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02 October 2014

The Warsaw Uprising of 1944: Epilogue

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In August this year we published a post to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising. Today, on the anniversary of its ending our guest blogger Andrzej Dietrich  looks back again at the events of 1944. (You can read the original Polish text of this post here)

The decision to start the uprising was made in a difficult political situation without taking into consideration the fighting power of the Home Army (known as AK). There was no consensus at AK Headquarters as to the launch of the uprising, its sense, chance of success and its possible date. Similarly, the Polish Government-in-Exile in London was divided in opinion over this matter. The AK  was poorly equipped. It had enough arms and anti-tank weapons for only three to five days. The Germans had 15,000 soldiers, including 3,000 Russians and Cossacks in the unit called RONA (Russkaia Osvoboditel’naia Narodnaia Armiia).  The German side also had at their disposal large amounts of weapons and ammunition, tanks and planes.

A number of turbulent meetings were held at AK Headquarters in the last week of July 1944. Colonel Janusz Bokszczanin, an opponent of the uprising, was in favour of waiting for events to unfold. The legendary ‘Courier from Warsaw’, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, who recently arrived from London, conveyed Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army Kazimierz Sosnkowski’s negative attitude towards a potential uprising as well the allies’ lack of ability to provide aid.  General Leopold Okulicki was sent from London to Poland in March 1944 with instructions from General Sosnkowski to block the launch of an uprising in Warsaw. However, he ignored the order and, instead, became the principal advocate of the uprising.  At some point, General Tadeusz Bór- Komorowski, the Chief Commander of the Home Army (photo below from Wikimedia Commons), driven to despair, arranged for a vote [sic!]. This reflected his state of mind and lack of control over the situation:  you can vote in a parliament, but in an army you must carry out orders!


Finally, Komorowski gave in to pressure and on31  July  made a decision for the uprising to start on 1 August , at 5pm, also called “W-hour”. 30,000 soldiers of the Home Army who were mobilised and placed in specific locations of the city were unarmed. They were supposed to be given arms before “W- hour”, but in reality only a small proportion of weapons reached the meeting points. As a result, at the crucial hour only 1,500 soldiers were fully armed. In the first days of struggle (i.e., up to 5  August ) the insurgents were successful to some extent owing to the Germans being taken by surprise. Later the Germans received reinforcements and a massacre started. The city was bombarded both by heavy artillery and planes. The Dirlewanger brigade, made up largely of criminals, were known for their exceptional atrocities. They murdered 40,000 civilians in the Wola District of Warsaw, sparing not a single soul and burning the corpses.

Warsaw suffered shortages of food, water, medicine and first aid supplies. Hunger and disease were ubiquitous. One should honour the heroism of the soldiers and civilian population of the city, which systematically day by day was falling into ruin.


Warsaw, ruins YA.1989.b.5500
Ruins in central Warsaw after the Uprising, from André Lenoir, Varsovie 1944. (Geneva, 1944) British Library YA.1989.b.5500

The tragic balance of the uprising:

18,000 soldiers and 200,000 inhabitants were killed. Material losses included 70% of the city’s buildings being destroyed, burnt archives, libraries, works of art and culture created by generations of Poles throughout the centuries. In addition, Poland lost a generation of intelligentsia with significant consequences for the country in the following decades. In contrast, the Germans lost 6,000 soldiers including many common criminals sent to suppress the uprising. General Władysław Anders, in a letter to General Marian Kukiel,  wrote:

 …a fighting Warsaw brought me to my knees, but I consider the uprising in Warsaw a crime. Thousands killed, the capital utterly destroyed, the enormous suffering of the whole civilian population, the fruit of hard work throughout the centuries annihilated…

In his diary Winston Churchill gently noted: “There are few virtues that the Poles do not possess and there are few errors they have ever avoided.”

After 63 days of futile and hopeless struggle General Bór-Komorowski signed an act of capitulation in the early hours of 3 October  1944.

Little Insurgent Pomnik_Malego_Powstanca

On 1 October, 1983 the Monument of the Little Insurgent (picture above by Cezary p from Wikimedia Commons) was erected to let future generations know that children were also involved in the struggle. To commemorate the city’s fight, the Monument of the Warsaw Uprising was unveiled on August 1  1989 (picture below by DavidConFran from Wikimedia commons).

Warsaw uprising monument 2

Both these monuments are, alas, memorials of shame to those whose tragic decisions led to the destruction of Warsaw.

Andrzej Dietrich

Translated by Magda Szkuta

Further reading

J.K. Zawodny, Nothing but honour: the story of the Warsaw Uprising (London, 1978) X.809/43121

Władysław Bartoszewski, Abandoned heroes of the Warsaw Uprising (Kraków, 2008) LD.31.b.1915


29 September 2014

A Glider Pilot amongst the Mosquitoes

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This year sees not only the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One (in case you missed it), it is also the 60th anniversary of the International Federation of Translators, the organisation that gave us International Translation Day which we celebrate on 30 September.

