Sunday, June 8, 2014

Should Poles and Poland be Grateful to the Red Army?

English and French volunteers created art commemorating fallen D-Day soldiers. Source below.
Komm Frau by Jerzy Bohdan Szumczyk Source: Der Spiegel
Whenever the anniversary of D-Day rolls around, the French and the Belgians put on touching displays of their gratitude to America and Americans for liberating them from Nazi occupation.

I am always touched by these displays, especially since otherwise the French appear so sophisticated as to be above such old-fashioned sentiment. French and Belgian gratitude is unalloyed. They never say, "We are grateful but…" or "Those soldiers sacrificed their lives for us but…" No. It's always "We are grateful to the American soldiers who sacrificed to liberate us from Nazi occupation." Period. Full stop.

A remarkable expression of this gratitude is the sand images created by hundreds of British and French volunteers to honor nine thousand soldiers who died on D-Day. You can read more about this poignant project here.

I expressed my own appreciation for American D-Day soldiers on Facebook.

Two Facebook friends, one American, the other Polish, objected.

"You should be grateful to the Red Army," they said.

When I was a child, I met a loved one in Slovakia who had been, when she was a child, gang raped by Red Army soldiers. She was traumatized for life by this, and was never able to have children.  

Historian Antony Beevor documented the pervasiveness and brutality of Red Army rapes. See here.

I see the Red Army as invading and occupying Poland, not as liberating Poland. Killing didn't stop in Poland in 1945. Russia had been an ally of Nazi Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939, shortly after the Nazis invaded Poland.

I see the Red Army as the foot soldiers for the regime that demonized, incarcerated, tortured, murdered, buried in unmarked graves and erased the memory of heroes like Witold Pilecki who fought the Nazis.

I see the Red Army as the spear for propagandist who would utterly distort the history of Auschwitz and murder Raoul Wallenberg.

Oh, but you must remember that the average Ivans in the Red Army were nice guys; only Stalin was a bad guy.

I have read many memoirs of Poland during WW II, and average Ivans were perfectly happy to engage in petty and unnecessary cruelty while carrying out the orders of their higher ups. Anti-Polish feeling was certainly a live force in Russian culture and it certainly motivated some in the Red Army.

Should Poles and Poland be grateful to the Red Army? Most Poles, when surveyed, report that they would like to see monuments of gratitude to the Red Army removed.

In one case, artist Jerzy Bohdan Szumczyk, student at the Gdansk Academy of Fine Arts, erected a statue, Komm Frau, next to a monument to the Red Army in Gdansk, Poland. Szumczyk's statue shows a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman at gun point. Szumczyk was arrested for telling this historical truth.

You can read English language coverage of Szumczyk's statue here, here, and here. You can read Polish language coverage here.

This question began a furious debate on Facebook, which I think you should be able to see here


  1. We must remember that Germany and Russia had conspired to destroy the Polish state before and during the Partitions, and ever since. In fact, no sooner had Poland been resurrected in 1918, then the Russians and Germans planned a new war to destroy the “intolerable” Polish state—long before Hitler came to power.

    In the eventual 1939 war, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were in alliance with each other in the conquest of the Polish state. The Nazis did genocide against Poles, as did the USSR (e. g, Katyn, the Gulags, etc.)

    The Soviet Union became an “ally of the allies” of Poland for one reason and one reason only: Nazi Germany turned against its erstwhile Soviet ally in 1941. The Soviet role in the defeat of the Nazis is solely because of an imperialistic alliance that had gone bad. It is therefore of no moral credit to the Soviets.

    After the Jews, the Poles were next in line for extermination by the Germans. The Soviet “liberation” of Poland forestalled it. Still, it was a lesser enemy of Poland replacing a greater enemy of Poland.

    Yes, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers perished in the “liberation” of Poland—but this was only because of a war which the Soviets had helped start, and which had backfired against them. After that, the Soviets imposed the Communist state upon Poland, and kept Poland in bondage for at least 45 years.

    Should there be monuments to the Red Army in Poland? You decide. I say no.

    1. Jan you and I disagree about many things, but we agree about this.

      I am NOT grateful to the Red Army.

      My position is outlined at length in the facebook thread.

  2. they should be grateful - otherwise the Germans would have made mincemeat out of them - and Jews certainly are grateful. Communism was obviously terrible but given the choice, take the Red Army anyday. Poles were complicit (if not as much as the Germans) - now their own government seems to understand that for the first time:

    1. Benjamin - I don't remember seeing your name on any previous comments anywhere else on this blog so I assume you're a first-timer and therefore deserve the benefit of the doubt. I wonder whethere you realize you're on a blog which is dedicated to countering precisely the kind of misinformation you are repeating in your comments above?

      Firstly, on the question of the Red Army, there is no doubt that the Nazis would not have been defeated without the huge sacrifice made by ordinary men and women from all over the USSR (and, indeed, from among Polish citizens) fighting in the ranks of the Red Army but I refer you to the points made by Jan Peczkis above. The war would never have been started if Stalin had not given Hitler the green light in the first place. Also I would urge you to please read again the article above and particularly go to the links it refers to. The Germans did indeed, to use your thoroughly unfortunate phrase, "make mincemeat" of the Poles - specifically defenceless civilians - pretty much from 1939 to 1945, although Polish resistance to them, in the form of the initial September Campaign, the resistance at home and the thousands of soldiers fighting abroad with the other allies, tends to be either forgotten, or at best, downplayed.

      Your phrasing is particularly unfortunate, to put it charitably, if you consider the millions of Polish citizens, both Christian and Jewish, who were killed in horrific circumstances which I'm sure you don't need me to spell out.

