PRAISE FOR UNVANQUISHED
A comprehensive, rich in detail, and very readable biography of Poland's outstanding national hero. The author makes a compelling case that Marshal Pilsudski not only reignited long- partitioned Poland's quest for independence but also, by decisively defeating in 1920 at the gates of Warsaw the westward march of the Soviet Army, prevented a communist revolution in post-World War I Germany. - Zbigniew Brzezinski, US National Security Advisor (1977-81), Trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies
a lyrically gripping biography… a panoramic foray into the history of the lands of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania…also a study in military strategy, an inquiry into geopolitics, and a glimpse at political decision making… a stupendous improvement…
-Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC.
Hetherington brings Joseph Pilsudski to life…Unvanquished is a riveting biography which reads almost like an adventure novel. It is well written and documented. — Polish Weekly
Unvanquished is a monumental work of stunning detail and impressive depth... a must-read for anyone interested in this fascinating…character and the tumultuous times in which he lived.
—Mark G. McLaughlin, ForeWord Clarion Review
Hetherington warrants praise for the thoroughness of his research and the consistently engaging quality of his prose. His ability to sift through the lion's share of Polish history and interweave that history with the singular life of freedom fighter, and eventual dictator, Joseph Pilsudski, is a remarkable feat...there's much to be enjoyed, and much to be learned. — Kirkus
A comprehensive, compelling biography…fascinating history. Like a novel you hate to put down, it is readable and captivating. — Polish American Journal
Hetherington tells the complete story of a man who stood at the center of the stage in Eastern Europe for more than a generation. …The book rolls on at a detective-story pace. It is historically accurate without pedantry, and it creates suspense and excitement. Read the first chapter, "The Citadel," and you will not let go until you reach the back cover.
— Ewa Thompson, Research Professor of Slavic Studies, Rice University
“Unvanquished” is an important and majestic biography as complex, as engrossing, and as important as its subject. It’s required reading for anyone who wants to understand all of Europe as well as Poland. —Steven Maginni , IndieReader
A "can't put it down book" if there ever was one...Hetherington has composed a synthesis of the political history of Poland with a focus on Pilsudski that is comprehensive and fair-minded. Moreover, it is very well written and includes many interesting photographs and other materials.
-Donald E. Pienkos
Professor Emeritus University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography at its finest,
Steve Perlowski (Des Moines, IA)
In his very favorable review of Norman Davies' book, "Rising `44: The Battle for Warsaw" (New York Review of Books, July 15, 2004), the popular British historian, Simon S. Montefiore, mentioned that "a large gap in modern Polish history is an adequate biography of Pilsudski; surely Norman Davies is the person to write that book."
I'm happy to say that it is Peter Hetherington (and not Davies) who finally got to write this superb biography. Not only do we get everything that a definitive biography of one of Poland's modern heroes demands [including a concise, and coherent, account of the nine centuries of Polish history leading up to the 20th, when "God ordered (Pilsudski) to live in Poland"], but he does it with a literary style that is probably beyond Davies' reach. For although Davies--arguably the greatest living historian on Poland--is brilliant, insightful and exhaustive, he is dry as a bone. Hetherington, on the other hand, is also brilliant, insightful, and exhaustive, but his prose is rich as cream.
Readers are in for a treat. This book is a masterpiece.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Read,
Edward Larsen (Ann Arbor, MI United States)
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read!,
But this is not only a beautiful story of the all times European hero but and encyclopedia of what Poland was and is about. Especially for those completely unaware and full of misconceptions readers like I was.
Very grateful to the author for taking up this effort.
5.0 out of 5 stars IndieReader Review,
Pilsudski, having already spent five miserable years in exile in Siberia, had returned to his
It is this story - not Pilsudski's birth, not his heroic stand against the Russians fighting for Austria in the First World War, not his valiant command of Polish forces in the 1919-21 war against the Russian Bolsheviks, and not even his involvement in a 1908 train robbery to help fund the Polish underground's activities - that author Peter Hetherington uses to begin his story of the life of Poland's most important modern hero, with only Pope John Paul II and Lech Wa''sa approaching him in terms of importance.
The story encapsulates how Marshal Joseph Pilsudski (1867-1935), the father of modern Poland, refused to be defeated in his struggle to re-establish Poland as a country once again after it disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795 through partitioning by the Russian Empire and the Germanic countries.
