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Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56
 
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Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 [Format Kindle]

Anne Applebaum
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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 power, zero hour felt like a turning point: something very concrete came to an end, and something very new began. From now on, many people said to themselves, everything would be different. And it was.

Yet although it is logical to begin any history of the communist takeover in Eastern Europe with the end of the war, it is in some ways deeply misleading. The people of the region were not faced with a blank slate in 1944 or 1945, after all, and they were not themselves starting from scratch. Nor did they emerge from nowhere, with no previous experiences, ready to start afresh. Instead, they climbed out of the basements of their destroyed homes, or walked out of the forests where they had been living as partisans, or slipped away from the labor camp where they had been imprisoned, if they were healthy enough, and embarked upon long, complicated journeys back to their homelands. Not all of them even stopped fighting when the Germans surrendered.

As they crawled out of the ruins, they saw not virgin territory but destruction. “The war ended the way a passage through a tunnel ends,” wrote the Czech memoirist Heda Kovály. “From far away you could see the light ahead, a gleam that kept growing, and its brilliance seemed ever more dazzling to you huddled there in the dark the longer it took to reach it. But when at last the train burst out in the glorious sunshine, all you saw was a wasteland full of weeds and stones, and a heap of garbage.”

Photographs from across Eastern Europe at that time show scenes from an apocalypse. Flattened cities, acres of rubble, burned villages, and smoking, charred ruins where houses used to be. Tangles of barbed wire, the remains of concentration camps, labor camps, POW camps; barren fields, pockmarked by tank tracks, with no sign of farming, husbandry, or life of any kind. In the recently destroyed cities, the air was suffused with the smell of corpses. “The descriptions I’ve read always use the phrase ‘sweetish odour,’ but that’s far too vague, completely inadequate,” wrote one German survivor. “The fumes are not so much an odour as something firmer, something thicker, a soupy vapor that collects in front of your face and nostrils, too mouldy and thick to breathe. It beats you back as if with fists.”

Provisional burial sites were everywhere, and people walked through the streets gingerly, as if traversing a cemetery. In due course exhumations began, as bodies were removed from courtyards and city parks to mass graves. Funerals and reburial ceremonies were frequent, though in Warsaw one was famously interrupted. In the summer of 1945, a funeral march was slowly wending its way through Warsaw when the black-clad mourners saw an extraordinary sight: “A living, red Warsaw tram,” the first to run through the city since the war’s end. “The pedestrians on the sidewalks stopped, others ran alongside the tram clapping and cheering loudly. Extraordinarily, the funeral march stopped too, the mourners accompanying the dead, captivated by the general mood, turned to the tram and began to clap too.”

This too was typical. At times a weird euphoria seemed to grip the survivors. It was a relief to be alive; sorrow was mixed with joy, and commerce, trade, and reconstruction began immediately, spontaneously. Warsaw in the summer of 1945 was a bustling hive of activity, Stefan Kisielewski wrote: “In the ruins of the streets, there’s com­motion like never before. Trade—buzzing. Work—booming. Humor—everywhere. The mob, teeming life, flows through the streets, nobody would think that these are all victims of a massive disaster, people who have scarcely recovered from a catastrophe, or that they are living in extreme, inhuman conditions . . .” Sándor Márai described Budapest in one of his novels at this same period:

Whatever remained of the city, of society, sprang to life with such passion, fury, and sheer willpower, with such strength and stamina and cunning, it seemed as if nothing had happened . . . out on the boulevard there were suddenly stalls in gateways, selling all kinds of nice food and luxury items: clothes, shoes, everything you could imagine, not to mention gold napoleons, morphine, and pork lard. The Jews who remained staggered from their yellow star houses and within a week or two you could see them bargaining, surrounded as they were by the corpses of men and horses . . . People were quibbling over prices for warm British cloth, French perfumes, Dutch brandy, and Swiss watches among the rubble . . .

This enthusiasm for work and renewal would last for many years. The British sociologist Arthur Marwick once speculated that the experience of national failure might have given the West Germans an incentive to rebuild, to regain a sense of national pride. The very scale of the national collapse, he argued, might have helped contribute to the postwar boom: having experienced economic and personal ­catastrophe, Germans readily threw themselves into reconstruction.14 But Germany, both East and West, was not alone in this drive to recover and to become “normal” again. Over and over, Poles and Hungarians in memoirs and conversations about the postwar period speak of how desperately they sought education, ordinary work, a life without constant violence and disruption. The communist parties were perfectly poised to take advantage of these yearnings for peace.

