Death in the Forest: who murdered the prisoners?


War and Exile, 1939-1948

Last gasp of the Worker's Paradise

A friend was in Poland recently, performing a duty that comes to most of us sooner or later: sorting his mother's belongings. Among them was this ration card for August 1989, never used because that was the month Poland broke free of Russian domination, joined the West, and trusted supply and demand to sort out the value of produce:

Ration card for August 1989

Think of it! The war had been over for forty-four years, and she still needed a coupons to buy a few hundred grams of beef. Including "veal on the bone," the meat ration for the month totaled four kilograms, or about 133 grams (4.7 ounces) a day. Of course the downside of freedom was inflation that averaged 787 percent in 1990, until the Polish zloty adjusted to the realities of supply and demand.

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Poland's Daughter

Poland's Daughter The Second World War -- the worst thing that ever happened. It started in September 1939, with Hitler's Wehrmacht invading Poland from the west, while Stalin's Red Army stormed in from the east. Among their victims was a five-year-old named Basia Deszberg. The Russians shot her father and brother in the Katyn Forest, then loaded Basia, her sister, and her mother into a cattle car for a horrific three-week journey to the steppes of Kazakhstan, there to survive however they could. Over the next eight years, they would escape through Persia, Lebanon, and Egypt to find safe haven in England.

Meanwhile, I was growing up in a United States mired by the Great Depression. Europe's agony was America's windfall! I went from hardscrabble poverty to a college degree and a fellowship that took me to the English university where Basia was also a student. This is the story of our meeting, our travels, and our parting. "It's an extraordinary book, highly original, gripping, at once full of joy and of sorrow" (Cosmopolitan Review).

Available as a paperback or an ebook at Amazon and other online bookstores.

Poland's Daughter

Files about Poland's wartime agony

Stalin's order to shoot 22,000 Polish prisoners
An American eyewitness to the Katyn exhumations
Operation Unthinkable: Churchill's plan to push the Red Army back to the prewar border
A voice from the grave at Bykovnia

Some background reading

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 (Stephen Kotkin)
Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination (Stephen Fritz)
The Eagle Unbowed (Halik Kochanski) and Isaac's Army (Matthew Brzezinski)
Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov (Geoffrey Roberts)
Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union (Katherine Jolluck)
The Russian Origins of the First World War (Sean McMeekin)
The Inhuman Land (Joseph Czapski)
The Polish Deportees of World War II (Tadeusz Piotrowski, ed.)
George Kennan: An American Life (John Gaddis)
When God Looked the Other Way (Wesley Adamczyk)
Revolution From Abroad: The Soviet theft of Poland's East (Jan Gross)
Katyn: A Crime Without Punishment (Cienciala et al)
A Concise History of Poland (Lukowski & Zawadzki)
Bloody Foreigners: Poles in Britain (Robert Winder)
The Gulag Archipelago (Aleksandr Solzhenitsym)
Summit at Teheran: The Untold Story (Keith Eubank)
The Dark Side of the Moon (Zoe Zajdlerowa and T.S. Eliot)
Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg (Steven Zaloga)
The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia (Tzouliadis)

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Looking Back From Ninety

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