SATAN V HITLER   Leave a comment

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Bullet-ridden slogan, FYR Macedonia, on the road to Belgrade 2000 ©JKorowicz

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In war we grow up quickly. In war, time appears to last longer. Moments can last a lifetime. So too can careers be made in a single moment; for war is an opportunity for the quick-witted. Advancements and promotions happen more quickly and unexpectedly in the blaze of battle than in the slow meandering predictability of peacetime. War in a paradoxical way makes things less complicated. There we are offered life in black and white. We prioritize through the necessity of self-preservation and scorn indecision and long term planning. The chaos of change finds unexpected rulers. And in the twilight of war, a prospective ruler has, in order to move from the military to the political, only to paint himself a ‘freedom-fighter’ and let the blackened image of his defeated enemy serve to contrast the radiance of his own brightness. Hitler was that moral foil. He has remained the dark touchstone of European politics for over seventy years now and shall remain that way for much time to come. He is the sunless end of the dark spectrum but it is difficult to find an answer why. Did he kill more than any other leader? Did he cause more suffering? Was he crueller? Madder? Less human than any other? The prosaic answer is probably not. Comrade Stalin and Chairman Mao can be accused of wiping out more of their own populations than Hitler killed enemies (as unpalatable as such blood algebra is to their respective victims). Cruelty has no bar, and even Hitler’s xenophobia and race-baiting have seen analogies in countless less ‘meaningful’ clashes from Rwanda to Yugoslavia, Darfur to Dili. What makes Hitler special is not his spectacular brutality but the unanimous recognition of him, by the Giants of Yalta, as the most brutal, the greatest evil. In moral terms the Pandora’s Box that was opened during World War II needed to be closed again and the denigration of Hitler absolved many sins which weren’t only his. Hitler became, somewhat bizarrely, a continent’s scapegoat. Anti-Semitism, ultra nationalism, authoritarianism, and mystical and science-fiction politics were prevalent throughout Europe in the twenties and thirties. That fact is often conveniently forgotten by European nations who are brought up convinced that they were victims, those who ultimately defeated Hitler. Hitler equals evil. They are therefore the divinely-ordained custodians of moral rectitude. Quod erat demonstrandum.

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The moustache and raised arm are instant symbols of tyranny. Protesting George W Bush’s visit to Uruguay, Montevideo 2007. ©JKorowicz

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This nervous gloss on history may have been a psychological necessity, a way of burying the dark deeds of humanity in the ceremonial cremation of a symbolical incarnation of those deeds. Perhaps it reflected an aspiration to be simply better people, by putting what was ‘too much’ behind them. However, those who leap-fogged to power in the wake of World War II, would rule with remarkable longevity, in East and West, under Soviet tutelage, under American protection, or as independent islands of authoritarianism. And their rule was built upon a cracked plinth of treachery and wishful thinking.

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Great Satan, former US Embassy/’US Den of Espionage’, Tehran. © JKorowicz

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Western politics decry the deliberate indoctrination of free peoples by state-sponsored ideas. Propaganda is a dirty tool left to Goebbels and the Communists. And yet the illusion of an absence of propaganda in a liberal society can be as dangerous as the obvious existence of propaganda in a restrictive society. The West may disingenuously belittle the propaganda of the Iranian revolution or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as though it were devoid of its own propagandas. As though the internet precludes dictatorships, and the sins of our rulers have evolved into minor ones. When a Revolutionary Guard, asked his opinion of America’s intentions in the Middle East, decries Great Satan’s meddling, we see this biblical invocation as a schoolboy production of an infantile propaganda. As though we are punishing the country’s rulers for their lack of tact, rather than the repression beneath which their tactlessness fails to hide. And yet the only difference between us is that we, in the West, have moved from the Religion of the Ideal to the Religion of the Real in order to dress our grand designs and ignoble intentions. When we are confronted by an enemy, we don’t call him Satan, we call him Hitler. Quod erat demonstrandum.

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MY LIFE IN THE RED ARMY   Leave a comment

 Alfred Kornreich

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Fredek (full name Alfred Kornreich, but sometimes Fredzió: Polish is a language with many pet derivatives) was the son of my grandfather Henryk’s brother Matteusz. The photo above shows him after the events here described as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Armoured Regiment “Skorpion” of the Polish Second Corp, which had been formed from Polish prisoners-of-war and deportees held in Soviet territory in 1941-42. How joining up with a regiment which, after a perilous exodus from Soviet territory and a stint guarding Iraqi oil fields, would go on to fight with ultimate success but deadly attrition at Monte Cassino, the Battles of Ancona, Cesano, and Bologna, could be viewed at one time as salvation for the young officer is the subject of the following history.  

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The Sikorski-Mayski Agreement which facilitated the recruitment of Polish units on Soviet territory would save Fredek from execution for deserting the Red Army.