Hetherington presents a sweeping narrative of Pilsudski, a leader of the Polish independence movement and the de facto leader of Poland in the first years of its post-World War I independence and from 1926 to 1935 as minister of war, that vividly brings to life not only a man but an entire people. As the reader will find out, Poland was once the most enlightened and most powerful nation on the European continent, with a devotion to freedom that rivaled that of England and an astonishingly democratic system of government in which kings were elected rather than entitled to power through dynastism. The uniquely Polish characteristic to live free was what drove Pilsudski not only to re-establish Polish statehood but to secure freedom for the vast region that the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth once ruled.
Hetherington tells Pilsudski's story in rich detail with direct language and a meticulous explanation of the politics of central and eastern Europe before and after World War I. There are surprising stories that most Westerners and most Americans not of Polish descent will learn for the first time. Pilsudski's successful repulsion of the Bolshevik offensive in the 1919-21 war destroyed Vladimir Lenin's dream of extending Communism to the West. Pilsudski was the only leader to stand up to Adolf Hitler before 1939, and he commanded a larger army than Germany at the time Hitler came to power; Pilsudski was more than willing to wage a pre-emptive war against the Third Reich. He played Germany and the Soviet Union against each other to keep Poland secure. Much of his achievements in founding and preserving modern Poland came against overwhelming odds, and he likely prevented World War II from happening sooner. To understand Pilsudski's refusal to bow to international pressures detrimental to Poland and his firm handling of domestic matters is to understand the Polish nation today and the roles of a Polish pope and a shipyard electrician in Gda'sk in ending the Cold War.
Hertherington's book does a superb job in illustrating Pilsudski's life without resorting to hagiography. He minces no words when examining Pilsudski's abuses of power after taking over Poland in a 1926 coup to prevent the rising influence of the center-right and his arrests of dissidents during times of crisis. Poland became more authoritarian, with Marshal Pilsudski running everything behind the façade of an elected government. Much of his actions in the last nine years of his life diminished his stature, but his devotion to a free and independent Poland never wavered. "Unvanquished" is an important and majestic biography as complex, as engrossing, and as important as its subject. It's required reading for anyone who wants to understand all of Europe as well as Poland.
Reviewed by Steven Maginnis for IndieReader
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read tour de force,
Jan Adams (Cape Girardeau, MO USA)
5.0 out of 5 stars Expanded, Excellent Mini-Encyclopedia About Pilsudski Authored by a Non-Pole,
Jan Peczkis "Scholar and Thinker" (Chicago IL, USA)
Very rarely does someone who is not Polish acquire a productive fascination with Polish issues and personages. Such is the case with the author of this book, and his interest in Pilsudski. This new and improved second edition, coming out relatively soon after the first one, underscores the author's commitment to quality and accuracy.
For most readers, there is much to learn about Poland. Hetherington comments: "In many ways, Pilsudski was an embodiment of Polish history...Unfortunately, outside of Eastern Europe most people know little of Polish history, and much of what they `know' is wrong." (p. 15). This book goes a long way in correcting this problem!
Hetherington has assembled dozens of books and articles related to Pilsudski, and has interwoven them into one large volume about this key man in Polish history. The citations are presented as footnotes at the bottom of each page. This makes it very convenient for the reader to conduct further reading on a given subject. What's more, a valuable timeline is provided (pp. 724-726) of Pilsudski's life, his awards (p. 726), and the birth and death years of his relatives. (p. 728). The book is rounded out with a profuse index.
In no sense is this book a dry historical narrative. The style used by Hetherington makes for enjoyable reading. For example, his description of Pilsudski's anti-Russian train robbery (p. 191-on) is sure to capture the reader's interest. Hetherington provides good background to those who may be unfamiliar with Polish history. He also touches on sentimental matters related to Pilsudski's personal life. For instance, Pilsudski had been an animal lover, and had special rapport with his horse Kasztanka, an Arab mare. (p. 631). After Pilsudski's death, he got his wish to have his heart buried next to his mother at Rossa Cemetery in Wilno (Vilnius) while the rest of his body was interred in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. (p. 714).
The author captures the ambiguities surrounding the placement of the borders of the new Polish state and related matters at the Paris peace Conference. However, he could have mentioned the fact that the Riga border was a compromise between the extreme of all pre-Partitioned Poland being reckoned validly Polish, and the other extreme of Polish-only areas near Warsaw being reckoned validly Polish. Poland's pre-WWII border thus avoided the extremes of "Where there are Poles, there is Poland" and "Where there are ONLY Poles, there is Poland."
