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My people! My hapless, invasion-prone people. I can’t help but love the place (pogroms and such aside). I like to think of my ancestors working the land for the author’s ancestors. My people come from villages not far from Zamosc. Zamoyski’s family founded Zamosc. Respect. I’m usually skeptical of uncited histories. Zamoyski just includes an index. I think we are in good hands here regardless. He has written a mature, sober history of a very emotional, turbulent place. He thinks of Poland as the more inclusive Rzeczpospolita Polska (he translates it as the Commonwealth), not just an ethnic group of people. I forgive him for going a little easy on the Poles (4.5 stars). On a side note: To my ear, Polish is a very pretty, nasally, soft language when pronounced correctly. Sadly, many names sound bad with an English pronunciation.Poland has had horrible neighbors and a weak exec and has been quite diverse. At times enlightened, at other times egged on (you sure?) into atrocious behavior. The Poles have been quite pragmatic about being colonized. However, their overlords (be it Prussian, Russian, Austrian, Soviet), contrasted to the Brits, bungle so badly that the Poles end up revolting. The Catholic Church played a big, positive role in communist times. Yay, for once. Poles are traditionally suspicious of central authority. The liberum veto was not originally meant to be used often. Poles have had a thing for Italian and Persian culture. They seem to be the only mostly pro-American friends we have.As a philo-semetic, Polish-American raised among Christians, I always enjoy a good account of anti-Semitism cuz it MAKES NO SENSE. Zamoyski mostly delivers but I sense a bit of hanging the anti-Semitic burden on the backs of others. Jews were welcomed in at first. Then they became “middlemen, agents, rent collectors and inn keepers—all of which made them odious to locals.” Later on they were massacred and came into conflict with Christian merchants, resulting in widespread poverty. They grouped in sad ghettos in cities, sad shtetls in the country and they were easy to identify by the dress. Also, Jews had little incentive not to work with whichever power was in charge, Including non-Christian Poles. This did not endear them to their co-inhabitants. Finally, the Christians were over-burdened by their own victimhood and were more in tune with themselves rather than the horrifically traumatized Jews. Thats it? When asked her thoughts about my family surnames, a Polish friend tells me you cant always learn much from Polish names as everyone is scrambling not to sound Jewish by changing them. Still. Today. Finally, communism really messes people up. It takes (a) generation(s) to recover from it.Few Poles heeded the call to join the Crusades. Loveably, ”…[A]ny self-respecting Polish knight could [not] be induced to go to the Holy Land, where, they had been informed, there was no wine, mead, or even beer to be had.” Can we figure out an antidote for the jihadis?“…Polish folklore had it that the German nation had been deposited through the rectum of Pontius Pilot.” Priceless.Karl Marx: “With all its faults, this [Polish] constitution seems to be the only act of freedom which Eastern Europe has undertaken in the midst of Prussian, Russian and Austrian barbarism. It was, moreover, initiated exclusively by the privileged class, the nobility. The history of the world knows no other example of similar noble conduct by the nobility.” Joseph Conrad (born in Poland): ”Under a destructive pressure, of which Western Europe can have no notion, applied by forces that were not only crushing but corrupting, we have preserved our sanity.” Or have we? Fingers crossed. Looking promising.“Poland: A History” reinforces a lesson I’ve long understood. Russians should never, ever be in charge of admin (“the Russian system was, … a huge merciless machine, working by night and by day, crushing thousands of hearts and minds every minute.”). They make superb lit, ballet, music, science, ice hockey, etc, but please deny them a leadership role anywhere. Pity Ukraine. My heart goes out. Niech żyje Polska!
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