February 9th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Running on nearly empty: fool's gamble with fuel reserves

EDITORIAL The challenges are really hitting home in 2019

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition's female deficit is more apparent than real

ENERGY 200,000 Victorians left powerless in heatwave

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Migration, instability and the erosion of conscience

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Still time to reach a deal on Brexit

LIFE ISSUES 'Viability' argument is wearing a bit thin

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The strategic silence of the secularists

THE RUDDOCK REVIEW The chimera of freedom of religion in Australia

LITERATURE Tolkien's lost epilogue: tying up loose ends

CULTURE AND POLITICS China exhibits its latest assault on human dignity

HUMOUR BMC-Bitzumishi to release musical wallpaper

MUSIC Cuba on the jazz map: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

CINEMA Glass: Gifts of brokenness

BOOK REVIEW Heroism from a crushed nation

BOOK REVIEW Comprehensively corrects the record

CHILDREN'S CLASSIC A breath of fresh air and innocence

POETRY

LETTERS

WATER POLICY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

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BOOK REVIEW
Heroism from a crushed nation




News Weekly, February 9, 2019

A CAPTAIN’S PORTRAIT: Witold Pilecki, Martyr for Truth

by Adam J. Koch

Freedom Publishing Books, Scoresby
Hardcover: 454 pages
Price: AUD$44.95

Reviewed by Dr Keith Suter

 

Witold Pilecki was one of the most remarkable Polish people of World War II. In 1940, with Poland overrun by Germans, the Catholic Pilecki volunteered to go into Auschwitz concentration camp to help organise the resistance and to report on what was happening.

He escaped three years later and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was captured by the Germans.

Britain (and Australia) had gone to war in 1939 to fight the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The war ended with Poland occupied by another brutal dictatorship – the Soviet Union.

Pilecki was seen as an elite member of Polish society by the Soviet Union and its Polish communist allies. He was executed on fraudulent charges in 1947, aged 47. His body was dumped at an unknown location. The communists hoped that he would soon be forgotten.

Since Poland’s liberation from communism in 1989, Pilecki has been seen as a national hero. This book is part of the process of making sure he gets due recognition.

Pilecki was born in Russia’s northern province of Karelia because his family had been banished there for opposing the Russian Tsar’s imperial rule. The family remembered their Polish heritage and this was kept alive in readiness for when Poland would again be free. This occurred after World War I.

Pilecki then got back control of the family estate and was both a land owner and military reserve officer. Even though Russia had succumbed to the communist revolution and Germany had been defeated in World War I, there was a great risk that either or both countries would try at some point to reoccupy Polish territory. This in fact occurred in 1939. Poland was overrun by Germany from the west and Russia from the east. Pilecki left the family estate to defend his country and never returned.

Pilecki joined the Polish resistance movement – one of the largest in Europe in World War II. He volunteered to find out what was happening in Auschwitz. In August 1940 people were being rounded up and sent to the camps – the notorious mass extermination via the gas chambers began in January 1942.

Pilecki’s smuggled-out reports were the first to alert the world to what was happening. But the Allies were reluctant to believe the reports. The book gives a lot of information about the reports – they were very detailed; Pilecki had done a great job.

He escaped Auschwitz in 1943 and was deployed elsewhere in the underground army. No “rest and recreation” for him.

Unfortunately, although Germany was losing the war, it seemed that liberation would not come from Britain but from the Soviet Union (which would then seek to re-occupy the country). A general Polish uprising against Germany took place. Pilecki was captured by the Germans while fighting in Warsaw.

After the German defeat, the Soviet Union and its Polish communist allies began clamping down on dissent. Instead of treating Pilecki as a war hero, they were suspicious of him. He was too independent minded. Hence his eventual execution.

This book also provides the historical context of Poland. A sense of history helps to make sense of what motivated Pilecki.

In 1972, I visited Auschwitz. The communist Polish government had just started to open it up to tourists. I asked the tour guide if any Germans (even those from neighbouring allied communist East Germany) had visited. “No”, I was told. “A German is always a German.” History weighs heavily in that part of the world.

Poland is traditionally seen as being between the “hammer and the anvil” – squeezed by Germany and Russia. When Pilecki was born in 1901, Poland did not then exist. Yet Poland is one of the oldest and greatest countries in Europe. For example, King John III Sobieski (1629–96) saved Vienna in 1683 from the Ottoman (Turkish) invasion and stopped an Islamic invasion of Eastern Europe.

But in the late 18th century, Poland was divided up among the empires of Austria, Prussia and Russia. Poland was re-created at the end of World War I.

This book also shows the central role of the Catholic Church in Polish life. There are now more Poles in training for service in the Church than in all of Western Europe combined.

Poland has been free since 1989. Pilecki would be satisfied with how his sacrifice contributed to Poland’s eventual liberation.

Dr Keith Suter is a speaker on business and social policies and is managing director of Global Directions.


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