The author is refreshingly objective about matters for which Poland is frequently attacked. For instance, Hetherington tacitly realizes that Dmowski's antagonism towards Jews was motivated by the latter's own separatism and aloofness from Polish national aspirations. (p. 169). The author refrains from taking an uncritical attitude towards reports of pogroms. (p. 373).
Hetherington brings up the Polish internment camp at Bereza Kartuska (pp. 664-665), but puts it in proper perspective. Having an eventual total of 5,000 inmates and 17 deaths, Bereza Kartuska was a drop in the ocean compared with the Nazi and Soviet concentration camps.
The author engages in a fascinating description of Pilsudski's plans for a pre-emptive war against Nazi Germany. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Pilsudski realized Hitler's aggressive intentions, as well as the fact that it would take some years before Germany would be strong enough to attempt them. Now was the time to act. Pilsudski never imagined conquering Germany. He wanted a joint Polish-French attack on Germany in which Poland would seize Danzig (Gdansk) and end the German provocations there. France would occupy part of western Germany. Hitler would be forced to resign in disgrace, and Germany would again be compelled to observe the Versailles accords. (p. 684-on). However, the French never went along with the plan, and, a few short years later, over 50 million preventable deaths occurred because of Hitler and WWII.
This book is balanced in the choice of topics presented. These include early Polish history, the early life of Pilsudski, the days of Pilsudski as an anti-Russian revolutionary, the resurrection of the Polish State, the pivotal 1920 Polish-Soviet war, the coup of 1926, Pilsudski's declining years and death, post-Pilsudski Poland, and Pilsudski's legacy.
An outstanding effort and an excellent read!
POLISH REVIEW -February 2014
This is a "can't put it down book" if there ever was one.
It is very long, but this first comprehensive English language biography of Joseph Pilsudski is truly engrossing.
More than a biography, it reads like a political history of Poland from its origins to Pilsudski's death in 1935 at the age of sixty-seven.
The author describes himself as a petroleum geologist with no formal training in history.
His intellectual interests include World Wars I and II. Neither Polish nor familiar with the Polish language, he notes how in his readings he "stumbled upon a fantastic figure named Joseph Pilsudski, leader of the post WWI (sic) Polish state." (p. x). As he read more he realized that Pilsudski was not "a petty dictator of a third rate power" as he has so often been portrayed. Instead he calls Pilsudski a "dynamic, eminently interesting, and important historical figure" whose life might even be characterized as "an unlikely combination of Robin Hood and George Washington" and who was largely responsible for the restoration of Poland's independent statehood at the end World
War I (pp. x-xi). He goes on to write that his research led him "to appreciate Pilsudski and the Polish people with the zeal of a convert and hope that in some small measure (this book) will increase awareness of Poland's rich cultural heritage and her important contributions to Western civilization." (p. xiii).
These are strong words and might lead the skeptic to wonder whether this work is simply a panagyric to Pilsudski, something to be glanced at and then dismissed. But this is decidedly not so.
Hetherington's book does not seek to unearth new findings about his subject. And while his bibliography includes 145 books and articles, he relies heavily on a relatively few, but excellent, mainstream scholarly sources in the English language that deal either with the history of Poland or with aspects of Pilsudski's own life. Thus, he is much indebted to the published works of Norman Davies, Piotr Wandycz, Adam Zamoyski, Joseph Rothschild, M. K. Dziewanowski, Oskar Halecki, and Richard Watt. He also uses Pilsudski's own memoir, writings (Year 1920) and his biographies, by Grace Humphrey, Andrzej Garlicki, Wanda Pilsudska (his widow), and Waclaw Jedrzejewicz. Indeed, if one were to count the number of times he cites these works alone, one might guess they would make up a large proportion of the book's 1,864 footnotes.
Rather, what Hetherington has done is to compose a synthesis of the political history of Poland with a focus on Pilsudski that is comprehensive and fair-minded. Moreover, it is very well written and includes many interesting photographs and other materials.
The author sees Pilsudski as one of the most important political leaders in the thousand year history of Poland. He is presented as the single most significant person to lead the effort to restore Poland to independence in 1918, after 123 years of foreign partition and oppression.
At the same time, Hetherington notes, Pilsudski, nearly eighty years after his death, remains a controversial figure. He offers a number of reasons why this is so.
