A History of Poland
By Anita J. Prazmowska
Palgrave Macmillan – £16.99
‘’The romantic notion that suffering and separation from the homeland were a necessary purgatory before Poland could re-emerge restored took root among the exiles. The artistic and intellectual life of the émigré communities fostered and enhanced this sense of pain. The poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki focused on the themes of suffering, separation and ultimate redemption. In their works the image of the lost homeland was romantic and idealised. Fryderyk Chopin, who left Poland for health reasons, was part of that creative trend and his works drew heavily on nostalgia for the lost homeland.’’
So writes authoress Anita J Prazmowska in chapter five (‘Under Foreign Rule’) of this clear and succinct, yet all encompassing, chronological account of Poland’s history.
How uncannily true the above words are.
For a number of disparate and disturbing reasons – many of which are due to Winston Churchill’s cornered flippancy and Joseph Stalin’s incalculable cruelty – most of my father’s generation did indeed foster an enhanced sense of pain and turbulent longing for Poland. So much so, that said longing not only bonded them together for the best part of fifty or sixty so years, it fundamentally made them what they were (and what they were to become).
Which is to say the soul searching never abandoned them. The redemption remained forever more – at the vanguard of all their thoughts, all their regrets, all their qualms and infinitely dashed hopes – until their dying days.
Just last week in fact, another World War II veteran (Watzek Przybylowski R.I.P.) was finally put to rest in uptown Swindon, at the tender age of ninety. The service was in Polish, as was the all-prevailing sense of futility at having foregone a lifetime of nationhood and belonging. And it’s this entrenched mode of ‘belonging’ that’s most apparent throughout this second edition of A History of Poland
To be sure, belonging and the aforementioned ‘’romantic notion of suffering,’’ are as equally endemic within the long and tragic accustom to that of Polish history, as is North America’s seething endemic isolationism and perhaps France’s nonchalant belligerence. This partially explains why one can turn to almost any page at random, and stumble upon yet another troubled trigger of wrongdoing or stateless foreboding: whether it was amid the Consolidation of the Polish Kingdom itself, the Jagiellian Period, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the aforementioned period of Poland ‘Under Foreign Rule.’
All epochs were seemingly beset with that of either: religious intransigence, noble greed, monarchic infighting or foreign invasion (by a veritable succession of fair-weathered friends and foes such as Sweden, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Turkey).
To what avail the above invasions, is only now being answered, as Prazmowska writes towards the end of the book: ‘’At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century Poland appears to have realised many of the dreams of its past political thinkers. Poland is a modern, democratic state. Economically it can be defined, without fear of contradiction, as industrialised. Culturally and politically it is part of Europe, and membership of NATO and the European Union confirms that claim in institutional terms. Whatever problems Poland faces in the future, these will be in the community of other European states.’’
I’d have so liked my father and his many wartime colleagues to have seen and witnessed Poland’s realisation for themselves. But such is the ever-changing sands of history. Especially Polish history, which herein, is more than considered with an attentive and intuitive sense of reason, balance and care.