Richard C. Lukas: World War II Historian
Richard C. Lukas (born 1937) is an American historian and author of numerous books and articles on military, diplomatic, Polish, and Polish American history. He specializes in the history of Poland during World War II. Lukas is best known for The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944 which, according to the Polish American Historical Association, “remains the most complete and fair-minded effort to place what the Nazis did in Poland to all its inhabitants in its proper context.” (1)
1. PAHA News: Haiman Award, 2012.
Lukas served as a Research Consultant at the United States Air Force Historical Archives in Montgomery, Alabama prior to pursuing graduate studies at Florida State University. Lukas has spoken highly of his colleagues with whom he worked at the United States Air Force Historical Archives: “They were bright congenial young men and women who were excellent historians. I learned a great deal from them, especially the head of the project, Dr. Maurer, who encouraged me to study for my Ph.D.” He added: “These wonderful warm people became my lifelong friends.” (2)
While working at the United States Historical Archives, Lukas researched and wrote histories of air force bombardment groups which were part of the 8th, 12th and 15th Air Forces that operated in the European Theater of Operations. These histories appeared in the book, Air Force Combat Units of World War II, edited by Dr. Maurer. (3)
Lukas completed his Ph.D. at Florida State University in 1963. His mentors were Dr. Earl R. Beck, a noted authority on German history and Sorbonne-educated, Dr. Victor S. Mamatey, who specialized in the history of east central Europe. During his career, Lukas taught at several universities in Tennessee, Ohio and Florida. His students consistently praised him for his excellent teaching, which was characterized by dynamic, interesting lectures. Two former students, now in their sixties and seventies, wrote to Lukas in 2018 and commented on the enormous impact he had on their lives. “You have a gift,” one of them wrote. “I just wanted you to know that you have a former student who is now a 71-year old man that has a deep appreciation for your teaching and the sharing of your knowledge.” Another said: “I took every course you taught. The positive influence you have had on my life is difficult to put into words.” (4)
During his career, Lukas was a sought after speaker who delivered guest lectures at academic and cultural forums in the United States and Poland. His last public lecture was delivered at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, in September, 2001. (5)
2. Lukas has often referenced his close colleagues at the USAF Archives in speeches and interviews.
3. Maurer Maurer, ed. Air Force Combat Units of World War II (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, 1961), p. v.
4. Letter, L.S. to Lukas, August 15, 2018; Record of Telephone Conversation between J.A. and Lukas, December 9, 2018, in Lukas Archives.
5. Program, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, North Carolina, September 12, 2001.
Lukas’s first book was a pioneering military-diplomatic study, Eagles East, The United States and the Soviet Union, 1941-1945, which earned him the national history award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. (6)
His book, The Strange Allies: The United States and Poland, 1941-1945, was one of the earliest scholarly books that studied in depth the relations between the Polish government and the United States. Lukas brought to light the role of American Polonia and its political action organizations and their place in Polish-American relations. According to Professor Neal Pease of the University of Wisconsin, “The Strange Allies remains as current and relevant today as it was years ago when it first appeared.” The sequel to The Strange Allies was Bitter Legacy: Polish-American Relations in the Wake of World War II, which dealt with, among other significant matters in postwar Polish-American relations, the little known humanitarian assistance that was organized for the Polish people. (7)
Professor Lukas is perhaps best known for The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation, 1939-1944, which is the first systematic English language study by an American historian of the wartime experiences of the Poles and their relations with the Jews. It is considered a classic. (8)
The inclusion of Christian Poles as targets of the Holocaust broadly defined was intended by Lukas to call attention to the horrible persecution of non-Jews during the German occupation of Poland. Lukas did not draw absolute parity between the suffering of the Jews and Christians during the Holocaust. Professor Norman Davies, currently UNESCO Professor of History at the Jagiellonian University and considered by many scholars to be the preeminent western authority on Polish history, stated that Professor Lukas “rendered a valuable service by showing that no one can properly analyze the fate of one ethnic community in occupied Poland without referring to the fates of others.”(9) Davies acknowledged that over the years, Lukas’s pioneering work “has proved its worth…by expanding the grounds for discussion and by pointing to aspects of the period that were indeed in danger of being forgotten.” In regard to the historiography of Poland during World War II, Davies stated: “One can see that Lukas took an important step on the long road leading to a healthier and more open state of affairs.”(10)
Count Edward Raczynski, the wartime Polish Foreign Minister, commented that Lukas was the first historian to discover key messages sent by the Polish Underground to London, informing the world of the German deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. (11)
6. History Manuscript Award Recipients of the AIAA, 1971. Honors and Awards: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
