An Instant Access to Polish History

When the historian and World War II Special Emissary Professor George Lerski (1917-1992), finished work on his Historical Dictionary of Poland, 996-1945 in the Spring of 1992, the whole manuscript came to about 1600 pages. It was very long and the publisher asked the author to reduce the number of pages. Professor Lerski, who already had been ailing for some time, went to work over the completed manuscript again. He made a lot of notes on how to accomplish this difficult task. But death did not allow him to complete this edition. After his untimely death interrupted this monumental and single-handed task, the laborious responsibility of finishing Professor Lerski's dictionary was undertaken by his wife, Halina Lerski, and two of his friends: Professor Piotr Wrobel and Professor Richard I. Kozicki. The recently published volume includes six maps, more than 750 pages, and a bibliography and index.

Professor Lerski's broad dictionary of Poland includes over 2,000 entries on people, events, magazines, and terms meaningful to Polish history. Everybody who is looking for specific information on the past of Poland between 996 until 1945 will find in this dictionary concise information followed by a note regarding bibliographic sources for each entry. This as well as an excellent bibliography of books in several languages published at the end of this dictionary allow the reader to find any data on Poland and her heritage.

Even though another work with similar title Historical Dictionary of Poland was published in England in 1994 consisting of some four hundred entries and one hundred pages of bibliography, it is a valuable adequate source complementary only to Professor Lerski's work. His volume should be treated as a standard reference and a must-have book for all of those scholars, students, politicians and admirers of Polish history who want to learn more on Poland and do not have adequate knowledge of the Polish language. Another valuable edition, Leksykon historii Polski, was published recently in Poland by a group of scholars. This large work includes more than 35,000 entries, but with only very short information on each entry and without bibliography. Because it is published only in Polish, is accessible only to Polish speaking readers.

Supposedly because of the necessity to shorten Lerski's first manuscript of this dictionary as much as possible, one may not find in his work such names of Polish well known writers and poets as Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski, Tadeusz Gajca, Ferdynand Goetel, Czeslaw Milosz or Julian Przybos. Therefore those who are looking mostly for information on literature should also check some other bibliographical sources.

Professor Lerski did not forget to name such entries as "Polonia" which refers us to "Great Emigration," and some other entries in which one may find information on Polish-American organizations, as well as Polish immigrants to America. Another cogent point of this dictionary is his approach to Polish-Jewish relations, which are mentioned in numerous entries such as "Zegota"- a code name of the clandestine Council for Aid to Jews in German-occupied Poland during World War II, "Anti-Semitism," "General Government," "Zionism" or "Final Solution"-Nazi concept and program to resolve the "Jewish question" by the extermination of all of the European Jews. He reminds the reader that Jews and Poles were both co-victims of Hitler's Germany extermination policies, and during World War II Poland lost 6,000,000 of her citizens-nearly 3,000,000 of them were Polish gentiles.

Professor Lerski's Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945, is preceded by a concise forword in which Professor Gieysztor, President of the Polish Academy of Science and Learning, outlined more than one thousand years of Polish history. In spite of some small oversights or omissions, Lerski's work should be kept as an invaluable reference book on many various private and library bookshelves.

Andrzej M. Salski

The Summit Times

Copyright 1996 by Andrzej M. Salski