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on 7 February 2014
I am just about old enough to remember 'Eastern Europe'; I can remember school books and soon-to-be-outdated atlases in which Europe was neatly divided in half, West and East. I can just about remember the 'fall of Communism', specifically I remember the tanks on the street of Romania, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of my headteachers actually managed to get hold of a piece of concrete he solemnly told us was a piece of the Berlin Wall. I got an idea of Eastern Europe as a strange and homogenous region with identical cultures, histories, and similar sounding place names, all built out of concrete. Later, I learnt about spheres of influence, the Warsaw Pact, the Cold War, and Totalitarianism, all of which seemed to reinforce these ideas.

Later still, and I started to meet people from 'Eastern Europe' and found my ideas were challenged. Not least, people from the Czech Republic and Poland aren't especially impressed with the 'East/West' dichotomy and see themselves as inhabitants of central Europe, a place that was never in my old books. I have visited both countries, and found that the old Habsburg cities survived the horrors of World Wars and Communism, if not intact, then with their historic hearts still beating. I realised that my earlier ideas weren't just challenged, but wrong. So was Communist 'Eastern' Europe just a veneer, or a piece of Western propaganda? How did the Soviet Union come to dominate such a large territory so completely?

So it was with some interest I looked forward to the paperback publication of this book; the title alone seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. However, fairly early on it becomes apparent it wasn't quite what I was looking for; rather than the 'Crushing of Eastern Europe', this is a book about the suffocation of parts of Central Europe. Most of the Soviet sphere of influence is mentioned only in passing, with the dominant focus being on East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. Eastern Europe itself, being an integral part of the USSR during the period in scope, is barely mentioned at all.

The distraction of the title and the disappointment of the slightly limited scope apart, this is a marvellous book. Appelbaum looks in detail at various aspect of how the Soviet Union found itself in control of large swathes of Europe outside its own territorial borders, and the means it used to exercise complete domination over these countries. The very first chapter shows that the job of 'crushing' the area had largely been done by World War Two, and whilst not a blank canvas, the Soviets had several pulverised, demoralised and weary countries in dire need of reconstruction on which to inflict it's brutal totalitarian regimes.

In the first half of the book, through chapters on the situation at the cessation of hostilities, the dividing of the defeated areas into zones, the nascent communist parties in the three areas of focus, the policemen, violence and media used to exert complete control over the population, the forcible repatriations of people based on ethnicity, the suppression of 'civil society' and the efforts to force one party systems and Marxist economics onto each of the conquered countries, Appelbaum paints an appallingly vivid picture of the situation that befell the populations in the years immediately after World War Two.

In the second half, she concentrates on the 'reactionary enemies' in the church and the 'internal enemies' within the communist systems that were brutally suppressed in the name of Stalinism, the desire and failed efforts to turn both the people and the cities into idealised versions of a communist citizens in a communist utopia, the efforts to control both the artists and the workers, the emphasis based on 'realism' and industry, and the effect all this had on the ordinary people, whether they became 'reluctant collaborators' or 'passive opponents', or both, all culminating in the unsuccessful uprisings and revolutions in the mid 1950s after Stalin's death.

By ending where it does, the story feels a bit unfinished. The brief epilogue isn't especially satisfying, attempting to squeeze 33 years into a handful of pages after taking nearly 500 to explain a dozen years up to that point doesn't really work. There is surely scope for a sequel.

Clearly, the image of 'Eastern Europe' behind the Iron Curtain was not a veneer, and not a construct of Western propaganda. Life under Soviet communism was unpleasant, difficult, or downright impossible for many people. There were definite similarities between the experiences of each of the constituent countries of the 'Soviet Empire', especially in the years leading up Stalin's death. Yet, as Applebaum demonstrates, the populations of these three countries, and by extension the rest of the 'Soviet Empire', somehow managed to retain enough 'civil society' and national character to re-establish themselves once the Soviet yoke was lifted. Crushed or not, Central Europe survived under Soviet domination, and has regained it's place on the map.
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on 22 February 2015
This book is probably best read as a follow-on to a decent history of the Second World War, so if you know your Ardennes from your Dunkirk, you'll be good to go. It starts at the end of the war, with the Soviets having stormed Berlin and pretty much continues from there, making a convincing refutation of the general idea that conflict and bad times stopped in 1945. Millions of people in Eastern Europe had it what you might call 'bad' under the Nazis but if Applebaum is to be believed (and with a bibliography like that, not to mention the amount of shoe-leather she's worn out digging out old survivors to talk to in person, why wouldn't she be?) it got, if anything, considerably worse under the Russians.

