Poland’s 20th century tragedy

Stuck between Germany and the Soviet Union didn't stop thousands of Poles from contributing to the war effort in the 1940s

Poland’s 20th century tragedyCanadians who grouse about living next door to the American elephant should consider the situation of Poland, particularly in the mid-20th century. With Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union on one side and Adolf Hitler’s Germany on the other, Poles must have occasionally wondered just what they had done to merit this unfortunate geography. English journalist Max Hastings…

Raphael Lemkin: the man who coined the word genocide

Lemkin lobbied tirelessly for the United Nations to adopt a definition of the word genocide

Raphael Lemkin: the man who coined the word genocideI recently asked my Grade 12 students if Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term “genocide”, was a great man. What I got in response from my students was quite thought provoking. Everyone seemed to agree that Lemkin was a noble man with a noble cause. He was a Polish Jew, born in 1900.…

Dunkirk and the maligned Belgians

When disaster comes calling, shifting the blame is generally not too far behind, and war is the perfect setting for laying blame

Dunkirk and the maligned BelgiansThree things happened at Dunkirk, France, between May 26 and June 4, 1940, during the early days of the Second World War. First, the evacuation of more than 300,000 British and Allied troops made it possible to believe that Germany might be denied ultimate triumph. And that was an unambiguously good thing. Second, the British…

Mystery still swirls around Hitler’s death 72 years later

Barring the release of some smoking gun document buried in intelligence archives, the question of whether Hitler died in his bunker will probably never be settled

Mystery still swirls around Hitler’s death 72 years laterThe Second World War ended 72 years ago. Historians have produced a voluminous history chronicling its course. Yet almost three-quarters of a century later, there are still many unanswered questions about the war, and there is considerable material about wartime military and intelligence operations that, inexplicably, remains classified. Not surprisingly, those unanswered questions have given…

Lesson from the tragedy of the MS St. Louis

We turned away a ship full of gifted souls, ready and willing to use their talents for the betterment of Canada, before because of our irrational fears

Lesson from the tragedy of the MS St. LouisHistory too often repeats itself, to the detriment of us all. In the months before the start of the Second World War, more than 900 Jews boarded the MS St. Louis in Hamburg harbour in hopes of escaping the racism of Nazi Germany. All of these people had witnessed Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and…

Irena Sendler’s remarkable courage should inspire us all

As a member of the Polish underground in Warsaw, Sendler saved thousands of Jewish children from the Nazis because she had the courage to follow her convictions

Irena Sendler’s remarkable courage should inspire us allIrena Sendler, when asked about the thousands of Jewish children she saved during the Second World War, said, “I was no hero. I just did a regular thing.” This is a common sentiment expressed by rescuers. In many ways, they're absolutely right. Almost all of us feel a calling to stand up for what we know…

History passes judgment on Nuremberg Trials

A classic case of victor’s justice masquerading as a modern judicial proceeding

History passes judgment on Nuremberg TrialsMy late father disapproved of the Nuremberg Trials. It wasn’t that he had any sympathy for the Nazis assembled for judgment. Nor did he have any principled objection to the capital punishment that was meted out. But he did believe that the Nuremberg process was flawed in both conception and execution. He believed that the Nuremberg…

Hollywood icons and the Second World War

Some Hollywood legends actually participated in the reality of war, rather than merely on celluloid

Hollywood icons and the Second World WarIf you’re like me, the most vivid combat images you have of the Second World War come from Hollywood movies. Whether it was John Wayne on Iwo Jima or Errol Flynn in Burma, heroism was very much the order of the day. And Americans were invariably at the centre of the action. Naturally, the historical…

Winston Churchill and the villainous ‘Guilty Men’

An influential book from 1940 laid the guilt of appeasing Nazi Germany at the feet of 15 public figures

Winston Churchill and the villainous ‘Guilty Men’While writing a recent column on Winston Churchill, I thought about the so-called Guilty Men, that being the title of a hugely influential polemic first published in the summer of 1940. The book’s thesis was simple: Britain’s dire straits could be laid at the door of 15 public figures who were deemed guilty of having…
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