World War II in memoirs & histories

Whilst only a couple of Polish kings have ever been graced with an in-depth study in English, Poland’s Second World War is one subject that is relatively well-covered. Some of the major titles may now be out of print, but the emergence of second-hand websites such as AbeBooks has made tracking them down straightforward.

Two impeccably researched new books, No Greater Ally by Kenneth Koskodan and For Your Freedom and Ours by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud (the latter ostensibly about Poland’s air force but in reality a wide-ranging work covering all the key issues) both make for readable introductions. However, in spite of their many merits, they make no secret of telling the story from a singularly patriotic Polish point of view. For a more dispassionate approach, the writings of Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale, bear much fruit. His book, The Reconstruction of Nations, explores internecine struggles involving Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. For a general overview, Norman Davies’ No Simple Victory sets the Polish experience in the global context.

Memoirs currently in print include Those Who Trespass Against Us, by Karolina Lanckorońska, a professor of art history who worked for the Polish Red Cross and experienced both the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Also recently republished is The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy, by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, an invaluable insight into the Nazis’ Jewish Ghetto.

No longer in print, but easily found on the web, are such classic memoirs as In Allied London, a blow by blow account by Poland’s wartime ambassador in London, Edward Raczyński. Likewise, for the story of Poland’s Free Army in the West, General Anders’ An Army In Exile offers a sturdy introduction. Meanwhile, Zygmunt Klukowski’s utterly extraordinary Diary from the Years of Occupation evokes German resettlement policies in the east, with vivid details of partisan struggles. There are also several first hand accounts of the Uprising, such as Jan Nowak’s Courier from Warsaw and Stefan Korboński’s Fighting Warsaw.

No extensive account of Źegota, the Polish Underground’s Council to Aid Jews, has been published yet in English. However, individual portraits such as Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife were recently released to much acclaim. Meanwhile, for an insight into outbreaks of anti-Semitism in occupied Poland, Jan Gross’s Neighbours was a landmark book, causing much debate in the media.

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