Book Review: Andrzej Chwalba, The People of Poland at War: 1914-1918; Der Krieg der anderen, Die Polen und der Erste Weltkrieg 1914–1918 (2021)

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Reviews , ,

Andrzej Chwalba, The People of Poland at War: 1914-1918; Der Krieg der anderen, Die Polen und der Erste Weltkrieg 1914–1918 (2021)

In the late 1990s I travelled every five weekends to Poland as a history consultant for the KREATOR project supporting changes in school curricula and methods of teaching in Poland organised by Brunel University in London. I was a real outsider in the group as all other participants were either Polish or British. My task was to address responsible and innovative history education with a group of Polish history teachers and teacher educators. I soon found out how much attention was paid to Polish national history in schools and discovered that my knowledge of Polish history was at an absolute minimum. Desperately I searched for helpful recent academic studies, and to my regret found that there was a big deficiency in modern academic publications on Polish history, available in languages I could digest. I felt in a sense inadequate discussing responsible history education in a country where the dominant national narrative was so influenced by the late 18th century partitions and the suffering during the Second World War.

How valuable Andrzej Chwalba’s The People of Poland at War: 1914-1918 would have been to facilitate my understanding of the complexities of Polish history in that period. 

I read the book in German with the title Der Krieg der Anderen, Die Polen und der Erste Weltkrieg 1914–1918. I think the German title is better chosen, as it immediately takes you right to the heart of the matter. After all der Krieg der anderen means the war of the others: Polish soldiers were supposed to fight in the armies of three belligerent empires: The German Empire (Prussians), the Habsburg Empire, together forming the heart of the Central Powers, and the Russian Empire, belonging to the Allied Forces. The Polish speaking soldiers had no choice who to support, they simply were enlisted in the armies of the countries they happened to live in since the end of the 18th century.

The People of Poland at War: 1914-1918 is a captivating book demonstrating the profound complexity of this crucial period in Polish history. Andrzej Chwalba meticulously depicts the situation of the movements of the fronts, the miserable situation of the Polish population caught in between moving fronts and occupying forces, as well as the intellectual and military developments towards greater Polish autonomy and finally independence. And all the time the reader is made aware that all these topics lead to different experiences and pathways for the Poles not only in one of the three Empires, but also in the occupied zones of the Empires. 

Chwalba pays a lot of attention to the position of the Jews, whose preferences for the warring countries regularly differed from the Poles. The Poles living in the Russian Empire were according to Chwalba more integrated as equals in the bureaucracy and in the army than this was the case for the Central Powers. The Jews had been victims of regular pogroms in the Russian Empire, often with involvement of the army, and therefore had more of an inclination towards the Central powers (I could not help thinking how wrong that, too, went 20 years later). In the book you see a further rising of animosity between the Poles and the Jews related to different ideas about politics and about their national futures, including a desire of building a Jewish National State on the same territories that the Poles considered to be theirs.  

Disputes about the future territory of an autonomous or independent Poland are a recurrent theme in the book. Many Poles wanted to see the return to the ancient Rzeczpospolita, as it existed before 1772. The German authorities, although eventually giving some autonomy during the war and even promising post-war independence for a Polish Kingdom, were silent about what territory such an independent Poland would comprise. Other peoples living in the same regions, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians, had claims on the same lands. 

An interesting element is the rising importance of Polish civil society, especially for self-help during war and occupation. A great variety of organisations were set up to support distribution of food and accommodation, challenges relating to refugees and migration, and the reconstruction of war damages. Poles abroad, such as the famous composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, worked tirelessly to interest people in France, the United States and Britain in the miserable fate of the Polish people. Many gave generously, but a small remark in the book made me aware that the neutral Dutch did basically nothing.   

The international support, especially that of US President Wilson, was also instrumental for the Polish independence movement. His thoughts about self-determination for the Polish people were initially opposed by the United Kingdom and France, as they were worried about the implications for their own relations with Russia. However, by the end of the War, it was recognized by all Allied Powers that a Polish independent state would form a part of the Peace Settlement. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of that state was far from clear. The various developments in the different parts of the lands where Polish people lived gave much uncertainty on how to organize a unitary Polish State. Other independence movements in the same areas would also require attention for the Great Powers, looking at the vast territories in Central and Eastern Europe open for new ruling powers after the War. But one thing was clear already in November 1918, army chief and the by then national hero Pilsudski would play a leading role in the time to come.

