Publi­sher : Inde­pen­den­tly publi­shed (Nov. 5 2019)

Dying Echo­es: Memo­irs of the War 1914–1920 by Sta­ni­sław Kaw­czak was first publi­shed in Poland in 1936 (Milk­ną­ce Echa: Wspo­mnie­nia z Woj­ny 1914–1920).

It tells the sto­ry and expe­rien­ces of a young Polish con­script in the Austrian army who fought during WWI wearing the Austrian uni­form aga­inst the Rus­sian army on the Eastern Front and the Ita­lian army on the Southern Front.

Kaw­czak began his mili­ta­ry care­er as a cor­po­ral, and was pro­mo­ted to offi­cer cadet, lieu­te­nant, and final­ly captain.

From the begin­ning of the war his heart was in the strug­gle for Polish inde­pen­den­ce and the defe­at of the three occu­py­ing powers (Ger­ma­ny, Austria and Rus­sia) which had par­ti­tio­ned Poland sin­ce the 1790s.

Kaw­czak was among the foun­ding mem­bers of a secret orga­ni­za­tion among Polish offi­cers known as “Fre­edom” (Wol­ność).

At the end of WWI the empi­res of the three occu­py­ing powers col­lap­sed whi­le the Polish Sta­te was reborn. It imme­dia­te­ly faced hosti­li­ties and bor­der dispu­tes with neigh­bo­ring countries.

Kaw­czak descri­bes his expe­rien­ces figh­ting aga­inst the Ukra­inians, Czechs and Rus­sians. The nar­ra­ti­ve is vivid and gives the reader an ima­ge of the life of a sol­dier on the march and in the tren­ches, as well as an acco­unt of the poli­ti­cal deba­tes abo­ut natio­nal inte­re­sts during the “Gre­at War”. This book is con­si­de­red in Polish lite­ra­tu­re among the best of the WWI memo­irs and an authen­tic histo­ri­cal acco­unt of the pli­ght of Polish sol­diers in the Austrian army and nascent Polish for­ces. This is the first English trans­la­tion, with intro­duc­tions by Sta­ni­sław Kawczak’s son and grandson.These memo­irs will be of spe­cial inte­rest to stu­dents of Polish histo­ry and the com­ple­xi­ties of natio­na­list con­flicts during and after WWI.–1920/
Novem­ber 2020 ‑1 Vol. 109, No. 9. Page 6.

A first-hand Polish acco­unt of All Cha­os on World War I’s Eastern Front
Revie­wed by Mark Dillon

DYING ECHOES: Memo­irs of the War 1914–1920
by Sta­ni­slaw Kawczak

English trans­la­tion, intro­duc­tion by Andrew Kavchak

The pas­sing of many 100-year anni­ver­sa­ries has gene­ra­ted excel­lent histo­ries and docu­men­ta­ries abo­ut the Eastern Front of World War I and Polish-Soviet War. From the muste­ring of con­scrip­ted tro­ops for Kaiser, Empe­ror and Czar to the Mirac­le of the Vistu­la, the top-down sto­ry and all its nuan­ces are chro­nic­led in mul­ti­ple ways.

Dying Echo­es: Memo­irs of the War 1914–1920 offers a dif­fe­rent, gro­und-view win­dow into that period, as it is the per­so­nal acco­unt of Sta­ni­sław Kaw­czak, a Pole from Nowy Sącz serving in the 20th Infan­try Regi­ment of the Austrian Hun­ga­rian Army and in the Polish Army in what is now Ukra­ine after Polish inde­pen­den­ce in 1918.

