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Iron Curtain

Cover of Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain

The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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    Chapter 1

    Zero Hour

    The mad orgy of ruins, entangled wires, twisted corpses, dead horses, overturned parts of blown-up bridges, bloody hoofs which had been torn off horses, broken guns, scattered ammunition, chamber pots, rusted washbasins, pieces of straw and entrails of horses floating in muddy pools mixed with blood, cameras, wrecked cars and tank parts: They all bear witness to the awful suffering of a city . . .

    --Tamás Lossonczy, Budapest, 1945

    How can one find words to convey truthfully and accurately the picture of a great capital destroyed almost beyond recognition; of a once almighty nation that ceased to exist; of a conquering people who were so brutally arrogant and so blindingly sure of their mission as a master race . . . whom you now see poking about their ruins, broken, dazed, shivering, hungry human beings without will or purpose or direction.

    --William Shirer, Berlin, 1945

    It seemed to me that I was walking on corpses, that at any moment I would step into a pool of blood.

    --Janina Godycka-Cwirko, Warsaw, 1945


    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.

    The end of the war, wherever and whenever it came, brought with it an abrupt and eerie silence. "The night was far too quiet," wrote one anonymous chronicler of the war's end in Berlin. On the morning of April 27, 1945, she went out of her front door and saw no one: "Not a civilian in sight. The Russians have the streets entirely to themselves. But under every building people are whispering, quaking. Who could ever imagine such a world, hidden here, so frightened, right in the middle of the big city?"

    On the morning of February 12, 1945, the day the siege of the city came to an end, a Hungarian civil servant heard the same silence on the streets of Budapest. "I got to the Castle District, not a soul anywhere. I walked along Werbõczy Street. Nothing but bodies and ruins, supply carts, and drays . . . I got to Szentháromság Square and decided to look in at the Council in case I found somebody there. Deserted. Everything turned upside down and not a soul . . ."

    Even Warsaw, a city already destroyed by the time the war ended--the Nazi occupiers had razed it to the ground following the uprising in the autumn--grew silent when the German army finally retreated on January 16, 1945. W³adys³aw Szpilman, one of a tiny handful of people hiding in the ruins of the city, heard the change. "Silence fell," he wrote in his memoir, The Pianist, "a silence such as even Warsaw, a dead city for the last three months, had not known before. I could not even hear the steps of the guards outside the building. I couldn't understand it." The following morning, the silence was broken by a "loud and resonant noise, the last sound I expected": the Red Army had arrived, and loudspeakers were broadcasting, in Polish, the news of the liberation of the city.

    This was the moment sometimes called zero hour, Stunde Null: the end of the war, the retreat of Germany, the arrival of the Soviet Union, the moment the fighting ended and life started up again. Most histories of the communist takeover of Eastern Europe begin at precisely this moment, and logically so. To those who lived through this change of...

About the Author-
  • ANNE APPLEBAUM is a columnist for The Washington Post and Slate. Her previous book, Gulag, won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and was a finalist for three other major prizes. Her essays appear in The New York Review of Books, Slate, and The London Spectator. She lives in Washington, D.C., and Poland with her husband, Radek Sikorski, a Polish politician, and their two children.

Reviews-
  • Washington Post "One of the most compelling but also serious works on Europe's past to appear in recent memory...In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity."
  • Wall Street Journal "In this epic but intimate history, Ms. Applebaum offers us windows into the lives of the men and sometimes women who constructed the police states of Eastern Europe. She gives us a glimpse of those who resisted. But she also gives us a harrowing portrait of the rest--the majority of Eastern Europe's population, who, having been caught up in the continent's conflicts time and time again, now found themselves pawns in a global one."
  • Louis Menand, The New Yorker "Remarkable...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....Iron Curtain gives us some idea of what it was like to be trapped in the Soviet experiment, to be a witness to the demolition and reconstruction of one's environment."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Bracing, important...Applebaum is unafraid of complexity; she traffics in exceptions. She names names....Iron Curtain is essential reading."
  • The Economist "Illuminating...Human beings, as Ms Applebaum rousingly concludes, do not acquire 'totalitarian personalities' with ease."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "A meticulously researched and riveting account of the totalitarian mind-set and its impact on the citizens of East Germany, Poland and Hungary....Even as it documents the consequences of force, fear and intimidation, however, Iron Curtain also provides evidence of resistance and resilience."
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore, London Evening Standard "
    "Iron Curtain is a superb, revisionistic, brilliantly perceptive, often witty, totally gripping history, filled with colorful character sketches of Stalinist monsters, based on Soviet and local archives, on hundreds of interviews with survivors, and on the widest reading, that tells the dramatic, unknown and terrifying story of the Stalinization of eastern Europe....The book is full of things I didn't know -- but should have."
  • Orlando Figes, Daily Mail "Magisterial...Anne Applebaum is exceptionally well qualified to tell [this story]. Her deep knowledge of the region, breadth of view and eye for human detail makes this as readable as her last book, on the Gulag."
  • Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money "The Communist takeover of Central and Eastern Europe has waited a lifetime for its historian. A tenacious researcher, an eloquent writer, but above all a passionate--and compassionate--judge of the human condition, Anne Applebaum has written a masterly account. It is a timely reminder of how swiftly liberation can be turned into slavery."
  • Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad and The Second World War "Iron Curtain is an exceptionally important book which effectively challenges many of the myths of the origins of the Cold War. It is wise, perceptive, remarkably objective and brilliantly researched."
  • Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War "This dramatic book gives us, for the first time, the testimony of dozens of men and women who found themselves in the middle of one of the most traumatic periods of European history. Anne Applebaum conveys the impact of politics and ideology on individual lives with extraordinary immediacy."
  • Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World "So much effort is spent trying to understand democratization these days, and so little is spent trying to understand the opposite processes. Anne Applebaum corrects that imbalance, explaining how and why societies succumb to totalitarian rule. Iron Curtain is a deeply researched and eloquent description of events which took place not long ago and in places not far away - events which contain many lessons for the present."
  • Timothy Garton Ash, author of The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague "Anne Applebaum's highly readable book is distinguished by its ability to describe and evoke the personal, human experience of Sovietisation in vivid detail, based on extensive original research and interviews with those who remember."
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Iron Curtain
Iron Curtain
The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Anne Applebaum
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