I also have some critical observations. I missed maps dearly. In a region that changed so much since 1914, it was hard to follow the geographical details described by Chwalba. While reading, I used old maps on my iPad to trace the places mentioned. I also missed photographs of some of the leading persons and sometimes the text was a bit too detailed. The book is full of interesting quotes of people living at the time and even all sorts of contemporary songs and poems, but to my surprise annotation is missing.   

But still, the People of Poland at War is an eminent and fascinating publication and I greatly enjoyed reading it. The book is a myriad of complex and multiperspective narratives, which together made me realise how much we need Chwalba’s guidance to understand Polish history. I cannot wait for a follow up publication, giving us similar deep insights on how the Polish leadership after November 1918 has been building Poland as a unitary state. This book is a very good read for all those who want to get a better understanding of the complex history of Central and Eastern Europe written by high quality local historians like Chwalba. We certainly need more access to such publications through good translations like this one.


English version: Chwalba, Andrzej: The People of Poland at War, in: Geschichte - Erinnerung - Politik, vol. 39, Peter Lang Verlag, Berlin [a.o.] 2021.
eBook 64.49 € Hardcover for 60.03, 426 Pages. 

German version: Chwalba, Andrzej: Der Krieg der anderen, Die Polen und der erste Weltkrieg 1914-1918, Reihe: Geschichte - Erinnerung - Politik, Bd. 43, Peter Lang Verlag, Berlin [u.a] 2021.
eBook for 67.88 € Hardcover for 60.03 € (56.10), 442 Pages.

Written by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, EuroClio founder and special advisor.

Video Game Review: Valiant Hearts, The Great War

Elias Stouraitis Reviews , , ,

The content of the game

“Valiant Hearts, The Great War” was constructed by Ubisoft in 2014 as a remembrance of 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. The game team received several data from that period, such as letters written by enlisted soldiers or first-hand accounts of the war to create a historically accurate game. The game designers narrate the story of four individuals through the First World War (1914 – 1918). It is a combination between an adventure and puzzle game through which participants solve problems and act in that period. You play as if you are the four different characters of the game and you follow their journey. Players enjoy playing each character for approximately 90 minutes. There is only one singular experience and you cannot replay it in order to win or collect more items. 

Even if the game has comic-style art and characters, Valiant Hearts deals with some serious subjects, such as soldiers’ reactions the surviving during the war. The game aims to provide different perspectives derived from the four game persons. Karl is a German farmer who lives with a French wife, Marie, and their young son. He gets deported from France to fight for Germany. Emile is Karl’s father-in-law and he takes care of his daughter and his grandson while Karl is at war, but he is drafted to fight for France. Freddie is an American who joins France in the fight against Germany as a revenge towards the death of his wife. Anna is a Belgian student who sets off to the frontlines of war to find her father and she becomes a war nurse. Additionally, there is another character, Walt, the obedient dog who joins each of the characters in the game and it helps the characters. The gameplay seems simple due to the fact that there are puzzles that help you to move or to get things. On the other hand, some part of the games contains battlefields where you have to react as if you were in the war. Each game scene involves narrators’ explanation, information about the historical period and various historical items laying around.

Cognitive dimension

“Valiant Heart” adopts the historical theme of World War I with a critical approach through the presentation of the different perspectives of four personalities. The most interesting thing in this game is that players come in touch not only with personalities on the battlefield but with the societies and they feel and survive during war. The game generates empathy with civilians and soldiers and at the same time emotions to players, such as cruelty and anguish. The game shows the position of all sides of World War I and contextualizes the historical dimension. The game shows as well professional soldiers and civilians who were forced to go to war. On the other hand, people stay at home and find solutions to survive or go to war to learn more about their relatives. There are stereotypes in the game such as the female nurses, but these are not at the stake. The cartoon aesthetic may create several questions about the people of that time and the environment because it seems like a comic rather than real people. The game creators decided to leverage 2D representations so as to be more friendly for gamers and there is no cruelty from that point. As such, the war is represented by a critical stance and there are not the well-known conflicts in this kind of games. Gamers understand the different parties during this war and portray civilian characters and victims.

