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Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Anne Applebaum

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Member:rebeccanyc
Title:Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956
Authors:Anne Applebaum
Info:New York : Doubleday, c2012.
Collections:Your library, Favorites of recent years, Read 2012
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Tags:history, 20th century history, Eastern European history

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Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 by Anne Applebaum (2012)

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Perhaps what is most fascinating about the strange episode of human history under which the communist oppression of Eastern Europe falls is that it has gone so long without a comprehensive history of how it occurred. Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 appears to step into that gap, providing in-depth research and a vividly written history of the period that saw the Soviet oppression and domination through totalitarian regimes of what would come to be known as the Communist Bloc and comprising the countries in Central and Eastern Europe with communist regimes.

Uniquely, the communist dictatorships that lasted, roughly speaking, from the end of World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall were based, at least in theory, on an ideology rather than nationalism or, as in the case of Germany, racism. Applebaum traces the oppression of Eastern Europe and the rise of the Iron Curtain to "zero hour," that moment of silence between the retreat of the German war machine and the invasion of the Russian army on its way to Berlin. The fighting had ended, and life was to begin again, but in Eastern Europe, where the carnage was worse than anything on the western half of the continent, there was no fresh start. People slipped from labor camps to make their way home, others began long migrations back to their homeland (or further if their homeland was now held by others), and still others continued fighting, shifting focus from the Nazis to the occupying Russian Army. The destruction left not a blank slate, but a gap of order, and into this gap the Soviets dictated the new order at the point of the Russian soldier's gun.

Applebaum's writing is vivid and clear, making colorful even the grey oppression of the dark communist decades. Here's an example from the beginning of the book that I think typifies her writing and which kept be reading to the end:
Explosions echoed throughout the night, and artillery fire could be heard throughout the day. Across Eastern Europe, the noise of falling bombs, rattling machine guns, rolling tanks, churning engines, and burning buildings heralded the approach of the Red Army. As the front line drew closer, the ground shook, the walls shivered, the children screamed. And then it stopped.
Lending an image both of the vast and the specific simultaneously, it's an apt start to Applebaum's endeavour to examine the methods and means by which communists, largely directed and guided from Moscow, set up and took control of the governments and people of Eastern and Central Europe, first under the guise of democratic elections and then, as necessary, with the assistance of secret police and tank columns.

As she details the fall and decline of civil society to the relentless oppression, Applebaum walks through how communists took control of and used the police, youth organizations, the media (which meant radio in those days), politics, and the economies of Central and Eastern Europe, but especially with a focus on Poland and Hungary. Her examination isn't directed so much as communism--China, Cuba, North Korea, and Russia (but for its role dominating the Soviet bloc) are not address--but totalitarianism. American "Cold Warriors" positioned themselves, as Applebaum puts it, as opponents to it, and Applebaum sets out to examine whether it was a real threat or just a ruse and exaggeration. Today, the threat of totalitarianism may seem silly, but in a time when Hitler was fresh on the mind and while Stalin's personality cult raged, the possibility of that the USSR would turn Eastern Europe into an ideologically and politically homogenous region seemed real.

Gone the way of history though it may be, Applebaum succeeds in bringing the period to life, drawing on new resources and documents to tell the stories of the post-World War II Poles, Hungarians, and others trapped behind the Iron Curtain. After reading it earlier this year, I have found myself turning back to Iron Curtain's pages on more than one occasion to refresh my memory on details and discussions that Applebaum's book holds. Not only is it a fascinating, if dark, period of history, but it is a saga we would be wise to learn from and retain. Applebaum does it justice in her account, and it should be a part of the library of any person with even the slightest interest in history of Eastern Europe and the brave people who endured the totalitarian oppression of communism and Soviet Russia.
( )
  publiusdb | Apr 29, 2014 |
A good introductory book for those possessing an interest but little prior knowledge of communism and communist regimes of the former Easter Bloc countries of East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. I admire Applebaum's unequivocal condemnation of communism in the book, but felt her criticism and insights into the oppression and atrocities behind the Iron Curtain did not probe deep enough at times. Also, though the book is well-written in a technical sense, it often fails to engage. Part of this may be due to the structure and organization of Iron Curtain. One of Applebaum's aims in the book is to demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, East Germany, Poland, and Hungary did not have a shared experience of communism. Even though they all fell under Soviet control at the same time, they had less in common in their experience of communism than is commonly assumed. In order to prove this assertion, Applebaum chooses a topic, say education, then explores the similarities and differences within the three countries. Unfortunately, she maintains this rather rudimentary organizational structure, with little or no variation, through the entire book. The sophomoric compare-and-contrast format does not do justice to either the subject-matter or the extensive research that went into the writing. After the first part, the book, despite its fascinating subject matter, became a chore to read. Nevertheless, it is still a valuable contribution to the subject and I would recommend it to those interested in history and also those who still harbor ridiculous beliefs about the soundness and necessity of Marxism. ( )
  FBerger | Mar 12, 2014 |
bookshelves: fraudio, lifestyles-deathstyles, nonfiction, spring-2014, published-2012, cold-war, slavic, tbr-busting-2014, totalitarian, military-maneuvers, newtome-author, history, bullies, casual-violence, gangsters, recreational-homicide, rid-the-world-of-tyrants
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Description: At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.