In any case, damage to property was easier to repair than the demographic damage in Eastern Europe, where the scale of violence had been higher than anything known on the western half of the continent. During the war, Eastern Europe had experienced the worst of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological madness. By 1945, most of the territory between Poznañ in the west and Smolensk in the east had been occupied not once but twice, or even three times. Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, Hitler had invaded the region from the west, occupying western Poland. Stalin had invaded from the east, occupying eastern Poland, the Baltic States, and Bessarabia. In 1941, Hitler once a...

Revue de presse

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. (Antony Beevor )

Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain [is] certainly the best work of modern history I have ever read. (A.N. Wilson Financial Times )

Applebaum's description of this remarkable time is everything a good history book should be: brilliantly and comprehensively researched, beautifully and shockingly told, encyclopedic in scope, meticulous in detail... it is a true masterpiece. (Keith Lowe Sunday Telegraph )

In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity... 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. (John Connelly Washington Post )

Iron Curtain is modern history writing at its very best; assiduously researched, it wears its author's considerable erudition lightly. It sets a new benchmark for the study of this vitally important subject. (Roger Moorhouse Independent on Sunday )

Anne Applebaum's masterly book gives for the first time, a systematic explanation of the other, largely untold, side of the story... it is a window into a world of lies and evil that we can hardly imagine. (Edward Lucas Standpoint )

