Last week, as all eyes turned to Poland and the many events taking place as part of Holocaust Memorial Day, it became more apparent that there is a part of Polish WWII history which is often overlooked in the shadow of the Holocaust. More than two weeks after Nazi Germany’s attack on September 1st, Poland was also invaded from the east by Soviet Russia. The country was essentially sold and condemned to years of oppression, with much of the Polish intelligentsia sent to the inhumane lands of Siberia, the work camps at Auschwitz, or the eerily silent woods of Katyn, from which they were never to return. Though Auschwitz stands as a living reminder of the injustices of Nazi oppression, many forget about the near 20,000 Polish military officers, professors, doctors, lawyers and the clergy who were killed by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, in the forests of Katyn, Kharkiv, Mednoye, Bykovnia and Ostashkov.
Yet this is not a memory which will be forsaken lightly. Wesley Adamczyk’s When God Looked the Other Way is a gripping memoir of his family’s exile into the inhumane barren wastes of Kazahstan and subsequent escape to British occupied Iran. It is a book which gives voice to the thousands of victims of Soviet barbarism; crimes which have only recently begun to surface. Not only does it illuminate one of the darkest periods of European history, offering a stark picture of the terrors of Communism, it also traces the loss of innocence of its young protagonist, the intimate depiction of hope and sheer desire to live which ultimately guided his family to safety, though not without a price to be paid. His story is that of a boyhood lived in unspeakable circumstances, struggling not to succumb to the exhaustion, hunger, disease, and displacement which stripped so many of their dignity before depriving them of their lives.
Although it’s perhaps easy to dismiss this novel as just another of many written on the war, I would urge you to resist this temptation. It is so much more than just that. It is “history with a human face”, as it has been described by Andrew Beichman of the Washington Times. Adamczyk’s prose is unpretentious, his language accessible, seeking only to capture the frightful reality, without pretence or flourish. Yet what it achieves is not only an intensely moving account of this forgotten period of history, of war crimes for which the Soviet government has only recently admitted culpability.
To some extent, Adamczyk manages to return honour to the families wrested from their homes and deported many miles east where many perished unnamed and forgotten. Lest we forget, I invite you all to read this chronicle of the immense human atrocity which has yet to receive its historical due.