Long Shadows of War - Poland and World War II

Just as August will always be remembered as "Polish August" or the month of the Warsaw Uprising, as well as the month when Solidarity was born, the month of September will be associated sadly with the beginning of World War II in Poland.

Some may say that since it is more than 60 years after the war, it is time to forget. I agree, at least in part: we should not point fingers at Germany again and again. I also agree that we Poles have a tendency to remember and re-analyze the past over and over again. We are sometimes rightly accused that we do not live in the present or look to the future; therefore, we do not progress as much as we should! But to remember the anniversary of World War II is not just to evoke the past, it is also to make sure that the past will not be repeated in the future. Germany is a different country now than it was 60 years ago. It went through a period of separation and a difficult reunification. Germany is one of the strongest forces for European integration at the present time.

The process of healing the wounds with Russia over its part in the partitioning of Poland after WW II will take more time, especially since we could not discuss it during the years under communism. Russia in its new form, not as the Soviet Union, has not confronted the past. Russia still carefully protects its image as a nation fighting bravely in anti-Hitler coalition ignoring its role as German ally before it was attacked in 1941. It also tries to justify its attack into Poland. Many Russians still praise Stalin because he created a Soviet empire in spite of killing millions. Russians do not accept in their minds that more Soviet people were killed by their own system that by any outside invasion during the war.

I was born after the war, but I still lived in its shadow since my parents and grandparents had vivid memories of the war. I believe that the war experience of my parents' generation gave me as well as many other Europeans a total disgust for war as a tool to solve any problems. This is perhaps one of the main reasons for the present difference in opinion between Europeans and Americans about how to solve the world's problems. If people had to go through the reality of war and fear of losing their life, or having their possessions lost in an air strike, they would be less inclined to do the same to others. I sometimes think that the fact that the USA has not really experienced war on its own ground since the Civil War has made people unable to understand WAR REALITY. Yes, there is a war with Iraq, but this is a kind of virtual unreal war, too far away to worry about.

I was less than five years old when my older brother teased me that war would start on my fifth birthday. I am not sure what his intentions were, he was just a boy a couple of years older than me and liked to scare his baby sister. I had to be thinking about what he said because I still remember my fifth birthday sadly because of the thought that somehow a war could start. In the kindergarten that I attended, all the children, but especially the boys, were playing war. Every child was playing a character from the popular TV series entitled "Four Tank Men and a Dog" (in Polish: "Czterej pancerni i pies"). This series depicted a Polish tank squad as part of the Polish forces associated with the Soviet army that liberated Poland from German Nazi occupation.

Times have changed. My daughter who is just over 5 has no idea what war is, although she knows how to change CD and DVD disks or play a game on the personal computer. She knows how to operate all these gadgets that did not even exist when we were children in 1960s. WWII started on September 1, 1939. September 1 is also the day when children in Poland officially inaugurate a new school year. I still remember the poster hanging in my classroom depicting children going to school with their backpacks and the Nazi airplanes striking at them. Although this poster was not factually correct, since no child went to school on September 1 1939 since the nation was preparing for the war it strangely interwove both events. So, the beginning of the school year for us was also the remembrance of the beginning of the war.

In the next couple of articles I will try to show the war from the perspective of my family and other Polish people from the area of Poland where they lived. This was not a typical all-Polish region, so the memories will be a bit unusual. Please, check out the next month Baba Jaga corner for more. Read the follow-up article Different War in Different Parts of Poland and the fragments from the memoirs of my uncle On the Wrong Site of the Frontline.
copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
June 2005

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here

check all the articles in Baba Jaga Column

Polish History and World War II - selection of articles
Among them Images of War - Graphics of Poland's WW II Suffering and World War II in Poland, its Impact on Everyday Life; Personal Perspective

I recommend

The overview of Polish history which was written by Adam Zamoyski and is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture

I recommend also

Poland & Poles in World War II - Books' Selection

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