The IFT’s charter states that:

Translation has established itself as a permanent, universal and necessary activity in the world of today that by making intellectual and material exchanges possible among nations it enriches their life and contributes to a better understanding amongst men.

Curators in European Studies at the British Library know all about the importance of translations. We select original literary works in European languages,  and of course we receive English translations published in the UK under legal deposit law. We also sometimes buy foreign translations of works originally published in English. MAKArnhemLift DSCF4194

An example of this is Arnhem Lift, (London, 1945; British Library 9100.a.80). It is an eyewitness account from the battle of Arnhem by a glider pilot. (There’s another anniversary for you: this month saw the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem). Initially published anonymously in 1945 it saw three print runs in its first year. The British Library holds three copies from 1945; the copy mentioned above and copies at shelfmarks, X11/5678 [pictured right], and W5/3276 (both held in our lending collections and available via the Interlibrary Loans system).

MAKArnhemLift DSCF4191Then in 1946 Jules Timmermans translated the book into under the title Ik vocht om Arnhem (Nijmegen. 1946; X.808/41632 [pictured left]). Just before this translation went to press the author’s name was made public.

Sergeant Louis Hagen,  came from a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany. They moved in high circles and so Hagen met Prince Bernhard, husband of Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. (Hagen was mistaken for the Prince when in Arnhem in 1944.) In 1934 Hagen was arrested for writing a joke about Hitler’s Sturmabteilung on a postcard. He was sent to a concentration camp, but was freed after six weeks, thanks to the intervention of an old school friend. This episode prompted the family to leave Germany. Mr and Mrs Hagen made it to the USA, but Louis ended up in England. Eventually he joined the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1943. Arnhem was his first battle, supporting the Mosquitoes and other planes of the RAF. The Pegasus Archive website gives a detailed account of his experiences during the week the battle raged.

MAKArnhemLift Louis_Hagen_1
Louis Hagen. Image from the Pegasus archive

An illustrated second edition of Arnhem Lift appeared in 1953 (copies at 9102.b.39 and W53/9325). It includes a foreword by Sir Frederick A.M. Browning, one of the commanders of Operation Market Garden. A reprint followed in 1977 (X.809/42364).

MAKArnhemLift DSCF4196
Map of landing area from Arnhem Lift. 2nd ed., 1953, page 14. (W53/9325)

In 1993 an edition entitled Arnhem lift : and the German Version  (London, 1993; YK.1996.b.4977) appeared. It gives the German version of the story by a German Arnhem veteran, whom Hagen met at a dinner party in the early 90s. The latest edition is from 2012: Arnhem lift : a German Jew in the Glider Pilot Regiment. (Stroud, 2012  YK.2013.a.1146 [below]).

Arnhem Lift YK2013a1146

What started off as a typed-up account of a soldier, solely to be distributed amongst his friends, became a very popular work indeed, or it would not have seen three editions with several reprints, nor would it have been translated into Dutch, German, French and Italian. Hagen not only continued to write four more books, but he also translated four German books about the Second World War into English.

As a translator he would not have received as much attention as an author. Translators are often the glider pilots amongst the Mosquitoes/authors of the literary world. So, on this International Translation Day let’s hear it for the glider pilots/translators!

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch and Flemish Collections

References and further reading:

C. Bauer, The battle of Arnhem: the betrayal myth refuted /  translated by D.R.Welsh. (S.l., 1966 ) X11/7954

G. Freeman, Escape from Arnhem : a glider pilot's story. (Barnsley, 2010) YC.2011.a.3997

R. Gibson, Nine days : (17th to 25th September 1944) : the authentic description of a glider pilot's experience at Arnhem, from take-off to his escape …. (Peterborough, 2012) YK.2013.a.4152

C.B. Mackenzie, It was like this!  = Zó was het! A short factual account of the battle of Arnhem and Oosterbeek … Translation: W. van der Heide … 2nd amplified edition. . (Oosterbeek, 1956) 9102.fff.61

R.J. Kershaw, It never snows in September. (Marlborough, 1990) YK.1991.b.2242  and  q90/13081

M. Middlebrook, Arnhem 1944 : the airborne battle, 17-26 September (London, 1995) YK.1996.a.6739 and  98/25541

J. Piekalkiewicz, Arnheim 1944 : Deutschlands letzter Sieg (Oldenburg, 1976). F10/1896; English translation by H.A. and A.J. Baker, Arnhem, 1944. (London, 1977). X.802/10563

T. Plieviern, Berlin [translated from the German by Louis Hagen]. (London. 1969) H.69/634.

C. Ryan,  A bridge too far (Ware, 1999)  YC.2002.a.5467

W. Schellenberg, Memoirs / edited and translated by Louis Hagen. (S.l., 1956) BL W65/9854, W11/1360, W13/6630, W54/3792

R. E. Urquhart, Arnhem. (London, 1958) BL 9103.d.26.

H. Walburgh Schmidt Het Dertiende Peloton : levensverhalen rond zweefvliegtuig Horsa 166, Slag bij Arnhem 1944 (Soesterberg, 2004). YF.2005.a.23627 (Includes text in English)