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Remarquable 14 décembre 2012
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Pour ceux qui savent lire en anglais ces écrits sont d'une exactitude qui fait frémir. Un grand livre sur ce monde privé pendant si longtemps des libertés fondamentales.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Intéressant 19 septembre 2014
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Un livre qui retrace l'histoire récente de notre continent. Je le suggère à ceux qui ne l'ont pas lu de le faire.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5  213 commentaires
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Evils and Brutalities of Communism 30 octobre 2012
Par Paul Gelman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
As a child living in Romania, I remember that my parents used to do everything so that the infamous Securitate would pry into our lives as little as possible. In the sixties, the Romanian dictator Dej did everything in order to please his Russian masters. His menu included a variety of things, such as beatings, torture, incarcerations, threats, illegal deportations and the suppression of human rights.Mind you, I was not even allowed to take with me my violin, since it was considered "state property".
During my university days, I decided to specialize in the history of the Cold War. Surprisingly, there were many revisionist books and other similar monographs which-up to the fall of Communism-painted a very rosy picture of the Communist "paradise". In fact, some scholars were sure that Communism had its bad points, but capitalism and its ideology represented by America were worse.
Enter Anne Applebaum's book, which totally destroys and naive theories of the revisionist scholars one by one. "Iron Curtain" explains in very simple words to what degree all the countries in Eastern Europe experienced the brutal process of becoming totalitarian states as ordered by Big Brother Stalin. As she claims, this process was a gradual one and did not happen overnight. Neither was it uniform everywhere.
By writing about more than fifteen relevant topics, Ms. Applebaum describes in great detail how tens of millions of people experienced the most terrible regimes known in that geographical part of Europe. She explains how, for example, political parties, the church, the young people, the radio and the economy of those countries were doomed from the very end of World War 2.
The book is divided into two parts:"False Dawn" and "High Stalinism". The first part is about the consolidation of the regimes. The second one is more interesting and focuses on the years 1948-1956. In general, the book is mainly about Central Europe and only three countries are broadly scrutinized: Hungary, Poland and East Germany, but the author makes sure to also write about the similar fate of other countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania, and to some extent Yugoslavia and the Czech nation. In a way, this book is an accusation
against the West, because it felt into the trap of Stalin and his cronies, thus allowing the rulers of Eastern Europe to conduct policies of suppression, of ethnic cleansing, of mass rape and of nationalization-steps which destroyed the lives of many millions of innocent victims. All of this was possible after conducting mass and false propaganda with the help of the secret services established in order to smash any possible resistance in this process of the so-called "utopia".
Take for example the crackdown on the church in Poland where priests were arrested en bloc.
A similar pattern of harassment and arrests followed in Hungary, where hundreds of church schools were nationalized within months, followed by the closure of monasteries. Nuns in the city of Gyor were given six hours to pack up and leave, while in Southern Hungary 800 monks and some 700 nuns were removed in the middle of the night, told they could only take 25 kilos of books, placed on a transport and deported to the Soviet Union.
In the winter of 1952-53, senior figures in the church of Krakow underwent a
trial featuring fabricated evidence and forged documents. In East Germany, many children were expelled from school for refusing publicly to renounce religion. It was Stalin who, at a Cominform meeting in Karlsbad in 1949, ordered the bloc's communist parties to adopt harsher policies, and it was imperative "to first isolate the Catholic hierarchy and drive a wedge between the Vatican and the believers" .We will have to fight a systematic war agaist the hierarchy; churches should be under our full control by December 1949".
The principle guiding these totalitarian regimes was simple: The party is always right, hence the party cannot make any mistakes.
A new term was invented: "Homo Sovieticus", which meant that this new species would never oppose communism, and would never even conceive of opposing it. No one was exmpt from this ideological instruction-not even the very youmgest citizens. Textbooks had to be rewritten to reflect and praise the new reality of Stalinism. Art in all of its forms was recruited to augment the false messianic credo of these dictatorships, thus the obliteration of free thought everywhere.
Conspirators were to be found in many places and paranoia was the name of the game. Clerics, workers, intellectuals, rural landowners who were all classified under the rubric of "internal enemies" were sent to Gulags, after conducting mock trials which included made-up evidence and false witnesses. Soviet advisers both wrote the scripts of these "trials" and helped persuade victims to make the necessary confessions, after using torture, beatings, confinement in dark chambers, the inculcation of fear about the fate of the prisoner's family, subtly staged confrontations, the use of stool pigeons and many more techniques. Ms. Applebaum singles out the example of Geza Supka, who was the leader of the Freemasons in Hungary. In 1950 this organization no longer existed, since it was considered a threat to the regime. Supka was described (in a thick file declassified only now) as being a "representative of Anglo-Saxon interests in Hungary" and a traitor plotting to overthrow the regime. The file also contains many false testimonies rendered by some of his friends, but the most harrowing element of the file includes the daily reports on Supka by informers. Even the report about his death in 1956 was to be included in that file. Similar modi operandi against other "enemies" were to be found in other counties as well.
Then some revolts in the fifties were immediately crushed in East Germany and Hungary in 1953 and 1956,respectively.
In the end, the communist leaders asked themselves the same questions they had posed after Stalin's death. Why did the system produce such poor economic results? Why was the propaganda unconvincing? What was the source of ongoing dissent and what was the best way to quash it?
In the end, as Ms. Applebaum concludes,"the gap between reality and ideology meant that the communist parties wound up spouting meaningless slogans which they themselves knew made no sense". Here the author comes, in my view, to the right conclusion that after Stalin's death none of the regimes were as cruel as they had been between 1945 and 1953, but "even post-Stalinist Eastern Europe could be harsh, arbitrary and formidably repressive". The Berlin Wall built in 1961 was just one example. Both Romania and Yugoslavia tried at differrent times to carve out individual roles in foreign policy, distancing themselves from the rest of the Soviet bloc, but not necessarily in very meaningful ways.
By using a lot of new archival material, and after interviewing numerous citizens in Germany, Hungary and Poland, the result is a riveting and enthralling book which also offers deep and extensive analysis of the various segments discussed in her book. This opus will become one of the best written on this topic and a classic of its kind. This in spite of the fact that it is not a comprehensive history of the whole Eastern communist bloc. Highly recommended.
141 internautes sur 155 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Makes the case--and I mean that literally. 14 décembre 2012
Par Michael Engel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I greatly admired Ms. Applebaum's "Gulag", and was looking forward to reading this work. She has done an excellent job of research--thorough, painstaking, a work of great scholarship from beginning to end. And the story she tells is fascinating and tremendously informative.

But that said, I had to stop about halfway through--I simply grew weary of reading it. When I titled this review "makes the case", I am saying that I feel it reads like a grand jury indictment rather than a history. I am not speaking about her writing style, which is excellent, but in terms of how she organized the book. The story is handled chronologically, and within that framework she breaks it down into subject areas as they apply to each of the three nations she chose to study. But this leads to a litany of repression that becomes tedious after a while: Here's what they did to the civic groups. Here's how they crushed the opposition parties. Here's what they did to the churches. Here's what they did to youth. Here's what they did to dissidents, and so on. By the middle of the book, I was saying to myself, "OK, OK, I get the point. I see what they did and how they did it." Notwithstanding her use of individual "witnesses", the ultimate effect is to detach the reader emotionally from the frightening story of how the Soviets imposed their hegemony. It might have also been more interesting to delve a bit further into the biographies of Ulbricht, Rakosi, Bierut, and their cohorts, rather than treating them somewhat superficially as slightly different species of the same animal. And although she criticizes "revisionist" histories, she does not (as far as I can tell) offer any alternative explanation for Stalin's expansionism.