      Returning to the Red Army, are you aware of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944? Exactly how much help was provided by Stalin's Red Army then? The answer is: precious little. I would refer you to Halik Kochanski's history of Poland in WWII entitled "The Eagle Unbowed".

      Secondly, on the question of alleged Polish complicity in the Holocaust, please go back to an essay I wrote for this blog back in January of this year. Mine is only one of many such refutations.

      Why you have chosen to enter the lion's den is a mystery to me, but, as I said, you deserve the benefit of the doubt. I only hope you revise your opinions after considering the facts.

      Having said all of the above, I must admit you do raise an interesting point, and, judging by the comments on the article you link to, a very contentious one in current Polish politics, but the whole question the article refers to is an entirely separate debate. Who knows? It might get covered on this blog?

      Best regards

      Michal Karski

    2. Hello Michal, and all. Thanks for your objections to the phrase "make mincemeat of" - a phrase which could not safely, in PC-terms, be used of most of Hitler's victims. And which I hope most of us would not think of using, PC or no. But its a phrase which also makes no sense in PC-terms if we (us Poles/Polonians) are now "Hitler".

      And it seems we are, as Benjamin Goddard says this:
      "Communism was obviously terrible but given the choice, take the Red Army anyday. Poles were complicit (if not as much as the Germans) - now their own government seems to understand that for the first time:"

      So if he is saying that the world is insisting that Poland pay compensation to the survivors of the Holocaust, then we are officially part of the Axis Powers...

      I don't know why anyone should doubt the warning in the Christian Greek Scriptures, that "the whole world" is lying in the power of "the father of the lie".

      How else could the truth about World War 2 be turned on its head within living memory of the events?

    3. This is a rather bizzarre statement regarding an interesting development. The law in Poland was changed to make it easier for people living abroad to collect their pensions. Some bloggers in Poland make it out as if "Jews" were about to get money from Poland for Holocaust reparations. The government spokesperson on this Mr Rejak on the other hand assures us that this is just a technical change that has nothing to do with the Jewish diaspora and he doesn't understand all the brouhaha. He says he does not even know how many people are affected by this change but it is the right thing to do. Indeed, it seems a very right thing to do because out of 460 plus representatives in the Sejm only 2 voted against this measure. A few questions deserve to be asked here that no one is asking because the whole discussion appears to be taboo in Poland (leave it to the Times of Israel to raise this).

      1 - if this has nothing to do with Israelis then why is Mr. Rejak involved (whose background is one in Polish-Jewish relations), why is the only article about this in the Times of Israel and not in any UK, US, Russian or German newspaper (or Polish for that matter other than WGospardce) - where do the Polish combatants live throughout the world? Should not the embassies in those countries reach out to them (Mr Rejak seems to giving interviews to the Times of Israel)? Why the silence?

      2 - why was the law written the way it was back in 1991 such that a technical change was necessary now? Because of concerns for fraud? Or just out of stupidity? If the former (or some other reason), are those reasons no longer valid? If so why?

      3 - how is it possible that the person tasked with discussing the topic, Mr. Rejak, has no idea how many people will be affected by this - he says so himself - the Times of Israel calculates 50,000 claimants in Israel - what about other countries? While the payments are meager (other than for Polish purposes), it stretches credulity that the government of Poland passes a law without knowing what its financial impact will be (well, maybe it doesn't stretch credulity but if so then we have a bigger problem)

      Assuming for the moment that, in fact, a disproportionate amount of claimants are likely to reside in Israel why doesn't the Polish government say that that is true and specify the reasons for this change to the law - it seems that, if this is true, it is embarassed of something - but why? does it really feel that its role is best reduced to quietly passing something that could then be reflected in English language press and serve as propaganda to improve the image of Poland in the US, perhaps? If that is the case, what does it say about the government's view of Polish people - seems like it considers them best kept out of it, presumably, because of their anti-semitism - at least that is my guess. One has to ask however whether half-hearted actions like this are not likely to give fuel to antisemites. Why not explain that the money is going to those who actually fought for Poland and properly justify the change?

    4. Very perceptive questions, Drago Petrovic.

      Is this the Holocaust Industry in disguise? Or at least the Holocaust Industry by increment--while the Polish population is kept in the dark? In any case, any and all financial aid to Jewish survivors should come from Germany, and Germany only.

  3. Hello Benjamin and all - Yes,I have noticed that nowadays (in the current version of the war) Poles are "complicit" in the Holocaust. In fact sometimes it almost seems that Germany and the other Axis powers have dropped out of the picture altogether, and the Evil Axis Powers are now Poland, Poland and Poland.

    You did at least mention Germany - even if only in brackets. So thank you for that.

    As I looked into it, I was shocked at how early all this revision began, and how successful it has been.

    Of course Poland has to bear its share of responsibility for the crimes of the Allied Side. And I suppose that, should those crimes ever come to have any political weight, we will find ourselves catapulted back into the Allied camp at the speed of light.

    What can I say? On the plus side, we have had a powerful and painful lesson in the wisdom of staying neutral and staying out of these wars - though of course I understand the almost impossible position Poland was in then, targeted by both Hitler and Stalin working together.

    But the countries that did manage to stay out of it and stay neutral did not suffer as Poland did, and they don't come in for this continual vilification either.

    Nor, in the light of the above, are they expected to be grateful to a regime that, together with Hitler, invade, occupied and killed them.

  4. FWIW Benjamin Goddard could be a fake name and this person may have posted here before. I don't know.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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