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A native of Cracow, Fredek was twenty years old when the Second World War began. He managed to leave German-occupied Poland, where he was studying law at the Jagiellonian University, and reach Soviet-occupied Lwów where his knowledge of auto mechanics (he could drive a car) landed him a job at a factory. There, he thought he had been spared the enforced Soviet deportation which awaited all those who had come from the western German-controlled zone, as, he would later recall, in Communist eyes ‘they were considered “unreliable” or simply suspect‘. Unfortunately for Fredek, he, like many other Polish citizens of varied ethnicities, was drafted into the Soviet Red Army. He had quite an experience and after the war when he had moved to America he wrote a book about his adventures, My Life in the Red Army. My father Wojtek didn’t read Fredek’s book until much later, but would recall when he was in London, just after the war, reading a review of it in the Polish Catholic Press. There a somewhat sanctimonious reviewer wrote disapprovingly, rebuking Fredek for being more interested in wooing women than informing the world about the moral degeneracy of the Soviets. Although Wojtek would have little doubt that people like Fredek did more to rid the world of dictatorships than that reviewer.

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Fredek Kornreich

Fifteen year old Fredek in 1935.

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As a Pole, caught in Russian-controlled territory in 1940, it was difficult for Fredek to decide what was best: to be sent to a labour camp or to fight for the ‘glorious’ Red Army. A prison camp or a military camp. The Soviet officers told their new ‘recruits’, in Lwów, that, coming from capitalist Poland, they would be amazed and honoured to join the ‘only democratic army in the world!’ Fredek took it with a stoic pinch of salt although it wasn’t easy. He was shot at, wounded, half-starved, almost had his legs unnecessarily amputated, and ultimately ended up deserting the Red Army and joining the reconstituted Polish Army (General Anders’ Army was formed following the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement from Polish prisoners-of-war on Soviet territory who had not yet succumbed to the executioner’s bullet or the Gulag’s workload and privations). He had the secret police on his trail and memorably describes standing at a Soviet train station, on crutches, up to his knees in snow and mud, and seeing his own face on NKVD Wanted posters.  Fredek’s salvation from being shot as a deserter was the formation of Anders’ Army and, a fugitive from Soviet justice, he enthusiastically enlisted at a reception centre in Jangi Yul, Uzbekistan. He would end up fighting with the Polish II Corp’s 4th Armoured Regiment at the Battle of Monte Casino where he was to distinguish himself, leading a tank unit up Mass Albaneta.

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Monument to the Polish 4th Armoured Regiment “Skorpion” (Fredek was a Second Lieutenant), erected from the shell of a mine-destroyed Sherman tank, in which the regiment’s first casualties fell during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

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Years later, when I tracked down the original 1949 edition of Fredek’s book, my father read it for the first time with relish, comparing it to an up-dated version of The Good Soldier Šwejk, the Czech writer Jaroslaw Hašek’s satire on the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War. But it couldn’t have been that funny to live through. Perhaps, humour or mental instability were indeed effective tools in helping to increase the odds of coming out of those things alive. Fredek was a forced conscript in the Soviet Army, fighting for a cause he despised against an enemy he despised even more. The moral dilemma he faced, as a Pole, in fighting for the Russians was one of a myriad of moral wars which the millions of representatives of ‘smaller nations’ and ethnic minorities  experienced during the war. To understand the vulnerability of nationhood at the time makes it clear in the maze of conflicts which formed the war, why there were Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian, or Baltic contingents within the German advance on Russia. Why Finland joined the attack on Russia. This was a time when the cost of not being on one side, together with at least one strong nation, be it ‘great’ or not, signalled the death-knell of recently-won nationhood. On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s attack on The Soviet Union, Fredek realized that, as a Pole in Soviet hands, he had little choice in the matter.

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“Today Russia was an ally of Germany. If she entered the war on the side of Germany, against the Allies, I would be forced to fight everything that had been dear to me for years, on the side of the two greatest foes of my country. If Russia were to go to war against Germany (or vice versa), which was generally considered possible, I would gladly fight against the Germans, but for whose sake? In whose interest? Russia’s?”