For one thing there is Pilsudski's own personal and political background story. Born in what was then tsarist-ruled territory that is in today's Republic of Lithuania, he came from an impoverished szlachta family. His idolized mother imprinted in him a deeply patriotic commitment to a reborn Poland that would include the multi-ethnic territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that had been carved up between 1772 and 1795 by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in a series of criminal acts of aggression (p. 63). His early political activities got him exiled far into Siberia and deepened in him an all-pervasive hatred of Russian imperialism, regardless of its particular masters. And while he was cognizant of the threat to Poland posed by the powerful German state to the west, Pilsudski nevertheless saw Russia as Poland's implacable enemy and the main obstacle to its quest for independence. Yet another controversial aspect of Pilsudski's make-up was his indifference to religion, despite his early training at home.
In the early 1880s Pilsudski gravitated politically to the socialist cause. He rose quickly to become one of its foremost leaders, strategists, and publicists. But early on he adopted the principle that national independence came first. As he later put it, "I took the tramcar painted red , but I left it at the station - Poland's independence." (p. 107). This view placed him at odds with socialist internationalists like Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian Bolshevik radicals, whose own life bore some remarkable similarities to Pilsudski's. Each came from noble families, each had a brother who were arrested for plotting against the tsar (Lenin's was executed), each was exiled to Siberia, each was his party's foremost, most active, and single-minded theoretician. Both totally opposed the tsarist regime. But they differed in far greater ways. In power Lenin was ruthless in his willingness to use massive violence against his enemies and created the Cheka organization to destroy the opponents of Bolshevik power after 1917. Lenin was also committed to world revolution. For him Russia was ultimately the springboard. For Pilsudski, the goal was a strong and independent Poland.
By the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Pilsudski was no longer closely associated with any single political party. Rather, he had organized several movements of fighters for Poland's freedom, the Legions and the Polish Military Organization. Within them he was the unquestioned leader, by virtue of his personal charisma and visionary belief that Poland's independence required a commitment to sacrifice everything, if necessary, in the fight for the cause.
Central to Pilsudski's leadership was his involvement in actual military engagements, which is quite amazing in that he was essentially self-taught in this field. In adopting a military persona for himself, he operated like an amalgam of Kosciuszko and Napoleon and invariably appeared in public in a soldier's uniform. In so doing he showed clearly how much a "romantic revolutionary" he was, as his fellow Poles could well appreciate. His romanticism was also evident in his notion that he and his legions could readily win over the neighboring Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian peoples to the east in promoting some sort of tie with Poland in liberating them from Russia. Here he ignored the near impossibility of quickly overcoming the centuries of ignorance and repression they had experienced under tsarist rule, along with the signs of their own nascent national self consciousness. (Still, Pilsudski was ultimately proved right: some sort of tie with Poland after 1918 would have been far better than what these nationalities experienced under Soviet rule.)
Pilsudski's romantic ideas must be placed in another context as well. Before 1914, Poland had been divided into a number of separately ruled zones or partitions for over 120 years. Five and six generations of Poles, whether they lived under iron-handed German control in the west, the more benevolent rule of Austria-Hungary in the south, in the oppressive Russian-ruled "Congress kingdom" in the center, or under still more cruel tsarist power in the east, harbored any real expectations of Poland regaining its independence, much less its territorial reunification from three seemingly all-powerful empires. Pre World War I Poland was indeed the Kurdistan of today.
Pilsudski's ideas and actions, which Hetherington describes in detail, placed him at odds with other Polish independence activists, most notably Roman Dmowski. Dmowski's reading of Polish history had led him to oppose insurrection as hopeless. Instead, he placed a wary trust in the tsarist empire, bad as it was, because Russians and Poles were Slavs and shared an interest, he believed, in opposing the threat posed by imperial Germany. Dmowski also argued that a free, Catholic, Poland should be ethnically homogeneous; thus he rejected Pilsudski's ideas about including the Ukrainians, Jews, Belorussians and Lithuanians into such a state.
Even more serious, Pilsudski's militancy was lost on many Poles, who accepted the seeming permanence of the status quo. Living under three seemingly all-powerful
'megapowers' suspicious of any serious challenge to their control made dreaming about independence both unrealistic and dangerous.
