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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...More
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...More
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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.

 
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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.

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The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Anne Applebaum
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Anne Applebaum
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