This problem is exacerbated by jumping from one country to another within that chronological approach. Not to sound presumptuous--I stand in awe of Ms. Applebaum's scholarly achievements--but perhaps studying each nation in turn might have been more involving and rewarding for the reader. For one thing, she could then have provided more insight into their respective histories and cultures as a context for examining the process of building a tyranny. And that leads to another criticism, namely that by organizing the narrative as she does and giving it a generic title implies something of a false conclusion, namely that the process followed a uniform standard script throughout eastern Europe . It did not. The process of Communist takeover and consolidation was rather different in Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania. At least some explicit attention should have been given to those differences. And perhaps more discussion should have been added about Soviet failures in Austria, and even its willingness to tolerate a democratic Finland.

This would not have required a much longer book. Rather, she might have spared us some of the endless details of repression in favor of providing a broader context for considering how the Iron Curtain was constructed.

All that said, this is a book that absolutely must be read by anyone interested in the subject--and perhaps by those who have more patience than I did.
83 internautes sur 92 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The party is always right ! 4 novembre 2012
Par Sinohey - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This review is about the 656 pages version printed in England, by a subsidiary of Penguin Press, written by Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer prize winning "Gulag: A history of the Soviet Camps."
The sheer size and scope of the book give pause to the casual reader but this is mitigated by the author's elegant prose and ability for descriptive details. The reader is not spared from the horrors of war illustrated by the unremitting violence, unmitigated brutality, wholesale rape, mass murder, abject poverty, deadly starvation and theft - events that led to mass dislocation and homelessness of massive populations within Europe by the end of world War ll - and became the fertile ground for the spread of false hope by the communists. These events are well described in the first half of the book, "False Dawn".

The second part, "High Stalinism", is a vivid description of the betrayal of the so-called "communist ideal" by Stalin and his minions based mostly on personal interviews and original source document research by the author. Applebaum depicts the subjugation on Eastern European countries through persecution, mass deportation, bogus trials, trumped-up accusations of treason and sedition and the summary arrests, torture and execution of dissidents. Civil administrations and societies were destroyed, religion was outlawed and churches persecuted - as demonstrated by Stalin's edict to.. "Isolate the Catholic hierarchy...Separate the Vatican from the believers....Control all the churches by December 1949".. at the Cominform meeting in Karlsbad in 1949.

Planted throughout the eighteen chapters, are the stories of individuals, such as Benda in East Germany, Supka and Bien in Hungary who were persecuted by communist regimes. These examples are used to emphasize the paranoia of the totalitarian oppressive governments mainly in East Germany, Hungary and Poland, but were similar to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. National autonomy was dismantled; arts, education, the media and school textbooks were subjugated to the promotion of the "Homo Sovieticus". Information was censored and tightly controlled by the state. Goods were rationed and housing was planned around "Ideal Cities" of communal living. The entire system was sustained by delusions, lies, fraud and corruption made possible by a vast network of informants, compliant and reluctant collaborators and cowed passive opposition. Personal security and professional advancement were closely tied to the allegiance to the communist party.

In the last chapter, the author comments about communism in the present leftist socialist regimes mainly in Latin America. It is an oversimplification, because the choice of each country depends on the various cultural and social make-up and economic needs of the society. One size communism does not fit all.

Iron Curtain is a formidable book that should be read by anyone interested about how socialism (read communism) insinuates itself in a society, either by following the collapse of that society or surreptitiously by subterfuge and lies, heralded by the gradual loss of personal liberty and economic independence. It is a failed doctrine no matter how often it is revived, modified or disguised.

