This is almost entirely a wartime memoir, starting with the German invasion of Poland and quickly moving on to the foundation of the Polish Resistance. The author, General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, was a Polish army officer who joined the underground after the German and Soviet invasions, and eventually rose to command the Home Army, a force being prepared for the day when it could rise across the country.
The Polish resistance constantly had to adapt to new circumstances, most of them rather depressing. Between the fall of Poland and the fall of France the resistance movement was visibly active, but after the German successes in the west it was clear that Poland would have to wait a long time to be liberated. The resistance thus had to consider the impact of its actions much more carefully, and focused on actions that were either important enough to justify the inevitable barbaric response or would irritate and discomfort the Germans without triggering an atrocity (the posting of false orders for example).
The early German victories in the Soviet Union suggested that the situation wasn't going to change, but once the front line began to move back towards the west the resistance had to decide how to react. The situation was made more complex by the Soviet government's decision to end diplomatic relations with the Polish Government in Exile and create its own government and partisan movement. The response was to plan for a general uprising in Poland, to be carried out at a suitable moment, and it was this plan that was put into place in Warsaw in 1944.
Bor-Komorowski was writing at a time when Poland was still under Soviet rule, and Soviet propaganda was still hostile to him and the forces he had commanded. Unsurprisingly a great deal of the book thus deals with the Soviet attitude to Poland, the way it changed over the war, and the deliberate Soviet betrayal of the Home Army after the uprising began.
The most compelling part of the book deals with the fighting in Warsaw, a battle that lasted for sixty-three days. We see the fighting from Bor-Komorowski's point of view, so share the problems he had communicating with isolated parts of the city, the desperate journeys through sewer tunnels, and the heartbreak as the Soviet guns remained silent for week after week. This is the core of the book, and makes it one of the most valuable memoirs to emerge from the Second World War, an absolute classic and highly recommended.
1 - The Birth of the Underground, Cracow
2 - Deputy Commander of the Home Army, Warsaw
3 - Commander-in-Chief, Home Army
4 - The Warsaw Uprising
Author: Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski
Year: 2011 edition of 1950 original