Seventy years ago today World War II began when Germany invaded Poland. You will likely see a lot of news items and articles that talk about the war in general and its awful cost. And that’s as it should be, but I want to talk about something that often gets lost in the big picture. We remember that the war began with the invasion of Poland but forget that six years later the UK and America themselves betrayed Poland while seeking to appease Stalin.
It is ironic because the UK and France went to war over the violation of Poland’s borders. The Soviets, while eventually joining the Allies after Germany rolled east in 1941, invaded Poland from the other side on September 17, 1939 and soon after massacred 10,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. Meanwhile, those Poles who escaped continued to fight on. Polish fliers played a key role in the Battle of Britain. Polish ships fought with the British Royal Navy. Later the Polish II Corps fought in the Italian campaign and it was they who finally captured Monte Cassino. Another Polish army fought under the Soviets. And no one can forget the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 or the Warsaw Uprising of the Polish Home Army in 1944, both brutally surpressed by the Nazis.
By the end of the war the Poles had the fourth largest force under arms after the Soviet Union, America, and the UK. And yet none of these soldiers, sailors, and airmen were allowed to march in the great victory parade in London lest Stalin be offended. By this point Churchill and Roosevelt had written off Poland at the Yalta Conference, conceding it as a buffer state to Stalin. So while Poland’s freedom was worth going to war over, in the end it was given away as a bargaining chip.
The motto of the Poles was “For Our Freedom and Yours.” By helping to defend England and defeat the Nazis, they hoped to liberate their own country as well. It was not to be. So while we should remember all those who suffered and died in WWII, on today of all days we should remember the Poles, their contribution to the end of Nazi tyranny, and the terrible price they paid.