* Lew’s review of UNVANQUISHED, the biography of Polish leader Josef Pilsudski
Posted by Lew Weinstein on December 4, 2014
A magnificent biography of one of the great, unknown men of the 20th century.
Josef Pilsudski was a legitimate hero from the early 1900s until his death in 1935. He fought the Russians and Germans in the early 1900s, was instrumental in creating the reformed Polish state in 1919, and ran the Polish government from 1926-35.
He became a dictator when the Polish experiment with parliamentary democracy proved as ineffective as the Weimar Republic in neighboring Germany; Hetherington pulls no punches in describing how Pilsudski dealt with his opponents; he arrested some and later released them, executing none.
The finest part of the book for me was the description of how Pilsudski recognized the dangers of Hitler and tried, unlike the rest of Europe, to do something to stop him. He stood up to Hitler over the issue of Danzig, and Hitler blinked. Pilsudski believed that a preemptive strike against Germany in 1933 could prevent what he clearly saw as Hitler’s plans to rearm and attack. Pilsudski was thwarted in his plan by the timidity of the French and the appeasement policy of the British.
Many of the events of 1932-35 will be described in my new novel, involving both my Polish and German characters. I think these events are unknown to most readers and will provide fascinating perspective on those years.
A few notes from the book …
… Pilsudski’s view: France & Britain have different objectives. France wants to contain Germany and expand its own land and power in Europe. Britain wants peace and is willing to appease Germany to gain it.
… in 1933, the Polish Army possessed over 250,000 highly trained and well-equipped soldiers … Germany was limited to the 100,000 allowed by Versailles and had no modern weapons
… Pilsudski dispatched Jerzy Potocki to Paris as an unofficial envoy … spoke with French PM Paul-Boncour to explore the possibility of a Franco-Polish preventive war against Germany … given a suitable pretext … Poland would seize Danzig and key German territories in the east, while France would invade Germany from the west … a disgraced Hitler would be forced to resign … but the French did not respond to this initiative … and Germany did not react to Poland’s Danzig initiatives
… Pilsudski informed French PM Daladier in Feb 1933 … that Germany was rearming and needed to be confronted now rather than after 2-3 years of consolidation of the Hitler regime and intense rearming … in late March, Pilsudski sent a message to Daladier outlining hiw to justify an attack on Germany … stating that the German decree of Feb 22, setting up an auxiliary police force of 50,000 men, was a violation of the Versailles Treaty which the League of Nations had every right to investigate … any inspection would sure to confirm that Germany was rearming beyond the agreed upon limits … thus justifying armed intervention
… the best time to attack Germany was 1933 … Poland’s military capabilities exceeded Germany’s … only 3 of Germany’s 10 divisions were positioned along the polish border, and they were under-supplied … the Polish Army had re-positioned 15 divisions (half of their force) to oppose them, giving the Poles a 5:1 advantage
… Pilsudski knew the Polish Army’s 1933 advantage would not last … he knew the Germans were rapidly rearming (illegally) and had vast industrial capabilities … were sure to re-emerge as a great military power