Anne Applebaum is a gifted writer who has succeeded in presenting a complex amalgam of the harsh reality of war, the human tragedy of indiscriminate slaughter and mass persecutions, the genesis of totalitarian regimes and their oppression of millions in what were previously culturally advanced sophisticated societies; she did it in an easy to read elegant style and flowing prose. The book is meticulously detailed, very well researched and documented with 46 illustrations and maps of Eastern Europe before and after WWll. Undoubtedly, Iron Curtain will become a major reference on the subject.
31 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An utterly fascinating and largely untold story 11 novembre 2012
Par Todd Bartholomew - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Much has been written about how countries throw off the shackles of totalitarianism and move to democracy, but few books explain the opposite: how do countries collapse and become totalitarian dictatorships, casting off freedom and democracy. In that respect "Iron Curtain" is a fascinating glimpse into how so many radically different monarchies and democracies wound up being forced into accepting Communist governments at the end of World War II. Many Americans believe this occurred simply because these countries were occupied by Russian troops and that their conversion to Communism was a fiat accompli. But the reality couldn't have been further from the truth. Most monarchs fought to retain their thrones and the reconstituted governments more or less resembled what they were prior to the war. Following occupation there was a fairly lengthy period of cohabitation where these liberated countries sought to determine their future course of governance. That they would become Russian satellites was not necessarily a foregone conclusion as witnessed in Austria. In reality any one of a number of Eastern European states could have fought more vigorously to have retained a democratic form of government. "Iron Curtain" makes extensive use of recently declassified documents from archives in the former Communist bloc that help round out how events unfolded in this era and the result is both fascinating and shocking, adding further proof disputing the long held belief that somehow Roosevelt sold out Eastern Europe to Stalin at Yalta. What Applebaum lays out in "Iron Curtain" is events as they happened, taking into account the death of Roosevelt, Truman's utter unpreparedness for assuming the Presidency, voters in the United Kingdom turning Churchill out of office at a critical point, and the general confusion over the political situation on the ground as the war came to an end.

Clearly Stalin had learned from the Communists lack of success at seizing control of various governments through armed revolution at the end of World War I. Violent overthrow wasn't going to work, but using political methods to seize the upper hand might and it would give the veneer of legitimacy that he desperately wanted to his power grab. To borrow Churchill's phrase, from the Baltic to the Aegean many of these Eastern and Central European countries were early 20th Century creations, bits of the former Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires who had asserted their self-determination and ascendant nationalism. Casting off the supranationalism of those former empires they were free but dependent on support for self-defense and slow in developing strong political and judicial institutions. As most quickly crumbled under German domination when war broke out they quickly subsumed to that same domination, weakening what little they had developed. Many of these nations were collaborating with the Germans rending their governments discredited when the war ended. The vacuum created in the political sphere war's end gave an opportunity and opening for Communist leaning or affiliated parties to gain greater dominance. The largess from Soviet Russia during those desperate times of food shortages opened the door for friendlier relations. U.S. policy following the war certainly created tensions that began to drive a wedge between those Central and Eastern European nations and the West. It is the slow ratcheting up of those tensions that Applebaum captures so well here; the flashpoints and ruptures that created more cracks and breaks between East and West, with Central and Eastern Europe used as pawns between the two. That these nations forged closer ties to Soviet Russia was not inevitable. Eventually all subsumed that nationalistic ambitions and desires and were forced back into a supranational allegiance; this time not to empire, but to global Communism. Applebaum adds greatly to our understanding of this complicated era which has only recently begun to be examined more closely. This book surely will be winning awards for its keen insight and sharp prose. I wish that more historians had Applebaum's ability to simplify the complicated.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Chronicle of When the Shadows Cross the Sky 19 novembre 2012
Par Richard Ranger - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Anne Applebaum's writing is unfailingly lucid and honest. Her latest book presents the reader with a ground-level account of the arrival of Soviet dominion over the nations of Central Europe. Portions of her book have the vividness of conversations among neighbors witnessing the ascendance of the new regimes. With a keen balance between scholarship and journalism she describes how the establishment of the Iron Curtain's Communist regimes were not simply the result of Soviet military might but the outcome of a multitude of individual choices and individual decisions - to serve and to support; to collaborate; to resist; to seek the handful of hollow spaces within which the ends of ordinary human experience could be pursued in a time of diminishing freedom and diminishing hope. Everyone is familiar with the shopworn phrase "the banality of evil". Applebaum's book shows the reader that beneath the spaces routinely colored red on the maps from our youth, ordinary men and women found endurance if not strength, perseverance if not peace, as they coped with the transformation not just of their nations, but of their communities. At the same time others, whether motivated by ideology, or advantage-seeking, or a simple desire to put bread on their families' tables, built the socialist republics of Central Europe stone by stone. It is a sobering and soberly told book, that makes the reader thankful for his freedom, and at the same time conscious of its fragility in the face of overwhelming adversity. "Iron Curtain" joins the bookshelf of indispensable chronicles of the Twentieth Century, and when what happens when, as Auden wrote, "Defenceless under the night/Our world in stupor lies". Highly recommended.
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