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Fortune decided for Fredek that he would fight against the Germans, and not with them. He could ruefully thank heaven for small mercies. When the Germans attacked Russia, Fredek was conscripted and packed off to Odessa on the Black Sea to undergo military training and marvel at the sadly-absent wonders of the world ‘under the sun of Stalin’s Constitution’. His detachment, composed mostly of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, under Russian officers, trained with other representatives of the many Soviet nationalities, ‘natzmeny’, or national minorities, which included Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens, and an Armenian called Aram. Fredek memorably recounts his first experiences of combat along the river Dniester, on the Bessarabian Front. He did his best to stay alive and managed somehow to distinguish himself for bravery, outwitting both German soldiers and his over-zealous Communist superiors. One night’s reconnaissance patrol across the river beyond German lines almost cost him his life. He describes leading nine other soldiers to map enemy troop positions and considered his survival a major accomplishment. He recounts with alarm Aram the Armenian proudly presenting him with the severed head of a German sentry and standing with two wounded men for seven hours in the ice-cold Dniester waiting for a break in fire to retreat to safety. Amidst the fighting, an existence exacerbated by the Soviets’ criminal disregard for the welfare of their own soldiers, Fredek recounts his experiences of mean-spirited petty despotism amongst his officers, but also the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of the dispossessed. He deals with over-officious NKVD officers whose principle duty is to convict their own soldiers of ‘crimes against communism’ but also fights alongside men who selflessly pay for their comrades’ survival with their own lives.

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My Life in the Red Army Cover

Fredek changed his name and does not mention the Red Army unit in which he served and deserted from in order to protect his fellow conscripts from possible reprisals.

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Fredek deftly evokes the drudgery, boredom, and irrationality of war, together with picaresque interludes of ironic counterpoint. An account of his unit’s bawdy week of respite from the war at a man-starved Bessarabian collective farm provides much mirth as does his description of his Soviet comrades’ favourite vodka-fuelled after-dinner game which involves turning off the lights in a room, diving for cover, and shooting blindly at whomever shouts Cuckoo! Despite the vagaries of his lot (and there is much suffering and foreboding there) if there is a party to be had or an officer’s sister to charm, his spirits never flag.

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Amidst Soviet propaganda that boasted inconceivable victories over the Germans, though the Soviets were the ones going backwards, Fredek found out in July 1941 from a fellow Pole that Lwów had been captured. He wished he were fighting for something as dear to him as Lwów, for Polish soil, and not for the now God-forsaken wasteland in which he found himself. He recalled only a year earlier leaving Lwów on a Soviet train to begin his life as a Red Army soldier. It seemed like an age had passed since then. Now he was stuck in his own little corner of the world’s greatest war:

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Then everything disappeared, and we plowed into the darkness. All forty of us milled around the two doors of the car. No one spoke. For all of us Lwów was the symbol of our young lives, our homes and families. Even I, a Cracovian who had lived in Lwów for only a year, loved that city dearly. Three hundred and fifty thousand before the war, it was today a city of one million inhabitants, pulsating with life, wit, and music.

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Fredek survived both the Red Army and the Polish II Corp, later emigrating to the United States and living a full and varied life. When he found out my father had survived the war and was living in Ireland he kept in touch for the rest of their lives. Niech spoczywa w pokoju!

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Alfred & Karol

Fredek and Karol: many years later, Fredek presents a copy of “My Life in the Red Army” to an old fellow student from Cracow’s Jagiellonian University.

TATERNICTWO: POLISH MOUNTAINEERING BETWEEN THE WARS   Leave a comment

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Last year, Józef Nyka, mountaineer, longtime editor of Taternik, and author of numerous guidebooks for Tatra Mountain enthusiasts, wrote an article about a forgotten figure in Polish mountaineering, my great-uncle Marek Korowicz. It turns out that Marek, whose experiences as a professor of international law and Cold War political refugee I have related here before, was also a keen mountaineer. I wrote to Pan Nyka, over at Głos Seniora and he kindly gave me permission to translate his article about Marek and publish it here, along with photos (hats off to trekking in suits and ties!) from the collection of another well-known custodian of Polish mountain culture, the late Czeslaw Bajer

Thank you, Pan Nyka!

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“This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Dr. Marek Korowicz, prominent political scientist and commentator, but also exemplary organizer and early advocate of mountaineering in Cracow and Silesia. He had no farewell in Taternik [publication of the Polish Mountaineering Union] and his name does not appear in WET [Zofia Radwańska-Paryska’s and Witold Henryk Paryski’s Great Tatra Encyclopedia] or WEGA [The Great Encyclopedia of Mountains and Mountaineering]; so let us save his memory from oblivion in our humble columns.

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Marek Korowicz (right) with Janusz Chmielowski, August 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer

Marek Korowicz (right) with Janusz Chmielowski, August 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer

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He was born on 11th March 1903 and completed his education in law (Doctor of Law). His father was Joachim Kornreich-Korowicz and his elder brother was the well-known professor of economics Henryk, who wrote under both names Kornreich and Korowicz and who was murdered by the Germans in Lwow in 1941. While studying law at the Jagiellonian University, Marek got together with a group of Tatra mountaineers.

