A Question of Honor
by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud
In this book the authors debunk a number of strongly held myths concerning Poland and her role in WWII. The story is told through the actions of several Polish airmen who served with the RAF in the Battle of Briton but the actions of other Poles both military and non-military aren’t neglected. If you read this I am convinced your opinion of Poland and the Polish role in WWII will be profoundly altered. They say history is written by the victors and in this case Russia triumphed once again over Poland. Poland has been portrayed as at best a pitiful backward victim and at worst a mere footnote in this war. Some of the key facts the authors bring to light:
• Polish airmen in the Battle of Briton were the true “air aces” at times accounting for 30-40% of the downed German planes. Queen Elizabeth II “If Poland had not stood with us in those days…the candle of freedom would have been snuffed out”.
• The Polish military men who left Poland (and there were 100,000 of them) after the Nazi defeat in 1939 traveled thousands of miles to get to the Allied lines. Typical travel stories had these men going through Rumania, down to the Mediterranean and then into North Africa before arriving in England or Free France.
• The Poles never stopped fighting the Nazis. The Polish resistance forces were deemed the most effective by Allied HQ. No other country in Europe suffered, proportionally more damage and casualties in the war. Poland lost 20% of its population v. 11% for Russia, 7% for Germany and less than 1% for US and Britain.
• When people refer to the cities of Europe devastated in the war – London, Dresden, Coventry, and Hamburg, no one ever mentions Warsaw which was leveled when the Poles revolted against the Nazis in 1944-45. An uprising totally unsupported by any Allied help.
• Polish spies obtained the Germans’ Enigma coding machine and Polish cryptographers helped break the ciphers. This wasn’t revealed until the 1970s.
• The Free Polish Army under Allied command was the 4th largest armed force (US, Britain, Russia) on the Allied side. Larger than the Free French Army! They played prominent roles in several Allied campaigns
I could go on with this list but don’t want this review to be too long. This book despite the facts crammed into it reads very well. Individual acts of bravery and valor are juxtaposed with events at the national level. The time period where the Polish airmen were “the Glamour Boys” of England is a great period piece. The first two thirds of the book are inspiring and a fun read as new revelations about Polish military feats are presented. The last third of the book where Poland is excluded and betrayed by the Allies in the post war decisions made at Teheran and Yalta was a harder read for me. The Allies (Britian, US and Russia) insisted that France have an equal share in the post war decisions but excluded the Poles despite their many contributions to the Allied victory. The irony!! Poland who fought to the end sold out and France who barely fielded an army rewarded, ugh. The last comment I’d make is the strong character, loyalty and love of country of the Poles is an integral and moving part of this story.