The Polish Officer
The Polish Officer
by Alan Furst
From the Trade Paperback edition.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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The Pilava LocalIn Poland, on the night of 11 September 1939, Wehrmacht scout and commando units--elements of Kuechler's Third Army Corps--moved silently around the defenses of Novy Dvor, crossed the Vistula over the partly demolished Jablonka Bridge, and attempted to capture the Warsaw Telephone Exchange at the northern edge of the city. Meeting unexpected, and stubborn, resistance, they retreated along Sowacki Street and established positions on the roof and in the lobby of the Hotel Franconia, called for dive-bomber attacks on the exchange building, and settled in to wait for the light of dawn.
Mr. Felix Malek, proprietor of the Franconia, put on his best blue suit, and, accompanied by a room-service waiter, personally served cognac to the German soldiers at their mortar and machine-gun positions. He then descended to the wine cellar, opened the concealed door to an underground passage originally dug during the Prussian attack of 1795, hurried down Sowacki Street to the telephone exchange, and asked to see "the gentleman in charge."
He was taken up a marble staircase to the director's office on the fifth floor and there, beneath a somber portrait of the director--pince-nez and brushed whiskers--presented to the officer in command, a captain. The captain was an excellent listener, and the questions he asked inspired Mr. Malek to talk for a long time. Arms, unit size, insignia, the location of positions--he was surprised at how much he knew.
When he was done, they gave him tea. He asked if he might remain at the exchange, it would be an honor to fight the Germans. No, they said, perhaps another day. So Mr. Malek made his way through the night to his sister's apartment in the Ochota district. "And what," she asked, "were they like?"
Mr. Malek thought a moment. "Educated," he said. "Quite the better class of people."
Mr. Malek had not been thirty years an innkeeper for nothing: the defenders of the Warsaw Telephone Exchange, hastily recruited amidst the chaos of the German invasion, were officers of Polish Military Intelligence, known, in imitation of the French custom, as the Deuxième Bureau. The Breda machine gun at the casement window was served by a lieutenant from the cryptographic service, a pair of spectacles folded carefully in his breast pocket. The spidery fellow reloading ammunition belts was, in vocational life, a connoisseur of the senior civil service of the U.S.S.R., while the commander of the machine gun, feet propped on the tripod, was Lieutenant Karlinski, heavy and pink, who in normal times concerned himself with the analysis of Baltic shipping.
The officer in charge, Captain Alexander de Milja, was professionally a cartographer; first a mapmaker, later assistant director of the bureau's Geographical Section. But Poland was at war--no, Poland had lost her war, and it was clear to the captain that nobody was going to be assistant director of anything for a long time to come.
Still, you couldn't just stop fighting. Captain de Milja stood at the open window; the night air, cool and damp, felt especially good on his hands. Idiot! He'd grabbed the overheated barrel of the machine gun to change it during the attack, and now he had red stripes on his palms that hurt like hell.
4:20 a.m. He swept the façade of the hotel with his binoculars, tried--based on the proprietor's intelligence--counting up floors to focus on certain rooms, but the Germans had the windows shut and all he could see was black glass. In Sowacki Square, a burned-out trolley, and the body of a Wehrmacht trooper, like a bundle of rags accidentally left in a doorway, weapon and ammunition long gone. To somebody's attic. De...
About the Author-
Often compared to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Alan Furst is a master of the spy thriller and one of the great war novelists of our time. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, and The World at Night. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
From the Hardcover edition.
Starred review from January 30, 1995
With clear, reticent prose and his trademark mastery of historical detail, Furst (Shadow Trade; Night Soldiers) brings vividly to life this WWII-era tale of espionage and bravery, chronicling the work of the Polish underground in Poland, France and the Ukraine. As Warsaw is falling in 1939, Polish Captain Alexander de Milja embarks on a harrowing journey to smuggle the national gold reserves out of the country by rail-the first of many death-defying missions he will undertake for the nascent ZWZ, the Union for Armed Struggle. Under a series of false identities, mingling with the bon vivants of occupied Paris, he later becomes a prized intelligence resource in France, surviving by cunning and passing valuable strategic information to the British. In the novel's final section, de Milja is in even more danger, working as a saboteur based in a Ukrainian forest as the Germans march east. Throughout these dramatic events, Furst's understated narrative is insightful and convincing. The unassuming de Milja-who considers himself merely ``unafraid to die, and lucky so far''-proves an engaging protagonist. His exploits and the courageous sacrifices of the ordinary patriots who help him are both thrilling and at times inspiring.
- Charles McCarry "Beautifully written, powerfully imagined, and riveting as pure story....The book is a triumph."
- Robert Chatain, Chicago Tribune "Brilliantly imagined, vividly drawn, rich with incident and detail....The Polish Officer portrays ordinary men and women caught out on the sharp edge of military intelligence operations in wartime: the partisans, saboteurs, resistance fighters and idealistic volunteers risking their lives in causes that seem lost."
- Robin Winks, The Boston Globe "[A] riveting 'pure' story...wonderfully exact...transcends the spy novel while delivering everything any fan of le Carré could ask for."
PublisherRandom House Publishing Group
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