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In 1922, Korowicz, John Durr, and John A. Szczepanski decided to create in Cracow a mountaineering organization for students. A draft was prepared by Durr and the future lawyer Korowicz and after some discussion it was submitted to the President of the Academic Sporting Union, prof. Walery Goetel. In October 1923, the Academic Sporting Union established a mountaineering section (ST AZS), in which Korowicz assumed the functions of registrar.

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In October 1924, he was admitted to the Mountaineering Section of the Polish Tatra Society [ST PTT]. He climbed with his Cracow colleagues. Paryski mentions his name eleven times. On the 9th of April, 1924, together with Adam and Marian Sokolowski, he crossed the ridge from Swinicka Pass across both peaks of Swinica and further on to Zawrat. During the climb, Niebieska Turnia had its first winter ascent (the lower Swinica peak had earlier been climbed in winter by, among others, Borys Wigilew). In July 1924, together with Jan K. Dorawski and Stanisław Sluzewski, Korowicz participated in the first crossing of the northern wall of Hruba Turnia and on the 20th of July, 1924, he accompanied Dorawski and Mieczysław Szczuka to the lower part of the eastern wall of Mięguszowiecki Grand Peak (WHP 892) before their famous sixth Variant D. On August 6, 1926, he took part in an attempt by the central route on the northeastern wall of Rumanowy Peak, his fellow-climbers including, among others, Dorawski, Szczuka, and Marian Sokolowski. He also climbed in the Alps.

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Marek began his work in Katowice in the 1930s and immediately became active in promoting local mountaineering, laying the foundations for Silesian alpinism. Already in 1933, we see him on the board of the Upper Silesian branch of the Polish Tatra Society in Katowice and on his initiative, in 1933, the Upper Silesian Mountaineering Section was formed within the Polish Tatra Society with Marek at its helm. Its members aimed to create Katowice’s first Mountaineering Club Federation, which came into being only after the war. Lectures were organized with Korowicz entertaining audiences with accounts of winter ascents in the Tatras and wanderings in the Swiss Alps.

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The Alpine Section was the first mountaineering organization in Silesia and this year the Katowice Mountaineering Club should be celebrating its eightieth anniversary. During the war, Korowicz was active in the resistance, and under the pseudonym ‘K.M. St.’, penned many pamphlets and articles, including his famous essay Poland among the Nations of the World (1942). After the war, he was an active participant in Mountaineering Club conventions. In spring of 1948, he organized a festive evening in honour of the doyen of Polish mountaineering, 70-year-old Janusz Chmielowski. He gave a course of lectures in mountaineering (April 20 – June 2) which introduced 30-40 students to varied topics including topography, philosophy, history and organization, equipment, technical climbing and mountain rescue. In February 1949, at Marek’s initiative, a founders’ meeting took place in Katowice, where attendees called for the establishment of the Upper Silesian Branch of the Polish Tatra Society Mountaineering Section, and on 12th October, 1949, it came into being. Writing in 1952, Franciszek Klosinski mentions Marek as “the founder and first chairman of the Silesian Mountaineering Society’. He continues: “During a period of intense activity of the Society, with theoretical courses in mountaineering, Marek was called to a professorship at Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, and with great regret, resigned his role as chairman on May 17, 1951.” In those years, Korowicz climbed with, among others, Chmielowski i Czeslaw Bajer (in August 1948 with variants on Pościel Jasińskiego). On September 6, 1948 a new route on Przelecz Nowicki was recorded, with Korowicz, Paryski, Dorawski, Danuta and Maciej Mischke, and Tadek Giewontem as guide. Marek’s notes in Taternik are signed ‘MSK’. Czeslaw Bajer recalled Marek as a pleasant companion, physically fit, and a true mountain lover.

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Marek Korowicz (left) with ks. prof. Tadeusz Kruszynski i Janusz Chmielowski in Dolina Stawów Gasienicowych, 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer.

Marek Korowicz (left) with ks. prof. Tadeusz Kruszynski i Janusz Chmielowski in Dolina Stawów Gasienicowych, 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer.

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As an academic, before the war, Korowicz worked on the issue of nationalities in Poland, and in 1938, published Upper Silesia and the Protection of Minorities, 1922-1937. After the war, Korowicz was appointed professor of Socio-Economic Sciences in Katowice. He later became a professor of International Law at Lublin University and subsequently, a lecturer at the Jagiellonian University. He published several major works, including Czechoslovakia Yesterday and Today (1948) and The Sovereignty of Members of the United Nations Organization (1949). The National Library catalogue includes 40 of his publications, mostly devoted to Silesian affairs, as well as works dealing with Slovakia and Czechoslovakia.