Given all these considerations, one comes away from reading this book marveling how Pilsudski could ever have achieved what seemed truly impossible in 1914 - in becoming the widely recognized leader of the independence cause and in November 1918 winning power as the head of the new Polish state - and without much internal struggle. Of course, Pilsudski had help here - the wartime defeat of all three occupying empires - something he actually predicted (pp. 231-32).
Five other key areas in Hetherington's biography deserve mention here. All are very well presented. One is Pilsudski's strategy in mapping out Poland's objectives in stabilizing the new state's borders at the end of World War I - primarily with the defeated but still awesome military power of Germany, and with Russia - both during and after its own Civil War. This story is told very well, in no less than ninety closely argued pages, and underscores how extremely difficult was Poland's achievement of independence.
Second is Pilsudski's leadership during the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 and the decisive victory his forces won at Warsaw in August - the "Miracle of the Vistula". Here Hetherington devotes more than fifty pages to the campaign in providing overwhelming evidence that it was Pilsudski who was responsible for the strategy that proved so successful - and in the face of extraordinary criticism in Poland and the leaders of the Great Powers in the west.
Third, Pilsudski's role as a political figure in independent Poland and his leadership of the country after his military coup of May 1926 receives ample attention (fifty-four pages). Here Hetherington first offers his take on the failed and corrupt character of the anti-Pilsudski, parliament-dominated system of governance that Poland set up after 1918. Then in discussing the coup, he writes of Pilsudski's own shock when his effort aimed at cleaning up the political mess in Warsaw met with the determined opposition of the country's president (and old associate), Stanislaw Wojciechowski, and turned bloody. Here he implies that the coup's success was largely the work of one of Pilsudski's faithful aides, General Gustaw Orlicz-Dreszer.
Finally, Hetherington minces few words in his evaluation of the system of rule Pilsudski established after 1926, one while widely supported by the public, was based entirely on his will and carried out by a relatively small number of devoted followers from the World War I days. Here he is most critical of Pilsudski's 1930 decision to imprison and mistreat the centrist and moderate left politicians who opposed his authoritarian - but not fascist or totalitarian - system of rule. The regime's behavior here caused enduring and understandable damage to Pilsudski's reputation.
Fifth, Pilsudski's realistic foreign policy focus is discussed for more than fifty pages and praised for his efforts to defend the state's security in its dealings with Poland's two powerful "neighbors", post war Germany and Soviet Russia. Here Hetherington offers a picture of a Poland under Pilsudski that one never sees in print in the West - a Poland that was an important player in European affairs and a Pilsudski whose forceful approach to Germany and Russia made Poland a serious factor in great power politics, especially with respect to restraining Hitler's regime in the early years of his rule.
Following Pilsudski's death in 1935, the regime he had established floundered - mainly because there was no new Pilsudski who could succeed him. When Poland was attacked in 1939 by its deadly enemies, Hitler and Stalin - something Pilsudski had foreseen and had done everything he could to confront - it was easy for his critics to blame him and his followers for the collapse of the Second Republic. During World War II, his opponents dominated the exile government in London. His supporters there and in the United States were even placed under surveillance by the authorities.
It was also in the Soviet regime's interest to efface the memory of Marshal Joseph Pilsudski. After all, he had defeated the Red Army in 1920 and deeply embarrassed Stalin himself. His opposition to Russian and Soviet imperalism was another unforgiveable "sin". In Soviet-controlled postwar Poland the policy from the start was to ignore, if not tarnish his name. This went on until 1989. In the west, Pilsudski was lumped together with Mussolini and even labeled as a fascist dictator, when the facts did not bear this out. After all, his "sanacja" regime, based on the principle of returning Poland to moral health, was in the main, as the author argues, a "revolution without (bloody or violent) consequences" (p. 584).
In conclusion, this reader would have liked to have seen a more nuanced discussion of certain subjects, most notably in the author's characterization of Dmowski. Why Pilsudski treated his political opponents as harshly as he did, particularly moderate democrats like the peasant party leader Wincenty Witos, with whom he had worked in 1920 to save Poland from the Red Army invasion, also deserves some analysis, or at least conjecture. But notwithstanding such comments, this is a very impressive and interesting work.
Donald E. Pienkos
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Sarmatian Review- January 2013
Unvanquished: Joseph Pilsudski, Resurrected Poland and the Struggle for Eastern Europe
by Peter Hetherington.
