Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

War and Exile, 1939-1948

Kaleidoscope Film Distribution has posted the teaser for "Hurricane," a feature film about RAF 303 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. All Royal Air Force 300-series squadrons were made up mostly of pilots from the conquered nations -- nine Polish squadrons, four French, three Czech, two Norwegian, two Belgian, and one Dutch. 303 was known as "Warsaw-Kosciuszko" because its pilots were drawn from the Polish eskadry that had borne those names in 1939. Flying Hurricanes, 303 was the top-scoring unit in the Battle of Britain, credited with 117.5 air-to-air victories in less than three months, August-October 1940.

Its best-known figure was Squadron Leader Jan Eugenius Ludwik Zumbach, born 1915 in Warsaw but a Swiss citizen through his father and grandfather. He had joined the Polish army in 1934, transferred to the air force, and been sidelined by injuries just before the German invasion. He rejoined his comrades as they escaped through Romania and made their way to France, where he briefly flew a Morane-Saulnier 406 in combat. With France being overrun as Poland had been, Zumbach made his way to England on June 18, 1940. Flying Hurricanes, Spitfires, and a Mustang, he was credited with 12 victories, 2 planes shared, and 5 probables.

Postwar, Zumbach obtained a Swiss passport, flew contraband around Europe and the Middle East, and became a mercenary in Africa under the name of "John Brown." In the 1970s, he settled in France where, as Jean Zumbach, he published an autobiography, Mister Brown in French, On Wings of War in English. He died in 1986. (A tip of the virtual hat to Terry Fitzpatrick for news of the film.)

Anatomy of a Genocide

This is an amazing book, a micro-masterpiece. Omer Bartov's mother came from Buczacz in a much-trampled part of Eastern Europe that the Austrians called Galicia, the Second Polish Republic knew as its own kresy (borderland), and today is located in southwest Ukraine. (Between these formal changes, Buczacz was variously occupied by Hitler's Germany and -- twice! -- by Stalin's Russia.) Typical of Eastern Europe in the inter-war years, it had a mixed population, each with its own language, religion, and grievances. Poles were in the catbird's seat until September 1939, when the Russians came and let the Jews have a turn at government while the Polish "fascists" were exiled to the Soviet Union. The wheel turned again, and more ominously, when the Germans occupied Buczacz. Formerly neighbors -- friends, even -- the Hungarians eagerly assisted in murdering and dispossessing the Jews, while lording it over the Poles, their former masters. With admirable even-handedness, Mr Bartov interviewed the survivors and marveled at how differently each group remembered the mass murder that followed. Anatomy of a Genocide is the perfect companion to Timothy Snyder's macro-masterpiece, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

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 as best 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.

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, 2014)
Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination (Stephen Fritz, 2011)
The Eagle Unbowed (Halik Kochanski, 2012) and Isaac's Army (Matthew Brzezinski, 2012)
Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov (Geoffrey Roberts, 2012)
Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union during World War II (Katherine Jolluck, 2002)
The Russian Origins of the First World War (Sean McMeekin, 2012)
The Inhuman Land (Joseph Czapski, 1987)
The Polish Deportees of World War II (Tadeusz Piotrowski, ed., 2007)
George Kennan: An American Life (John Gaddis, 2011)
When God Looked the Other Way (Wesley Adamczyk, 2004)
Revolution From Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia (Jan Gross, 2002)
Katyn: A Crime Without Punishment (Cienciala et al, 2007)
A Concise History of Poland (Lukowski & Zawadzki, 2006)
Bloody Foreigners: Poles in Britain (Robert Winder)
The Gulag Archipelago (Aleksandr Solzhenitsym, 1973-1974)
Summit at Teheran: The Untold Story (Keith Eubank, 1985)
The Dark Side of the Moon (Zoe Zajdlerowa and T.S. Eliot, 1947)
Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg (Steven Zaloga, 2002)
The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia (Tzouliadis, 2008)

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Poland's Daughter

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