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In 1953, he left for New York as part of a Polish People’s Republic diplomatic delegation, whereupon he appealed for political asylum. In the US he was very politically active against Communism, a regular speaker on Radio Free Europe, and had constant FBI protection, for fear of assassination attempts by the security services of the PPR and USSR. In 1955, his book Poland Under the Soviet Yoke was reprinted in various translations, and in 1959 his still current Introduction to International Law was published. He died in exile in 1964, aged sixty-one. News of his death did not reach Poland and Boleslaw Chwascinski in the second edition of his book (1988) assumes him to be still living. Thus a figure of genuine merit in mountain matters fell into oblivion.”

SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES   Leave a comment

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I have covered the circumstances of my granduncle Marek Korowicz’s escape from the Polish Delegation to the United Nations in 1953 in this previous post. Below Marek tells the story in his own words. He was called to give testimony before a specially-convened sub-committee of the Committee on Un-American Activities,  a week after his arrival in New York to take up the position of President of the Sixth Committee (Legal) of the United Nations General Assembly. Of course, he never occupied that post, denouncing his credentials and condemning the Polish and Soviet governments.

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 the last chief of the Polish Underground at the Radio Free Europe press conference regarding Marek's seeking political asylum in the US. (Photo by Peter Stackpole//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

19th September 1953 Dr. Marek Stanislaw Korowicz (R) talking to Stefan Korboński (the last chief of the Polish Underground) before the press conference announcing his appeal for political asylum in the US. (Photo by Peter Stackpole//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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The content and format of Marek’s testimony are very much a reflection of the heightened tensions, mutual mistrust, and fatalism which characterized the Cold War. This is only six months after Joesph Stalin’s death. The Soviet Union, enigmatic, despotic and a recent ally, is  the subject of foreboding speculation on the part of the US government. Marek is quizzed on topical matters behind the Iron Curtain. What has happened to Beria, who seemed poised to replace Stalin but now has disappeared? What is the state of the USSR’s atomic programme? Do they have a hydrogen bomb? The questions and answers in a general sense would not be out of place in a Hollywood screenplay, a familiarity which in retrospect downplays the high stakes of the era. Marek had certainly placed himself in considerable danger. His protection was precisely the public fora in which he told his story, not just here at US Federal buildings, but in the press conferences and radio broadcasts he gave throughout this period. The fact that he was a professor of international law and had worked extensively as a diplomat before the second world war, lent his testimony greater impact. The details he employs to compare the standard of living and civil freedoms between East and West – the number of cars, television sets, the presence of Soviet military garrisons throughout the satellite states, the role of the Catholic Church, and the propaganda battle between state broadcasters and the Voice of America- are born out of the experiences of an inveterate opponent of foreign control (he was among other things a veteran of the 1920 Polish-Soviet War) and are conveyed with professorial exactness.

The benefit of hindsight may soften somewhat the atmosphere of impending doom which no doubt percolated the era, when it was considered not only conceivable but even logical to destroy the world in order to save it from itself. And yet there is still something haunting in the attribution of the Katyń massacres to Nazi Germany by the House Un-American Activities Committee Chairman Harold Velde in the following exchange:

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Dr. KOROWICZ. It must be well understood that the Polish people keep in their minds today a vivid memory of all the Hitlerite atrocities committed by these Germans. Six million Poles were savagely butchered. But in spite of this the Polish people would like to live in peace and in definite peace with their neighbouring German populations.

Mr. VELDE. You are referring to the butchering of the Poles by the Hitlerites. I wonder if you are referring there to the Katyń Forest massacre?

Dr. KOROWICZ. With respect to Katyń, Mr. Chairman, the opinion in Poland is almost unanimous that the assassination and murder of so many Polish officers was a guilty deed performed by the Russians and not by the Germans.

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Of course, the families of the 22,000 Polish prisoners, executed in 1940 on the orders of Stalin and the Politburo, would have to wait until 1990 when Gorbachev admitted the coverup. There was a grotesque Orwellian pantomime in the methods used by the Soviet Union to turn their own self-documented crime into that of the Germans, from the ludicrous “Special Commission for Determination and Investigation of the Shooting of Polish Prisoners of War by German-Fascist Invaders in Katyn Forest” via the Nuremberg Trials right down to today when many of the copious volumes of files about Katyń in the Russian archives still remain sealed. It would indeed be strange that Chairman Velde would categorize in error  Katyń as a Nazi crime when only the previous year the Congressional Investigation known as the Madden Committee concluded that Soviets were indeed the culprits. It is for rhetorical effect, and moreover, to have the Polish defector make the accusation himself.

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Anyway, over to Marek and the Committee members, and some old-fashioned Cold War drama:

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Marek Committee UAA

Marek as star witness before Special House Committee on Communist Aggression

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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1953

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UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE

ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES,

Washington, D.C.

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PUBLIC HEARING

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The subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities met, pursuant to call, at 10.40 a.m. in the caucus room, 362 Old House Office Building, Hon. Harold H. Velde (chairman) presiding.

