Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Russian Oppression of Poland: William Shirer Vs Eve Curie

I intend to write another blog titled "Writing History Soviet Style" in reaction to a column that appeared in Hindu by Vladimir Radyuhin. Radyuhin writes on Russian issues. His column was about how Western Historians dilute the heroic role of Soviet Union in defeating Hitler. I shall reserve my comments on that for the next blog. However, while trying to gather my thoughts on that subject I reached to William Shirer's masterpiece "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", which, after 40+ years still remains the most concise and most readable account of those years. The longest section of the book is titled "Road to War". Shirer traces the origins of WW-II from several angles, the rise of Hitler, fall of Wiemar republic, appeasements by the Western leaders etc. A critical angle is the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact signed between Hitler and Stalin.

To this day historians continue to quibble whether Stalin was compelled to sign that treaty because France and Britain were busy appeasing Hitler or Stalin just played Chamberlain and Hitler finally choosing to side with Hitler thinking that the Nazi warlord is the more fearful one. The quibbling is because much of Soviet war history papers are still classified. Basically Stalin was negotiating with both Germany on one side and the Franco-British alliance on the other side. With the Franco-British side the biggest point of friction, according to Shirer, was Stalin's demand that Poland should agree to Soviet troops on its soil to stop German troops much before they could reach the borders of Soviet union. Shirer almost portrays Poland as unwilling for this compromise without appreciating the historical nature of the forces that were shaping up. Reading the chapter I thought "If only Poland had compromised".It should be noted here that Shirer, was no professional historian, he was a journalist stationed in Berlin during the 1930's.

As luck would have it I came upon a wonderful book "Madame Curie" by Eve Curie. Good books have a way of beckoning me like the sirens beckoned Ulysses. With no prior knowledge and only out of curiosity I picked it up for 50 cents at an old book store. Later I checked it out and found that the book was by Marie Curie's daughter and is an acclaimed biography. The book was published in 1937. Here is another quirk of mine, I always check the publication date from the cover page, especially for an old book, more so if there is no dated preface or foreword. Eve Curie details life in Poland when Marie Curie grew up in the 1870's. A paragraph starts with a shocking "It was a cruel fate, in the year 1872, to be a pole, a 'Russian subject' ".

Poland was so thoroughly subjugated by Russia that Poles could not even speak or study in Polish. Poland, for all practical reasons, was a colony of Russia (not yet Soviet Russia). Every aspect of their life was deliberately devoid of anything remotely Polish. Not even India as a British colony could stand comparison to Poland under Russia.

I was amazed to learn this part of history, amazed that Shirer did not present this historical backdrop in reporting Poland's refusal to allow Soviet troops on its soil.

Stalin, had his revenge though. While Hitler pummeled Poland from its western side, Stalin plundered it from the east. Sep 1st 1939, when Nazi troops rolled into Poland is recognized as the official beginning of WW-II.Not much is spoken of how Russia too plundered Poland simultaneously. While Hitler was busy occupying France and bombarding Britain, Stalin had a free hand in plundering Eastern Europe. All those states, including Poland would eventually get some semblance of freedom only in 1980's as the decrepit Soviet state imploded. Until then Poland would be behind what Churchill famously characterised as the "Iron Curtain".

[ From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. --- Churchill , March 5, 1946Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri ,

Complete text of that speech]

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