26 September 2014

Kazimir Malevich - pioneer of Russian abstract art

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“Look, just look, the Vistula is near”. Poster designed by Kazimir Malevich with caption by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Moscow, 1914). British Library HS.74/273(3)

Having just viewed the excellent Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example the figure of an officer on one of the series of anti-German propaganda postcards in the “Works on paper” section with the caption “Look, just look, the Vistula is near” appears again on one of the lithographed posters Malevich designed for the project “Today’s Lubok” in the same year. In both the postcard and poster (which uses different colours) you can already see the tendency towards depicting the human figure as being made up of geometrical shapes, the use of bright colours (also found in Russian folk paintings or lubki) and the stylised patterns (e.g. to depict grass) of contemporary Primitivist paintings.

The British Library holds four lithographed First World War posters designed by Malevich.  One of these – “Wilhelm’s Merry-go-round” (HS 74/273(4)) – is also displayed in the British Library’s current exhibition Enduring War.

Malevich, Prayer

Kazimir Malevich, “Prayer” from Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh. (St Petersburg, 1913). C.114mm.28.

Also included in the “Works on paper” section of the exhibition is Malevich’s “Molitva” (Prayer). This appears in the lithographed Futurist publication Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh (known in English as “Explodity”). It is in the Cubo-Futurist style which combines the multi-viewpoints and cylindrical machine like shapes of Cubism (cf. Léger) with the dynamic approach of Futurism though here applied in the Russian manner to a static meditative pose rather than depicting movement.

During his Futurist period Malevich developed the theory of alogism where colour is divorced from the object that is being depicted. This combined with the irrationalism of the Russian Futurists can be seen in  An Englishman in Moscow (1914) where objects of different scale and unnatural colour are combined in a surrealistic collage.

Punin, Lectures

Nikolai Punin, Pervyi tsikl lektsii. (Petrograd, 1920). C.145.a.2.

There are several examples of book covers designed by Malevich included in the exhibition. One also held by the British Library is his cover for Nikolai Punin’s, Pervyi tsikl lektsii (First cycle of lectures). This cover exemplifies the use of bright colours and geometrical forms of Malevich’s abstract Suprematist  style for a book about drawing in modern art.

New systems in Art

Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve. (Vitebsk, 1919). C.114.n.46.

In 1919 Malevich joined the art school set up by Chagall in Vitebsk. Here he began to produce books that promoted Suprematism as the correct method for modern art. His ideas were elucidated further in the manifesto O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New systems in Art) published in Vitebsk in 1919. This publication was hand produced in the Art School by transfer lithography with a linocut (see above) by El Lissitzky. It was republished in abbreviated form by Narkompros as Ot Sezanna do suprematizmu (From Cezanne to Suprematism) in 1920. (C.127.g.11.) 

Affirmer of the New Art

“A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin” from  Mikhail Karasik, Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva. (St Petersburg, 2007). HS.74/1966. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

An interesting use of Malevich’s Suprematist imagery can be seen in Mikhail Karasik’s artist’s book of 16 lithographs entitled Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva  (To the Affirmer of the New Art). In No.6 “A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin: Stalin calls upon the spirit of Malevich” his black square and a robotic looking figure together with the letters of the artists’ collective UNOVIS are merged into a contemporary photo of Stalin making a speech.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies


Other original works by Malevich held by the British Library:

Kazimir Malevich, Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika [God is not cast down: art, church, factory], (Vitebsk, 1922). C.114.n.33.

Kazimir Malevich, Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: novyi zhivopisnyi realizm [From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: new painterly realism], 3rd edition. (Moscow, 1916).

Artists books containing illustrations by Malevich:

Daniel Kharms, Na smert’ Kazimira Malevicha [On the death of Kazimir Malevich], (St Petersburg, 2000). Lithographs and commentaries by Mikhail Karasik. Cover decorated with a fabric design by Malevich. HS.74/1743

Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, Igra v adu [Game in hell], 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). Cover and 3 lithographs by Malevich. Cup.406.g.2 and

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Pobeda nad solntsem; opera [Victory over the sun: opera], music by M. Matiushin, (St Petersburg, 1913). A set design by Malevich appears on the cover.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Slovo kak takovoe [Word as such.], (Moscow, 1913). Cover illustration (Reaper) by K. Malevich.

Troe [Three] by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and E. Guro, (St Petersburg, 1913). Cover and drawings dedicated to the memory of E. Guro by K. Malevich. C.105.a.7

Zina V. and Aleksei Kruchenykh. Porosiata [Piglets], (St Petersburg: EUY, 1913). Cover (Peasant woman) and illustrations (including “Portrait of a builder”) by Malevich. C.104.e.21

Useful reference sources:

Malevich edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. (London, 2014.) [Catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition]

Leaflet text of Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern by Simon Bolitho.