Committee members present: Representatives Harold H. Velde (chairman), Gordon H. Scherer, and James B. Frazier, Jr.

Staff members present: Robert L. Kunzig, counsel; Frank S. Tavenner, Jr., counsel; Louis J. Russell {trivia: who may later have been the sixth Watergate burglar}, chief investigator; Raphael I. Nixon, director of research; George E. Cooper, investigator.

Mr. VELDE. Will the witness please rise. Dr. Korowicz, in the testimony you are about to give before this subcommittee of the House of Representatives, do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes. I do.

Mr. VELDE. Proceed, Mr. Counsel.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, would you describe to the committee what event transpired on September 1 of this year, just a few weeks ago?

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DRAŻA THE SERBIAN CHETNIK IN THE POLISH UNDERGROUND   3 comments

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What follows is the story of Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović, a figure known little outside Poland and Yugoslavia. A Serbian Captain who made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Polish Home Army in South-Eastern Poland during World War II. There is surprisingly little material available. It was certainly in the interests of the Communist Polish authorities and the Soviet Union to write him out of the history books of the Second World War.  And Tito, whom he met when both were guerilla fighters (and political opponents), would tar all chetniks with the collaborationist brush. There is a cinematic wholesomeness to his character, in the recollections of his friends and soldiers, so much so that I am still searching for Ukrainian, Yugoslav, or Soviet sources which might describe him as an enemy. The information here comes from Polish sources, including Jerzy Węgierski’s histories of Home Army operations in Lwów and Rzeszów, from Draża’s own memoir Europe for Sale (L’Europe aux enchères. Paris. 1952), written in French immediately after the war, as well as the recollections of my father, who fought under his command in the 14th regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers.

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Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović (1912-1987)

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From 1941, “Draża”, as he was known, fought as a chetnik in the Yugoslav Army, in the Ravna Gora Movement, where he served as the adjutant of General Dragoluba Mihalović, the royalist general and staunch enemy of Yugoslavia’s future leader, Joseph Broz Tito. He was captured by the Germans and transferred to a prison in Rawa Ruska, on formerly Polish territory. But his captors would underestimate his love of freedom. Draża was to make of escape a professional art. He escaped once from the Germans, three times from the Soviets, and avoided arrest countless times. Everyone seemed to have had a bounty out on his head at one time or another – Germans, Soviets, and the Ukrainain Insurrectionary Army.

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THE WHITE EAGLE AND THE BLACK EAGLE: A FOOTBALL LEGEND   Leave a comment

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When the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland on September 17th 1939, Communist restructuring of society began immediately. Institutions of the Polish state were abolished, political enemies arrested, sent to the Gulag, or executed, academic institutions closed down or renamed, and the Polish currency abolished. My father, who was thirteen at the time, would recall another detail, the disbanding of the football team he supported – Czarni Lwòw. Any symbol of the old Polish order, which promoted a national identity deemed detrimental to Soviet interests was to be erased from the socio-political landscape. Czarni Lwòw was the first professional Polish football team, founded in 1903, at a time when Poland itself did not exist. In 1911, when Czarni, together with Wisła Kraków, created the Polish Football Association (the predecessor of the modern PZPN), they in fact played as part of the Austrian Football Union. The intricate interplay of nationality, politics, and sport, reflected the complicated multiethnic nature of Central Europe as a whole. Immediately after the founding of the Second Republic in 1918, Poland would fight no less than six border wars. For those who resided at the fault lines of collapsing empires and nascent nation states, the consequences were never going to be simple. Take the following case of a controversial figure, arguably one of the greatest European players of the interwar years, who came from the far side of the new Polish Republic, on the border with the new German Republic.

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Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski (1916-1997)

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POLITICAL FOOTBALL

The tempestuous relationship between politics and football has hardly a more talented and divisive personification than Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski who had the dubious distinction of playing for both the Polish and German national football teams, during a period which saw the decimation of Europe.

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Ezi 2

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Ezi, an ethnic German, was born in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then part of the German Empire, in 1916. After the First World War, Upper Silesia was partitioned and the three-year-old Ezi became a Polish citizen. His father had died in the war and his mother remarried an ethnic Pole. He spoke both German and Silesian Polish, and would always consider himself, if anything other than a footballer, an Upper Silesian (“Górnoślązak” or “Oberschlesier”). The left wing forward, who dominated the ekstraklasa during the 1930’s, a period of fledgling football success for the recently reconstituted Polish Republic, left a fine record. Pacey, agile, and inventive, he was renowned for his dribbling and goal scoring largesse (his team-mate and later 1954 World Cup-winning captain Fritz Walter, said of him: “He’s probably the only player in the world who’s had more goals than chances.”) He had six toes on his stronger right foot but scored more goals with his left. He netted one hundred and twelve times in eighty-six appearances for Ruch Chorzów, the Silesian powerhouse of pre-World War II Polish football, championship winners through 1933-1936, and 1938. He was the league’s top scorer twice, in 1934 and 1936, and was well set to make it a third in the 1939 season, but for the intervention of Hitler.