Kawczak’s grand­son Andrew Kavchak of Toron­to has publi­shed in English a work first publi­shed in Poland in 1936 (Milk­ną­ce Echa: Wspo­mnie­nia z Woj­ny 1914–1920) that, at the time, was con­si­de­red one of the best memo­irs of its kind, per­haps with a simi­lar impact in Poland that All Quiet on the Western Front had when first publi­shed in Ger­ma­ny in 1929. Unli­ke Erich Remanque’s novel or The Good Sol­dier Svejk: and His For­tu­nes in the World War, writ­ten by Czech anar­chist Jaro­slav Hasek, Dying Echoes,is not a work of fic­tion with an anti-war agen­da. Rather it is vivid chro­nic­le that richly conveys Poles’ mixed emo­tions, con­flic­ting loy­al­ties and day-to-day bat­tle­field hard­ships in the unvar­ni­shed lan­gu­age of the time.

As such it offers a third or fourth gene­ra­tion Polish Ame­ri­can the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn what hap­pe­ned to the gene­ra­tion the­ir 19th cen­tu­ry ance­stors left behind in par­ti­tio­ned Poland, in the­ir own words. One mar­ches with the men in the­ir foot­steps car­ry­ing 65 lb packs, weeps with Polish and Ukra­inian women as the dead are taken away in hor­se-drawn carts and vil­la­ges are bur­ned. A bit of per­so­nal disc­lo­su­re: bro­thers and cousins of my grand­fa­ther served in the same 20th Infan­try regiment.

Kaw­czak, who rose from the ranks from cor­po­ral to cap­ta­in, was among the foun­ding mem­bers of a secret gro­up of Polish offi­cers known as Fre­edom (Wol­ność). On Octo­ber 31, 1918, two weeks befo­re the end of the war, he led a blo­odless coup to take con­trol of Nowy Sącz for Poland from the Austrian-Hun­ga­rian mili­ta­ry. His regi­ment had the une­nvia­ble task of facing hosti­li­ties and bor­der dispu­tes with neigh­bo­ring coun­tries for two more years. Kaw­czak descri­bes his expe­rien­ces figh­ting Ukra­inian natio­na­li­sts, Czech inva­ders in ear­ly 1919 and Bol­she­vik Rus­sians in 1920.

Dying Echo­es also depicts Kaw­czak unit’s enga­ge­ment in the Ita­lian cam­pa­ign. In a sen­se it is the other side of Hemingway’s 1929 novel Fare­well to Arms. Like Hemin­gway, Kawczak’s pro­se is rich in gra­phic, jour­na­li­stic-quali­ty deta­il and descrip­tion, giving a reader a full sen­se of slog­ging thro­ugh the mud and icy cold rain, the ter­ror that comes with bat­tle and the fog of war and its bru­tal aftermath.

The­re is, howe­ver, one impor­tant dif­fe­ren­ce betwe­en the Western lite­ra­ry view of the Gre­at War and this Polish per­spec­ti­ve. Rather than Hemingway’s soul-sear­ching, self-absor­bed “Lost Gene­ra­tion,” for men like Kaw­czak the end of par­ti­tio­ned rule in Poland and vic­to­ry over the Bol­she­viks ini­tia­ted a period of natio­nal rebirth and rene­wed con­fi­den­ce. In the 1920s, Sta­ni­slaw Kaw­czak ear­ned a law degree from Jagiel­lo­nian Uni­ver­si­ty and was acti­ve­ly invo­lved in buil­ding the Second Polish Republic.

Howe­ver, the Rena­is­san­ce was not to last. In Sep­tem­ber 1939, as Poland was inva­ded by her two evil neigh­bors – Nazi Ger­ma­ny and the Soviet Union. Kaw­czak aga­in repor­ted for duty with the Polish Army. During the con­flict, he was taken pri­so­ner by the Rus­sians and beca­me one of the 22,000 sol­diers and civi­lians mur­de­red at Katyn in the spring of 1940.
Kawczak’s book, ban­ned in Poland during the Com­mu­nist era, was reprin­ted in Polish in 1991. In 2003, trans­la­tor Mar­ta Brze­ski pro­du­ced a fini­shed work in English that Kawczak’s grand­son publi­shed in Cana­da last Novem­ber and is now ava­ila­ble in the U.S.
Dying Echo­es is ava­ila­ble at in paper­back, and on Kindle