7. PAHA News: Haiman Award, 2012 (earlier edition with Dr. Pease’s remarks).
8. The word “classic” has been used often because the book was the first systematic treatment of the subject by an American historian and has had multiple printings and editions since it was first published in 1986.
9. Norman Davies, Foreword, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944 (Rev. ed.; New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997), p. x.
10. Norman Davies, Foreword, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944 (3d ed.; New York: Hippocrene Books, 2012), p. xi.
11. Interview of Count Edward Raczynski, July 21, 1986, by Dr. Richard C. Lukas, London, England.
Lukas has had his critics. There were those who objected to his use of the term “Holocaust” for something broader than the exclusively Jewish experience. Others clung to the view among some Holocaust historians that Lukas allegedly downplayed anti-Semitism among Polish Christians and exaggerated Polish aid to the Jews. And there were those, as Davies stated, “who had convinced themselves that the uniqueness of the Holocaust could be taken to imply a monopoly of suffering.” (12) Some even stooped to slander. (13)
After more than thirty years, The Forgotten Holocaust has gone through several printings and editions in English and in Polish. “It’s a fair and balanced treatment of a controversial subject and is as meaningful today as it was when it was first published,” Dana Professor of History Gordon Carper commented during one of Lukas’s frequent guest lectures to students and faculty at Berry College.(14)
Professor Ewa Thompson of Rice University gave a moving and astute tribute to Lukas when she offered her reflections on The Forgotten Holocaust: “Lukas’s book has nearly drowned in the sea of books that do not want to know what Lukas knows.” (15)
Lukas’s interest in the plight of Jewish and Polish children during the German occupation of Poland led to the publication of Did the Children Cry?: Hitler’s War against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945 in 1994. A sample of reviewer comments of the book include: “eloquent gripping account,” “a superior work,” “an absorbing meticulously documented study,” “carefully researched,” and “a notable contribution to our knowledge of wartime Poland and the often heated debate on Polish-Jewish relations.” (16)
In view of the overwhelmingly favorable reviews, Lukas’s publisher, Jacek Galazka, who was editor of Hippocrene Books at the time, submitted the book for the prestigious Janusz Korczak Literary Award, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Forty days after Lukas had been told that he was the recipient of the award, he was informed that the decision of the ADL’s own literary committee had been rescinded by the political leadership of the organization who did not like the fact that Lukas, an independent scholar, rejected the stereotypical portrait of Poles by most Jewish writers.(17)
Danuta Mostwin, an author and founder of the Korczak Award and a longtime member of the jury panel, was shocked by the decision of Abraham Foxman, National Director of the ADL, whom she believed to be responsible for the outrage. Defending Lukas, she wrote: “I don’t think it was legitimate criticism (of Lukas’s book). Dr. Lukas portrayed the children just as children; not Jewish or Christian children, just children.” (18)
Joseph Kutrzeba, a Jewish survivor and a producer-director of the film, Children in the Holocaust, criticized the action by the ADL by calling Lukas’s book “a work of thorough and credible scholarship.” (19)
But the most poignant criticism of the ADL’s action came from Theresa K. Bunk of the Polish American Congress: “I have asked myself whether your unreasonable and exaggerated criticism of Dr. Lukas’s tribute to their (children’s) memory would have caused them additional anguish and pain. Would they have, once again, cried and would Dr. Korczak have cried with them?” (20)
Because of the support of Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals for Lukas and the threat of a lawsuit, the ADL grudgingly conceded the award to him.