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Ezi Warta Ruch 1937

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FOUR PAST BRAZIL

His contribution to the Polish national team was equally impressive. His goal tally for the White Eagles was twenty-one in twenty-two outings. Although forced to sit out the 1936 Berlin Olympics football tournament due to a harsh one-year ban by the Polish Football Association for excessive drinking and carousing, he would get his chance to represent Poland at the 1938 World Cup in France. There the little-fancied Poles narrowly went down 5-6 against the great Leônidas da Silva’s Brazil, in a World Cup classic. Although the knockout system meant the Poles would only play one game, Wilimowski left an indelible mark on the international stage, becoming the first player in a World Cup game to score four goals. Even Poland’s other goal that day in Strasbourg came from a penalty (scored by another ethnic German Friedrich Scherfke) after Ezi had been taken down in the Brazilian penalty area.

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Ezi Brazil

Ezi takes on Brazil and puts him name in the record books. Watch the highlights of the 11-goal thriller:

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‘THE LAST GAME’

The next year, on August 27th 1939, at Warsaw’s Wojska Polskiego Stadium, Ezi would play in what Poles to this day call ‘the last game.’ Unbeknownst to fans who turned up to watch their team play World Cup runners-up Hungary, Germany and the Soviet Union had four days earlier secretly signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which would soon result in the complete territorial dismemberment of Poland. The Poles had never beaten Hungary and gave themselves little chance. The sports daily Przegląd Sportowy, in a pre-game headline, which could have been a premonition of Poland’s soon-to-be fate off the football field, declared: ‘No chance, but ready to fight.” The visitors quickly went 2-0 up, before Ezi sprang to life and put three past Ferenc Sziklai the Hungarian keeper. The home team claimed a memorable 4-2 victory, and unwittingly provided the epitaph for football in the Polish Second Republic.

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Ezi Wilimowski 1

Ezi wearing the German strip

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EZI SWAPS EAGLES

After the German invasion of Poland, the football league was abolished. Ezi signed the German citizenship list, which allowed him, unlike his ethnic Polish team mates, to continue his playing career. Later on this decision would lead him to being branded a traitor and collaborator by Polish Communist authorities, as a result of which he would spend the remainder of his life in Germany. Was he a traitor, a pragmatist, or a Silesian who knew more than many about the vagaries of international politics? After all, he had been born a citizen of the German Empire only for the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles to conspire to change the goalposts of nations around him. He was not the only Silesian (Polish) footballer to take German citizenship. His national team mates Edward Jan Dytko (Dąb Katowice), Paweł Cyganek (Wawel Wirek), Leonard Franz Piontek (AKS Chorzów), and Wilhelm Antoni Góra (KS Cracovia) also took this path and would continue to play for German league teams post-1939. However, it was inevitable that players who made this pact would later be negatively compared to the many Polish players who fought and died off the football field. And perhaps especially to those football players who to their cost refused to allow themselves be used for Nazi propaganda (Austria’s Matthias Sindelar and, even if the details remain disputed, the Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Kiev players associated with the controversial ‘death match’ story come to mind). But Ezi’s talent and thirst to play sealed his fate. It wasn’t so much the games he played in the German league for 1 FC Katowice, PSV Chemnitz, or TSV 1860 Munich (where he won the 1942 German Cup with a still unsurpassed tally of fourteen goals in the competition) which irked his former compatriots. His decision to play for the German national team (with the black eagle and swastika crest) would forever tarnish even his outstanding contribution to Polish football. He scored twice in his debut in a 4-1 victory over Romania, completed a hat-trick against Finland and memorably hit four past a decent Switzerland team. However, by late 1942, with fortunes changing in the war and a lack of opponents for ‘friendly’ fixtures, Nazi Germany would play no more. Ezi’s German career thus ended with an impressive goal tally of thirteen from eight games.

After the war, Ezi wished to return to Silesia but the new political landscape in Poland made his earlier decision to play for Germany seem treasonable. Some Germanified players, such as Edward Jan Dytko, did manage to return but only after careful scrutiny by the new Communist authorities and the signing of a declaration of loyalty to the Polish state. The fact that Ezi had played for the German national team, in games his detractors considered political propaganda, made his return more unlikely. He later said he feared for his safety and lived the remainder of his life in West Germany. He never played for any national team again. He continued to play as a journeyman striker with stints at SG West Chemnitz, Rapid Kassel, TSV Detmold, BC Augsburg, Racing Strasbourg, Offenburg FV, FC Singen 04, and VfR Kaiserslautern. He retired in 1959, at the age of forty-three.