Significance for history educators

The game can be used by history educators in secondary education due to the fact that the game presents the World War I from comic perspective and there are emotions that students have to handle with their teachers. The good thing is that there are no cruelty scenes that would create negative sentiments to students. The approach of the war is critical, and this helps teachers to discuss the different perspectives and parties of the war. The most important thing is that the game does not emphasize on the idea of the battlefields and this means that students will manage to play and feel like people who experience this war and around it. For sure, students will be able to enhance critical thinking (survival of victims, refugees, families and so on). The cartoon aesthetic portrays the horrors of war less crudely, but teachers should discuss this sort of representation at the beginning and at the end of the game. Students understand through their immersion to the game characters that war, and human suffering is not a game. It is a priority for teachers to have PCs in the schools because it would be easier to use it. Students will not find it difficult playing it as there is a guidance at the beginning of the game and during gameplay and additionally, they must answer specific challenges. Teachers may leverage it so as each student play each character and, in the end,, they will discuss their conclusions. Additionally, teacher may separate students to different teams and each one plays a different character and then they will discuss the different perspectives.

 

Written by Elias Stouraitis

Elias Stouraitis is currently a PhD Candidate in Digital History at the Faculty of Historical Survey, History Didactics and New Technologies, Department of History and Informatics, Ionian University in Greece. He completed his undergraduate studies in History and Archaeology at the University of Athens in Greece and undertook a master’s degree in modern Greek History at the University of Athens. He teaches History and Greek Language at private education in Greece. He has worked as a Research Project Manager regarding Digital Technology in Education, Social Inclusion, History and Culture. He has been awarded a grant from the Japanese Nippon Foundation SYLFF (Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund) for his innovative and strategic abilities in research leadership and an award by Common Ground Community ‘The Learner’ for his experienced skills in Education. His main research interests are Digital History, Historical Culture, Digital Games, Design of Educational Software. He is passionate about new Creative Projects and specialized in Digital Tools and Methods.

 

Title: Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Author: Ubisoft
Year of publication: 2014
Language: English
System Requirements:  PC
Average Play Time: 6 hours
Cost: € 14.99

Online Exhibition: The Men on the Memorial

Jaco Stoop Partners ,

During the First World War, men and boys from more than 16,000 parishes in England and Wales joined the Army. Of all these villages, there were only 53 so called “Thankful Villages” – places to which everyone returned alive. The village of Skelsmergh (Cumbria, England, UK) was sadly not one: 25 men with links to the tight-knit community died.

In Europeana‘s new online exhibition The Men on the Memorial you can now read the stories behind the names of these 25 men from Skelsmergh who did not return. This virtual exhibition is based on the physical original one of the same name that has been displayed in Skelsmergh in October 2014.The Men on the Memorial has been made entirely by the people from Skelsmergh and surrounding villages. With help from local researchers and relatives of those who died they dived into the lives of the men behind the names on the World War One monument in the Parrish church. Please visit this Europeana blog for more information.

Documentary and educational plans: War and Peace in the Balkans

EuroClio Partners , ,

The First World War is associated in people’s minds with the millions who died on the Western Front. In the Balkans, however, war was not waged in the trenches; it passed through towns and villages, radically changing people’s lives. Through rare film archives and expert testimonies, the documentary War & Peace in the Balkans depicts the dramatic changes that swept through the lives of the inhabitants of the Balkans, from Bosnia and Serbia to Bulgaria, Greece and the Ottoman Empire. One hundred years after World War I, the film gives a landmark reassessment of the region’s history, by overcoming national narratives of the war and reaching a common history of the war from a regional ‘Balkan’ perspective.

The film can be licenced for school use here or ordered on DVD from Anemon Productions. An educational programme for children is available for free download in 5 languages from here.
In addition to the documentary, War and Peace in the Balkans consists of a touring exhibition that was in Athens, Thessaloniki, Budapest, Sarajevo and Belgrade. For more information visit the website. The project was produced by Anemon Productions for the Goethe-Institut Athen.

Historiana First World War Module Presented to SHP Conference, Leeds, UK

Robert Stradling (Historiana Editor-in-Chief), Helen Snelson (Historiana Learning Team) and Steven Stegers (EuroClio Programme Director) presented the Historiana First World War Module during the 26th Annual Schools History Project Conference, during the plenary session “It is not just the Western Front… EuroClio presents an online multiperspective approach to WW1”. The presentation introduced a wide range of source materials, but also teaching tools such as a newsreel of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie, a multi-stranded timeline of Key Moments in WW1 and a video tutorial of the Annotation Tool. These will be made available after the summer. For more information, please contact steven@euroclio.eu

New Historiana learning activities available!