2d ed. Houston, TX: Pingora
Press, 2012. 752 pages. Photographs, timeline,
bibliography. ISBN-10: 0983656312; ISBN-13: 978-
0983656319. Hardcover. $21.95 on Amazon.com.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC.
In the 1980s chemical engineer Richard Watt published a beautiful Pi?sudskiite tale of interwar Poland. In 2012 geologist Peter Hetherington has gifted us with a lyrically gripping biography of the man himself: Jozef Pi?sudski. Unvanquished is a fantastically unbelievable story of a scion of landed nobility; a Kresowiak of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; a nationalist socialist revolutionary; a romantic; a spy, a fighter, a train robber; a self-taught military man; free Poland’s first marshal; a self-anointed savior of the Commonwealth with a mass following; a charismatic leader turned nocturnal solitaire-playing misanthrope; a successful putschist; a cranky but mild dictator; a serial husband and lover and tender, if largely absentee father; a scathing hater of party politics and parliamentarism; a dabbler turned serious foreign policy expert; and a leftist neopagan agnostic enamored with Our Lady of the Sharp Gate. But first and foremost, after grueling travails and disappointments, years of imprisonment and underground, and fifteen years of almost uninterrupted armed struggle, Józef Pi?sudski ultimately became a huge success. He took credit for Poland’s independence, including winning the Polish-Bolshevik War, and he seized power in a coup d’état in 1926 and never relinquished it until his death. “Rather than a petty dictator of a third-rate power as I had been led to believe from the brief references he is usually afforded in most general texts, Pilsudski [sic] was dynamic, eminently interesting, and an important historical figure” (pp. x–xi).What’s there not to like?
This is a fascinating adventure, and the author clearly enjoys sharing it with the reader: “Although not of Polish ancestry, I have come to appreciate Pilsudski and the Polish people with the zeal of a convert” (xiii). Hetherington freely confesses to his nearly total ignorance of the subject before commencing the project of retracing the marshal’s progress. He poetically introduces the hero at the nadir of his journey, faking schizophrenia in a Tsarist prison, which ultimately facilitated his successful escape. Fortuna is the leitfmotif of Unvanquished, and “once again, Pilsudski got lucky” (581) is the refrain of the biography. But one gets the sneaky feeling that studying Ziuk [Polish diminutive of Joseph, Ed.] was an excuse to learn about his country and people and to share the knowledge with the unsuspecting American reader: “Unvanquished is not only a biography of an interesting historical figure, but also a vehicle to understand one of the most fascinating, and misunderstood, elements of European history, providing an enhanced appreciation of the causes of WWII and insights into contemporary issues in Europe” (xiii). Hetherington’s book is a panoramic foray into the history of the lands of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania before, during, and after the partitions of the eighteenth century. It is also a study in military strategy, an inquiry into geopolitics, and a glimpse at political decision making among the colonial powers that controlled Poles and others. All this is woven into a Carlylean scheme of “hero in history”– Pi?sudski like a “granite rock,” to borrow from his favorite Romantic poet, Juliusz S?owacki. In the course of weighing Ziuk’s considerable achievements and transgressions Hetherington does not shy away from controversial analogies. For example, while generally approving of Pi?sudski’s expropriation operations (his suporters have insisted that he was reclaiming back that which the Russian government had stolen from Poland), the author mentions Pancho Villa and Vladimir Lenin, who also indulged in robberies, directly or indirectly, to expedite a revolution. Even more poignantly, departing from standard apologies for the coup d’etat of 1926, Hetherington rejects the notion that it was either a latter-day Polish noble rokosz or a konfederacja. Instead, he flatly admits that Pi?sudski’s putsch was akin to Benito Mussolini’s march on Rome. Laudably, the author uses the term “fascism” primarily as a descriptive and not an invective.
Not so in Hetherington’s treatment of the National Democracy. There are reasons for this. If he was stunned to have discovered virtually nothing on Jozef Pi?sudski and Poland in English-language historiography, even less can be found on Roman Dmowski and his Endeks. They are nonpersons, the virtual Other of Western historiography, in the United States in particular. At best they exist as the whipping boys of modern Polish history; at worst they are called Polish Nazis. Thus Hetherington repeats the allegations that during the Riga negotiations in 1920, Poland failed to claim its former (eastern, xiii), provinces up to Smolensk because of the Endeks. True, the nationalists did argue that it would have resulted in taking too many unassimilable non-Polish minorities. However, that option was never on the table; Lenin was not giving anything away, as even the neo-Pi?sudskite scholar Andrzej Nowak has admitted. “In geology, there is a premium on being correct, not just creative, and I tried to apply this philosophy to my book,” states Hetherington (xiii), but he fails to note the black propaganda concerning the Endeks. Alvin Marcus Fountain’s biography of Roman Dmowski’s early life would have helped here. Hetherington states that as a scientist he is “accustomed to evaluating large volumes of information and creating an internally consistent, coherent interpretation within the bounds of the data.”