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GOALPOSTS AND NATIONS

Ezi’s decision to play for Nazi Germany would over-shadow and detract from his prodigious talent and historic contribution to football. In assessing that decision, it should be remembered that Polish history presented many challenges with regard to the issue of ethnic and national allegiance. Firstly, Poland did not exist as a state from the end of the eighteenth century until 1918. The first Polish football teams were in fact founded in 1903 in Lwòw, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They would later be disbanded by Soviet authorities when the Red Army occupied Eastern Poland in 1939. Teams such as Czarni Lwów, Pogoń Lwów, and Strzelec Wilno ceased to exist or were incorporated into newly established clubs when the territories they represented became part of the Soviet Republics of Ukraine and Lithuania. Thus the idea of ‘playing for the other side’ was often dictated by politics and was not necessarily an overtly political act by the players themselves. Nowadays, of course, we see little wrong with Silesian-born footballers with mixed Polish-German roots, such as Lukas Podolski (whose mother played for the Polish national handball team) or Miroslav Klose (whose father played football for Polish team Odra) choosing to play for Germany. This is a reflection of the intertwined histories of the two countries, painful at times, but inescapable.

The problem with Wilimowski’s decision was obviously the swastika on his new shirt and the bitter relevance of that symbol to Poland. He considered, naively, his only politics was playing football at the highest level but paid for that decision with exile and a fall from grace. Even as a star player in the national team, life wasn’t all rosy for Ezi in Nazi Germany. His mother was sent to Auschwitz for having a relationship with a Russian Jew, a race crime under Nazi law. He only managed to save her with the help of his friend the fighter ace Hermann Graf. On the other hand, he was afforded the opportunity to continue playing football, to avoid combat, and to survive.

When Kazimierz Górski’s outstanding Polish squad came to West Germany for the 1974 World Cup, the Polish Football Association refused a request from Wilimowski to visit their training camp. The message was clear: his legacy was divisive. Anyhow, the 1974 vintage would create their own legend, finishing third, and beating Argentina, Italy, and Brazil along the way. Their only loss, by a single Gerd Muller strike, was to the hosts and eventual champions. Perhaps they could have used some advice from the only player to ever score for and against Germany.

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BEAR NECESSITIES   Leave a comment

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Wojtek liked nothing better than a beer and a smoke

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For the many Polish soldiers who fled to Britain after the war, in order to escape Stalin’s ill intentions, Wojtek the bear became a poignant symbol of their fate. An orphaned bearcub, who travelled far from his Persian home, who fought in a great battle on foreign soil, and who ended up not only an exile, but an inmate at Edinburgh Zoo – the story resonated with the Polish diaspora in post-war Britain. My father (also Wojtek and also newly landed on Scottish soil after years of fighting) once went to visit his namesake the Soldier Bear with some regimental buddies. When they shouted over the cage to him, this kind-hearted ursine wonder perked up immediately. Everyone said he best understood Polish for that was the language of his youth, and acted much like a soldier, for that was the life he had led.

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Wojtek bear 7

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POLISH RESETTLEMENT CORP

Wojtek the Soldier Bear and thousands of Polish soldiers followed the same route to Britain. On 22nd May 1946, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the creation of the Polish Resettlement Corp, which was a holding unit for the Polish forces who had fought for the Allies and didn’t wish to return to Poland. 160,000 qualified and 115,000 joined. Many soldiers brought family members with them and over 200,000 Poles eventually moved to Britain. They signed up to the Corps on a two-year contract, were paid British Armed Forces rates, and could avail of various opportunities for training and tuition. They could also be hired out to private contractors, and thus gain work experience. My father would do a stint in a pipe factory in Derby with a whole platoon of Poles. They transported the soldiers to Britain by ship. Ship after ship made this voyage, what would become the final stage of the exodus of Poles, the last shore.

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Wojtek Edinburgh

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PRIVATE BEAR

Wojtek was a most extraordinary soldier, and an even more remarkable bear. ‘Private Bear’, of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, was a beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Syrian Brown Bear. He had been found by a shepherd boy in Hamadan, Iran. The bear’s mother had been killed by hunters. The boy sold the cub to some Polish soldiers traveling through the desert.  In 1942, the Polish Army was assembling in the Middle East, after Stalin, his hand forced by Operation Barbarossa, had agreed to allow all Poles on Soviet territory (i.e. prisoners) to leave in order to form the Polish II Corp (see Sikorski-Mayski Agreement). The soldiers looked after the little cub, weaning him on condensed milk, and Wojtek became the Company mascot. He traveled with the army through Iraq and Palestine to Egypt.

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Wojtek Bear 2

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