Poland’s forgotten heroism and suffering

by THE ECONOMIST

Roger Moorhouse’s history sets the wartime record straight.

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“First to Fight: The Polish War 1939”.  By Roger Moorhouse. Bodley Head; 400 pages; £25.

Everyone agrees that the second world war was seismic. Ask when it started, however, and views differ, revealingly. For Chinese, it was the Japanese attack of July 1937. Soviet and Russian histories mark June 22nd 1941, when the perfidious Nazi invasion began. Britain and France regard the period between the declaration of hostilities in 1939 and May 1940 as the “phoney war”, or drôle de guerre.

But as Roger Moorhouse, a British historian, notes, there was nothing phoney about the war in Poland. The opening five weeks of slaughter were a gory template for the 300 that followed: 200,000 people died, the overwhelming majority of them Poles, and mostly civilians. Poles would be “exposed to every horror that modern conflict could devise”, including indiscriminate aerial bombing, and massacres of civilians and pows.

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