What if the data is lacking? Here we encounter the huge problem of consulting only English-language sources. With these reservations in mind, it has to be said that Hetherington joins the considerable group of Pi?sudski admirers. He wisely rejects mendacious propaganda, Soviet and Western, about Pi?sudski being a ruthless dictator, but he barely qualifies the effusions of the marshal’s true believers and the explications of his mild supporters (e.g., Wac?aw JΠdrzejewicz and Kamil Dziewanowski respectively). He agrees with Pi?sudski on every major point, most notably on his decision to fight in 1905 and 1914, as well as on his role in winning independence in 1918 and scoring victory over Lenin in 1920, despite his refusal (wrong, in my opinion) to support the Whites against the Reds. The author waves off any competition to his hero’s pedestal, such as General Tadeusz Jordan Rozwadowski. He also passes over in silence the suicide of Pi?sudski’s two jilted girlfriends and the murder of General W?odzimierz Zagorski by the marshal’s death squad. Pi?sudski’s trip to Japan is seen as a “diplomatic mission,” even though his contacts were military intelligence officers. A useful critique of Pi?sudski’s eulogists can be found in Ryszard AwiΠtek’s Lodowa Eciana: Sekrety polityki Jozefa Pi?sudskiego, 1904-1918 (Krakow: Platan, 1998). Reading Hetherington I was reminded of one of my teachers at Columbia, Joseph Rothschild. The professor was also fond of the Komendant and no amount of argument to the contrary could change that. Pi?sudski did have a magnetic personality, volcanically overwhelming mere mortals with his power, courage, and charisma.
Unvanquished is a delight for the layman. Let me qualify this. By layman, I do not simply mean an average English-speaking enthusiast who will find this particular portrait of Pi?sudski enchanting and exciting and who will gladly lend his ear to the triumphs and tragedies of Poland’s past; by layman I mean an average historian or other social scientist at an American university. This applies to most Europeanists, including many so called “Eastern European experts.” Hetherington deserves much credit for overcoming layers of cultural prejudice against Poland and presenting before the American people Józef Pi?sudski, his times, his compatriots, and his nation without the customary uninformed venom. Unvanquished is a stupendous improvement over the prevalent acute ignorance afflicting America’s relation to Poland’s history. Once again, Pi?sudski has been blessed posthumously by Lady Luck.
Posted by Patrice Dabrowski on March 1, 2013
Unvanquished: Joseph Pilsudski, Resurrected Poland and the Struggle for Eastern Europe By Peter Hetherington Pingora Press, Second edition, 2012 752 pages
“I say that the impenetrable gates of death do not exist for some people. They attest to the fact that the laws of greatness differ from the laws of smallness.”
These words were declaimed at the 1927 burial of Polish poet Juliusz S?owacki in the Wawel crypts in Krakow, as justification for the poet’s rubbing shoulders in the afterlife with Polish royalty. The laws of greatness equally well applied to the speaker: Józef (Joseph) Pi?sudski (1867-1935). His eventful and fascinating life is the subject of the book under review, written by Peter Hetherington. Pi?sudski, incidentally, would follow S?owacki into the crypts in 1935, his reward for having devoted his life to the fight for a future Poland (attained in 1918) and protecting it from its rapacious neighbors, Germany and the USSR.
While in the last several years Wawel burials have become a bone of contention, this 1935 burial was unquestionably deserved–something that even a number of Pi?sudski’s political opponents grudgingly acknowledged. For (among other things) the First Marshal of Poland was responsible for the Poles’ amazing victory in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, defeating the red (communist) menace that was threatening to spread across Europe. Thanks to Pi?sudski and the Poles, the West was spared the specter of world revolution.
