journey is well worth contemplating in its entirety. Piotrowski’s preparation for writing a familial autobiography led him to interview several members of the family concerning war and remembrance. Had he not taken the time and effort to collect them, many stories would never have been told. This book is a valuable resource for the study of the Polish experience during World War II and its immediate aftermath, and I believe a great motivator to others whose story has still not been recorded and preserved.
Theresa McGinley is a Professor of History at North Harris County Community College in Houston.