‘Eastern Front of WWII is foreign war to the West’: British historian

In an interview with PolandIN, Jonathan Walker, a British historian, spoke about the legacy of WWII for Poland, as he was involved in a special conference about that issue, organised by the Museum of Polish History.

Personal involvement of Germans in WWII was externalised: historian

see more

Click here to watch the full interview

All wars become war films eventually. The good ones entertain and reveal truths about war and human behaviour. In time, films become the primary gateway to history. We are inspired to get the book after seeing the film. That's the way Jonathan Walker, British military historian and author, learned about WWII. He, like most of us, was born soon after the War.

In cinema, there are often the trade-in stereotypical characters and cliched plotlines, cartoon British, cartoon Germans but that’s the language of film. It's the drama that must hit home, stick in our minds, and make us look behind the commonplace, argued Mr Walker.

If the victors write history, then after 1945, they wrote it in English. The defeated had to read.

Jonathan Walker described the gulf of incomprehension between East and West after the war, itself a contentious phrase. Britain was going through her own post-war identity crisis, and as ever there was the problem of the language barrier. Indeed, the British and the Americans could claim that the English language, English traditions, and values had won the war.

The Poles, despite being in the Allied camp during WWII, were not just on the losing side in a real sense, but they also became the enemy after the war, as part of the Warsaw Pact. Poland and countries behind the Iron Curtain became police states where the usual historical discourse, taken for granted in luckier societies, incurred a prison sentence; there was the official line and that was that. No wonder few people took an interest in eastern European history. For the West, it was literally terra incognita.

The breakthrough, if it can be called this, came in the late 1970s and 1980s; in historical terms, only yesterday. So perhaps we should not be so surprised.

Poland's truth can, at last, compete freely with that of other countries.

Mr Walker was a contributor to the recent historical conference organised by the Museum of Polish History entitled “The Burden of Victory”, which dealt with the legacy of WWII in Poland and the region as a whole.

More details on the conference are available here.