The Historiana team is pleased to announce that 4 new learning activities on the World War 1 have been launched!

The teachers will find in each of them different exercises to teach the World War 1 to the students tackling the following issues: how to use post card to teach an event; how propaganda works; recruitment during the War; the causation of the WW 1.

The Historiana team has created learning activities in order to teach WW1 in an interactive and innovating way using a wide range of sources such as posters, postcards, interviews or pictures from important Historical National Collections.

You can find them on the Historiana website.

Enjoy the teaching!

Historiana Editing Meeting in Estonia sets the future for Historiana

The Historiana Historical Content and Learning editing teams both came together for the first time in over a year in Tallinn, Estonia from 25-27 August to work on the final stage of the World War 1 module that is under development since the beginning of 2013 and set the future for Historiana. The meeting took place in the Institute of Education of the University of Tallinn, which simultaneously organised a teacher training seminar for over 40 Estonian history educators. Historiana Editor-in-Chief Bob Stradling presented the World War 1 module and the new learning section to this group, which were received with great enthusiasm.

Former EuroClio trainee Francesco Scatigna was welcomed as the newest editor in the Historical Content team during this meeting. The Learning team editors worked on the final editing of the exemplar learning activities that have been developed in the last one and a half year, and are now gradually uploaded to the new Learning section of Historiana [la.historiana.eu]. The historical content team editors agreed on the final steps for the development of the content areas in the module including the ‘Descent into war’, ‘Experiencing the war’ and ‘Reporting the war’. The full module will be available online on www.historiana.eu by the end of 2014.  The editors also discussed the future development of Historiana and agreed to first develop a skeleton with content areas, and then populate this with sources collaboratively. Some of the editors agreed to be involved in the new Historiana project ‘Decisions and Dilemma’s’. Moreover, they agreed to train new Historiana trainers to expand the pool of people that can give workshops on Historiana throughout Europe. This resulted in the call for Core Team members for the new Historiana project Innovative History Education for All. During the visit to Tallinn there was also some time for on-site learning. The weather cleared up for a 2-hour city walk kindly provided by the daughter of EuroClio ambassador’s Mare Oja, in which the editors got an impression of the rich history of the city centre of Tallinn.

EuroClio Publication Addressed by German World Service DW

EuroClio history publication Once Upon A Time … We Lived Together is described as a good step to encouraging students to think about multi-perspective stories and reflect on differences between representations throughout history, according to DW report on “South Eastern Europe: The First World War in Textbooks”. It will enable education to “try to bring into balance the various interpretations in order to arrive at a common European history.”

The report discusses the questions students are faced with when the first world war in South Eastern Europe: Was the assassin of Sarajevo a hero or a terrorist? What are the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War? And notes that students in Southeast European countries get different answers in their textbooks. For example, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the textbooks are divided along ethnic lines: There’s own history of Serbian, Croatian and Muslim Bosnians. Thus is where EUROLCIO’s publication illustrating the events in the former Yugoslavia from the period 1912-1945 from different angles is useful. “There is an attempt to shed light on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand with various sources.”

Read the full article here.

Historiana Presented in Sarajevo 100 Years After the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

To mark the centennial of the beginning of the First World War, the Institutes of History from the University of Sarajevo together with partner research organisation from BudapestGrazLjubljanaRegensburgSkopjeSofia and Zagreb, and the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity worked together to organise the Conference “The Great War: Regional Approaches and Global Context”. The conference was opened by a key-note speech by EuroClio Honorary Board Member Prof. Mark Mazower (see video). Historiana editor-in-chief Bob Stradling and EuroClio Programme Director Steven Stegers presented the Historiana First World War Module, in a session moderated by EuroClio Ambassador Edin Radusic (see video). For more information, please see the official site of the conference or the YouTube Channel.

Historiana Team Works on WW1 Module in Edinburgh

From 20-22 May Historiana editors Bob Stradling, Chris Rowe and Historiana trainee Jorien van Driel met in Edinburgh to work on the further development of the Historiana First World War module. The team worked on different content areas that highlight specific aspects of the WW1 and agreed on a strategy on delivering the content of the Historiana First World War Module up to July. The module will consist of several resources that can be used to teach about WW1 in a comparative and transnational way: the Multi-Stranded Timeline, TimeMap and the Multiperspectivity Video. More information can be found in the brochure.