By any standards, Waldemar Lotnik's experience of the Second World War was remarkable. Fighting in the Polish Resistance, his unit was engaged in a bitter ethnic conflict with pro-Nazi Ukrainians. Unknown in the West, this struggle was, like that raging at the same time between the Serbs and Croats, provoked by the Nazis arming one ethnic group and unleashing it against a rival. Lotnik describes his part in a war of terror and counter-terror, which claimed at least half a million lives, with total and sometimes frightening candour.
Captured by the Germans, he was taken to the Majdanek concentration camp. There he carted corpses to the crematorium and, like every inmate, fought a day-by-day battle for survival. When the camp was liberated, Lotnik volunteered for the new 'Red' Polish Air Force, and, while training to fly, was recruited by the Soviet security service, the NKVD, to inform on his comrades. After deserting, he joined the Polish Home Army, which in the summer of 1945 was fighting a desperate but doomed battle against the country's new occupiers. With the Soviets' victory never seriously in doubt, he escaped to the West to begin a new life.
Nine Lives offers a brutally frank account of ethnic warfare which has striking parallels with recent conflicts in the Balkans and also describes a major 'sideshow' to the Second World War which is virtually unknown outside Eastern Europe.
'An unforgettable book ... one of the most tragic and horrifying memoirs to emerge from the Second World War.' - Neal Ascherson
World War II memoirs are numerous but this deserves consideration, principally for its account of a conflict previously unknown outside Eastern Europe. Lotnik was a young member of the Polish Resistance, involved in hostilities with pro-Nazi Ukranians. Captured by the Germans, he was briefly interred in a concentration camp before liberation thrust him into different danger: recruited as an agent for the Soviet security service. Deserting this, he joined the Polish Home Army in their futile attempt to repulse the Soviets. Fleeing to the West, Lotnik has lived in England for the past 50 years. Brutally frank, with details that may be hard to stomach, Lotnik's account, with chilling reminiscence of the recent Balkan conflict, is a candid story of survival against extraordinary odds. (Kirkus UK)