In the much-anticipated 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.
National Book Award Finalist
TIME Magazine's #1 Nonfiction Book of 2012
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Top Ten Book of 2012
Best Nonfiction of 2012: The Wall Street Journal, The Plain Dealer
In the much-anticipated 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. Iron Curtain describes how, spurred by Stalin and his secret police, the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. Drawing on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time, Applebaum portrays in chilling 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. As a result the Soviet Bloc became a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in these electrifying pages.
Praise for Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain
"Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity. . . . One of the most compelling but also serious works on Europe's past to appear in recent memory. . . . With extraordinary gifts for bringing distant, often exotic worlds to life, Applebaum tells us that Sovietization was never simply about political institutions or social structures."
-The Washington Post
"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."
-The New Yorker
"Epic but intimate history . . . [Applebaum] eloquently illuminates the methods by which Stalin's state imprisoned half the European continent. . . . 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."
-The Wall Street Journal
"Iron Curtain is a superb, revisionistic, brilliantly perceptive, often witty, totally gripping history. . . . The book is full of things I didn't know-but should have."
-London Evening Standard
"Illuminating. . . . Human beings, as Ms Applebaum rousingly concludes, do not acquire 'totalitarian personalities' with ease. Even when they seem bewitched by the cult of the leader or of the party, appearances can deceive, she writes. When it seems as if they buy into the most absurd propaganda-marching in parades, chanting slogans, singing that the party is always right-the spell can suddenly, unexpectedly, dramatically be broken."
"A tragically intimate account of the imposition of communism in Central Europe. Here is a world in which political authorities shut down choral singing societies, bird-watching clubs, anything that might nourish an independent social sphere. The story is told both with artistry and scholarship."
-David Frum, The Daily Beast, Favorite Books of 2012
"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."
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Deeply researched, exciting. . . . A masterful work that will be read profitably by both laymen and scholars. . . . It is the best book on its subject, and will remain so for quite a while."
-Christian Science Monitor
"Disturbing but fascinating history. . . . With precision in her narration and penetrating analysis, Applebaum has written another masterful account of the brutality of Soviet rule."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review, Best Book of 2012
"A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity's worst can fracture and fall."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review, Best Book of 2012
"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."
-Daily Mail (UK)
"A true masterpiece. . . . Impressive. . . . 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. . . . First and foremost of [the book's achievements] is Applebaum's ability to take a dense and complex subject, replete with communist acronyms and impenetrable jargon, and make it not only informative but enjoyable-and even occasionally witty."
-The Telegraph (UK)
"A masterly synthesis in English of recent research by scholars in these c
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 wi
In IRON CURTAIN, 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 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 remembered as a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of IRON CURTAIN.