Virtually the entire American press was silent about the controversy. Professor Victor S. Mamatey, recipient of the George Louis Beer Award and one of Lukas’s former mentors at Florida State University, summed up the sordid affair: “If you had been a Jewish intellectual who won an award that some organization attempted to rescind, the outcry in the American press would have echoed from coast to coast. Quod licet lovi, non licet bovi.” (“What is permissible for Jove is not permissible for an ox.”) (21) Mamatey’s stinging rebuke is obvious: What is permitted to one person or group is not permitted to everyone. Did the Children Cry? was published by Replika Press in Polish under the title Dzieciecy Placz in 2018 and has received excellent reviews. (22)
In a recent version of Lukas’s biography published in Wikipedia, the following false statements appeared: “Pawlikowski notes that just as historian Thaddeus Gromada was forced to make changes to Lukas’s speech (for the United States Holocaust Museum) due to antisemitic content, he too has reservations with Lukas’s work treating ethnic Poles and Jews as co-equal victims of the Holocaust, a basic error common among Polish Americans that is rejected by other scholars.” Dr. Thaddeus Gromada categorically denied Pawlikowski’s claims in a letter to Lukas seen here in its entirety:
The false statements of Pawlikowski, who is a cleric and has no professional qualifications as a historian, were removed and do not appear in the current version (April, 2020) of Lukas’s biography published in Wikipedia.
Other books by Lukas include Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust and Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation.
12. Davies, Foreword, 3d ed., p. xi.
13. “When they disagree with your point of view on Polish-Jewish wartime relations, some Jewish writers trot out the slander of anti-Semitism,” Lukas said. “One brilliant Jewish scholar was even declared a non-Jew and an anti-Semite because of his criticism of prevailing Jewish historiography on the Holocaust.” Lukas addressed the problem of the lack of fairness and objectivity among many Holocaust historians on the subject of Polish-Jewish relations in a rare interview with Piotr Zychowicz, a respected Polish journalist, in 2012. Piotr Zychowicz, “Holocaust Polakow—Rozmowa z prof. Richardem Lukasem,” in Bibula: Pismo Niezalezne, 2012.
14. Introduction of Lukas by Dr. Carper at a history program held at Berry College, 1995. (The date was graciously provided by Carper’s, widow, Joyce Carper.)
15. Paper delivered by Dr. Ewa Thompson at the Polish-Jewish Dialogue, Houston Holocaust Museum, March 1, 1998.
16. Comments of reviewers on dustjacket of Richard C. Lukas, Did the Children Cry? Hitler’s War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1994).
17. The Lukas Archives contain extensive information on the attempt to deprive Lukas of his award.
18. Letter, Mostwin to Edelman, April 16, 1996, in Lukas Archives. Also see Washington Times, April 16, 1996. A few years later, Abraham Foxman criticized Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger’s receipt of an award from a Catholic university for advancing Catholic-Jewish understanding on the grounds that Lustiger had converted from Judaism to Catholicism and was “a poor example” because “he converted out.” See the biography of Lustiger on Wikipedia.
19. Kutrzeba’s remarks are quoted in Eric Ernst, “Comment,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 22, 1996.
20. Letter, Bunk to Foxman, February 28, 1996, in Lukas Archives.
21. Lukas discusses the episode in the third edition of The Forgotten Holocaust, p. xv.
22. Richard C. Lukas, Dzieciecy Placz (Zakrzewo: Wydawnictwo Replika, 2018.) For example, see reviews in Polish on Lubimy Czytac.pl.
Lukas’s numerous articles reflect his diversity of interests and depth of knowledge. His publications have appeared in a plethora of scholarly journals and popular magazines. His writings can be found in Slavic Review, The Historian (Lukas was the first history graduate student to publish in that journal), The Polish Review, Niepodleglosc, Inside the Vatican, Catalyst, Aerospace Historian (and its predecessor, Airpower Historian), Air University Review, Liguorian, St. Anthony Messenger, The Priest, Mississippi History Today, and the Elks Magazine.
He has demonstrated his writing versatility by also publishing fiction.
Lukas has received numerous awards in recognition of his scholarly achievements. These include the Order of Polonia Restituta and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Today, Lukas lives with his wife, Marita, on a barrier island off the coast of Florida.