As Soviet forces entered Nazi-occupied Poland in the spring of 1944, a joke was doing the rounds in Warsaw. The Archangel Gabriel drops in and asks the first man he meets whom he hates most: the Russians or the Germans? The Pole replies, ‘When?’
‘We were not exactly spoilt for choice,’ writes Andrew Borowiec in this engaging memoir. ‘One side had given us Katyn,’ where thousands of Polish officers were shot by the Soviets, ‘and the other Auschwitz.’ Antipathy towards both, he says, was ‘almost a way of life’.
It has been the unhappy fate of Poland to be endlessly caught between competing great powers, from the three-way imperial partitions of the late 18th century to the Second World War. The Poles themselves have responded with a fatalistic, sentimental nationalism, captured in Borowiec’s comment on the Munich Agreement: ‘Unlike