Cassandra Campbell reads

I encounter this as a salute to Ukraine.

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”― Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays

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  mimal | Mar 4, 2014 |
In this book, Anne Applebaum presents overwhelming evidence that the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe after WW2 was just that -- a carefully planned and brutally executed Soviet program. This isn't exactly new news. But she presents the story in a new way, framing it in the institutions of totalitarianism, and ticking off one by one the areas in which the USSR reshaped (or destroyed) institutions in eastern European countries to produce states modeled on the USSR itself. Unquestionable, she has a strongly anti-communist view. Her evidence, however, is so compelling that this view becomes a very convincing narrative of what happened, and how it happened. Moreover, she writes very well, so that what could have been an important but turgid framework for footnotes becomes a powerful narrative. For me, her compelling arguments and her crushing pile of evidence moved at least this reader away from the standard old liberal view of "well, yeah, but the U.S. did lots of bad things too". What happened in Eastern Europe was not an accident, and it didn't reflect the wishes of most of the people in the region. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, after reading this account of its beginnings, looks like a very good thing indeed. ( )
  annbury | Feb 5, 2014 |
Following on from her book 'Gulag' a few years ago, this is an excellent & comprehensive history of the Sovietisation of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, particularly Poland, Hungary & East German. From the end of WWII Applebaum shows how the Soviets overtook the media, the introduced a secret police forces, destroyed democracy, undertook massive Ethnic cleansing, and corrupted the youth - all before screwing up the economy (which is all very unMarxist, as superstructure here precedes base). She then described the dreary at best, brutal at best life under Communism, before looking at the various revolutions in the 1950s. Fascinating, informative and extrememly well researched & written. ( )
  marek2010 | Jan 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
The Polish story is the heart of Anne Applebaum’s remarkable book, “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe” (Doubleday), a book that reanimates a world that was largely hidden from Western eyes, and that many people who lived and suffered in it would prefer to forget.

 
Applebaum writes movingly and with insight into the “tiny compromises” made by ordinary people, not to say the terrors they faced. She uses the stories of everyday life, gleaned from a huge range of sources and interviews, to show how tyranny insinuates itself into societies and how people learnt to survive. Applebaum takes us into the dark heart of totalitarianism.
 
In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity. Those who know little of Europe behind the Iron Curtain will find themselves edified; those who know much will learn much more. Others have told us of the politics of this time. Applebaum does that but also shows what politics meant to people’s lives, in an era when the state did more to shape individual destinies than at any time in history.
 
A Russian woman who visited East Germany in 1986 on a Soviet school trip described to me recently how their East German official hosts explained the Berlin wall as a necessary defence against the hordes of West Germans who wished to storm into East Germany to escape West German economic misery and join in East Germany's success. And she and her 13-year-old Soviet friends had at the time no reason to doubt this, never in their lives having been told anything different. The eventual complete collapse of communism in eastern Europe has naturally tended to focus subsequent attention on its shambolic and incompetent aspects; but its effectiveness as a system of thought control should not be underestimated......
added by marq | editThe Guardian, Anatol Lieven (Oct 26, 2012)
 
Iron Curtain is modern history writing at its very best; assiduously researched, it wears its author's considerable erudition lightly. Pending large-scale revelations from still-closed Soviet archives, it sets a new benchmark for the study of this vitally important subject.
 

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Epigraph
The loss of freedeom, tyranny, abuse, hunger would all have been easier to bear if not for the compulsion to call them freedom, justice, the good of the people . . . Lies, by their very nature partial and ephemeral, are revealed as lies when confronted with language's striving for truth. But here all the means of disclosure had been permanently confiscated by the police.
- Aleksander Wat, My Century
Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. - Vaclav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless
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This book is dedicated to those Eastern Europeans who refused to live within a lie.
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(Introduction) Among many other things, the year 1945 marked one of the most extraordinary population movements in European history.
Explosions echoed throughout the night, and artillery fire could be heard throughout the day.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385515693, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2012: The gulags. The show trials. The boot stamping on a human face. These trappings of postwar totalitarianism have stayed in our collective memory--brutal and terrifying, yes, but after more than 50 years, also so detached from their context that they’ve almost become political bogeymen. Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain is a powerful attempt to show that totalitarianism was more than just its most public excesses. A complement to such big-picture histories as Tony Judt’s Postwar, this book is concerned with the details of totalitarian rule: the diaspora of party enforcers from the USSR to the rest of the Soviet Bloc; the sudden takeover of radio stations, universities, and youth groups by partisans; the conflicted response of Catholic leaders to Stalin’s methods. Thanks to Applebaum’s extensive interviews and archival research, Iron Curtain ensures that the everyday experiences of those in the Soviet Bloc will endure, even if they soon pass beyond living memory. --Darryl Campbell

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:35 -0400)

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In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gulag," acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway.… (more)

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