Not that the West was grateful. It had forgotten that Poland, in centuries past, had been a significant regional power– the largest state in continental Europe–and might conceivably wish to return to its historic dimensions (or at a minimum be strong enough to keep its neighbors at bay). Politicians such as the rabidly anti-Polish British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (for whom Hetherington has caustic words) could not even bring themselves to congratulate Pi?sudski on the victory. (Lloyd George was the man who declared he would not give Upper Silesia to Poland any more “than he would give a clock to a monkey” [p. 368].) Indeed: the British position vis-à-vis the new Polish state was egregious. Eager to restore a balance of power in which Germany would figure more prominently and insensitive to Poles’ concerns about their Russian neighbors, Lloyd George interfered in Polish affairs as best he could. Before long, another British prime minister would delude himself that he had achieved “peace in our time”–and we all know what happened next…
But that was Europe after Pi?sudski. The First Marshal of Poland had a one-track mind: he was preoccupied with Polish independence–how to get it, how to hold onto it. To this end, he achieved–against all odds–more than could have been expected from any mere mortal. The story of his life and achievements is colorful, and rendered colorfully here.
When Pi?sudski was born, in 1867, Poles lived under Prussian, Austrian, and Russian rule. To be a Pole–at least, one committed to the cause of Polish independence–meant that one had to be a revolutionary. This was Pi?sudski’s calling. He began as a socialist, but a socialist of a certain type: Pi?sudski later famously remarked that he had “left the socialist tram at the stop named Independence.” Indefatigable, for years he nearly singlehandedly published the underground socialist paper under Russian eyes. He planned and executed what Hetherington terms “the great train robbery” at the Bezdany train station in 1908, gaining money needed to fund his revolutionary activities and making a name for himself in the process. (Hetherington tells this story well.)
Trading his revolver (and bombs) for a rifle, Pi?sudski taught himself the art of war. He established paramilitary groups under Austrian aegis, and his men–transformed into the Cadre Company (later part of the First Brigade of the Polish Legions)–made the first military incursion into Russian territory in August 1914. Although not decisive in the war, the existence of the Polish Legions was in itself of great psychological significance. Pi?sudski would become the first chief of state of the new Poland, the man who would ultimately shape the country’s borders in the course of a number of wars–one of them the Polish-Soviet War. Uninterested in the day-to-day running of the state, Pi?sudski devoted his days to military questions and the international situation, which required Poland to be ready to defend itself.
Poland’s First Marshal would also do things that tarnished his reputation (and Hetherington calls a spade a spade). Pi?sudski’s coup d’état of 1926 resulted in casualties and divided his beloved military. His disdain for the quarrelsome Polish parliament ultimately resulted in his flagrant mistreatment of the political opposition. Poland under Pi?sudski’s Sanacja regime became authoritarian. And, although Pi?sudski formulated a “muscular” foreign policy (p. 706), at one point even staring down Hitler, the First Marshal did not prepare his coterie of colonels–all former Legionnaires–to rule after him.
The author of this mammoth (725 pages long!) biography is to be congratulated for his monumental and somewhat incredible effort. This reviewer would never have imagined that a geologist with no historical training and no connection to Poland whatsoever would take on such a labor of love, let alone produce such an exhaustive and thoughtful biography of Pi?sudski. Yet Hetherington puts these seeming drawbacks to positive use. Unlike some other authors, he has no axe to grind. Hetherington writes it as he sees it, informed by the extant English-language works on Pi?sudski and Poland–his main limitation. And he writes it as he thinks it should be written. Unusually for a biography, the author reviews the entire history of Poland (!), so that the uninformed reader can place Pi?sudski in the proper context–a context known to so few non-Poles. Those four chapters of historical background (out of a total of 32) follow a riveting initial tale of how Pi?sudski managed to escape from the dreaded Tenth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel, the tsarist prison from which no one escaped. The reader will find it hard to put the book down after that.
Hetherington writes with a certain flair, his style breezy and colloquial (at times too much so for this reviewer, a trained historian). Despite this being the second (revised) edition–the first came out in 2011–there are still a number of typos. And the continuous numbering of the footnotes (not always helpful, and not all correct) means that their numbering reaches well into the thousands, which can be irritating (the long superscripts really break up the text). The book also contains maps and photographs (many of these with extensive captions) as well as several appendices. Hetherington is at his best when detailing Pi?sudski’s revolutionary and armed exploits, so many of which demonstrated the Pole’s unconventional streak, and his foreign policy. While this historian would quibble with some details, mostly of secondary importance to the biography, they do not distort the overall thrust and mission of the book, which brings Pi?sudski to life on its pages.