A sympathetic delineation of one of the grimmest chapters in a savage war.
Though neither a World War II scholar nor military expert, Richie (Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin, 1998) has the advantages of living in Warsaw and familiarity with the location and resources—e.g., a collection of underground newspapers from the war years. As a result, her work exploring what she considers a largely unexposed episode at war’s end—not to be confused with the suicidal Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943—remains engrossing despite the nearly unreadable catalog of horrors inflicted on the victims. The Polish people had been resisting German occupation since the first bombing and invasion in September 1939. Early on, Soviet collusion with Germany in carving up the country left Poles wary of any collaboration, which would have crucial consequences in the summer of 1944, when communication between the Polish and the approaching Soviets might have helped bolster a defense of the city. By June 1944, the Soviets had launched Operation Bagration, creating havoc for the German Army Group Centre and causing nearly half a million casualties. To everyone’s amazement, the Germans began to withdraw from Warsaw until the assassination attempt on Hitler in July, which shook his trust in his generals and elevated Heinrich Himmler and his minions. Warsaw was declared a “fortress city,” to be held at all costs, and a stunning German counteroffensive, engineered by Field Marshal Walter Model, pushed the Soviets out just as the Polish underground army gave the fateful signal to start the uprising. The consequences for Poles and their city were devastating and complete, what the author calls “a Polish Götterdämmerung which would play out before an indifferent world.”
A massively researched, profoundly unsettling work revealing how the battle for Warsaw exposed the perfidy of East and West alike.