Over the course of 450 pages, Applebaum shows, layer by layer, how the Russians went about imposing socialism on those Eastern European countries under its control after the end of the war. She shows how the involuntary imposition of a political ideology on a country can only be achieved by means of force and is thus doomed to become a totalitarian rule, no matter what the initial intention of that ideology. In this respect, the simple showing-how-it-was-done, the book is a total success. It is so good, in fact, that it could almost be used as a guidebook on how to set up a totalitarian state. In her attention to this nuts-and-bolts approach, however, Applebaum often neglects to really convey the profound impact the Kremlin's overarching decisions about moving populations and building factories and educating children had on individuals in the same way a Beevor or Hastings might. But on the other hand, no other modern historian shows how society works so clearly; no one else shows how huge, complicated changes of state often began as the whim of one man, a whim which could be changed or reversed by the hour. And the sense of understanding Applebaum creates in her readers is what is so amazingly compelling: you feel, throughout this whole book, that you finally get the whole Communism thing.

But it is in the final few pages when the reader finally sees what Applebaum has been driving at and why she has written her book in the way she has. And in that moment, it becomes clear what a monumental achievement this is.

Yeah, basically: the best book I've read about Communism.
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on 29 December 2013
I enjoyed this book very much. I have always wanted to understand why Russia and the West fought together against Germany in the Second World War, and then went on to become enemies with the division of Europe. This book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand this period of European history, and the background to the subjugation of Eastern Europe by Russia after the Second World War.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have a great love of modern European history, with part of my degree specialising in Soviet politics and the satellite states and modern history. I ordered this book with great expectations but had not read the other reviews. Firstly this book only covers, Hungry, East Germany and Poland, which quite frankly is a travesty. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania represent countries where the authors analysis of how socialism was engineered and Eastern Europe was crushed by the mighty Soviet Union does not necessarily hold up. The way power was transferred in these countries should have been included. Secondly the in-depth strata/realist analysis of how "Eastern Europe" was crushed is not here in this book. The author tends to make sweeping generalisations and does not look at the micro causes of why certain groups backed the taking over of the Governments in these three countries.

The book focuses upon how Governments used the threat of terror to gain public support and then used propaganda and lying to hide their failures. I am sorry but there is a far greater depth of analysis needed to understand control and taking of power in these countries. If you take just two examples Matyas Rakosi in Hungry and Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland you can see the simplifications to the theory by the author do not explain the whole story. Rakosi was deemed too dangerous and too cruel in his treatment of the Hungarians by Moscow, that Moscow decided he had to go. Yes he kept order, yes he destroyed minority discontent but it was the Soviet Union itself who did not want this type of person in charge of Hungry so they themselves removed him. If terror was the name of the game Rakosi would have been kept in power. Gomulka reformed the Communist party of Poland and removed in the early days many vestiges of terror in doing so, although he brought back some vestiges later on. These changes were done to pacify Hungarians and Poles, but the realist intent of these decisions is not gone into in enough detail by the author.

Whilst this is not a bad book and in parts it is very interesting, the theory put forward by the author seems to be oversimplified and not enough analysis has been done on the structural reasons why the socialist parties were allowed to take over, nor the realist intent of those who allowed it. The generalisations continue in the way that terror and propaganda are analysed by the author as the main reasons Eastern Europe was crushed. This is an interesting book, but if you want a deep analysis based upon strata analysis or realist intent then look further.

Interesting but needs more depth.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Anne Apfelbaum's work is a scholarly but very readable account of how the end of World War Two saw the spread of communism across previously politically independent countries. This was of course effectively the end of democracy and free speech for a vast number of people.

The area affected was so large that generalisations and some omissions had to be made to encompass as much information as possible. There is little mention of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for example. There is a good reason for this - there is a heavy reliance throughout on how the changes took place through the lives of individuals, with dozens of accounts.

There are very few then-adult survivors of the immediate post war period from these small nations left to give their accounts, and it is these accounts that bring the book to life. The central focus is on the much larger nations; Poland, East Germany and Hungary.

As the wife of (at the time of writing) Poland's Foreign Minister, Anne Apfelbaum was possibly able to access previously hidden primary sources of information with greater ease. Certainly, this book confirms much of what was suspected about the totalitarian nature of the communist capture of free society, and of the mechanisms which engineered this.

This is not a re-hash of that which was already known, but an extremely important and valuable new book
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on 5 November 2012
Anne Applebaum's last book, 'Gulag' related events that were so horrifying that you were almost glad when the book came to an end. The story here is also of cruelty and failure, but not on such a terrible scale. It shows how ordinary, decent people were made to conform, partly at least because of the threat of terror, and how the Soviet backed governments in Eastern Europe tried to divert attention from their failure to get public support or to significantly improve living standards. It ends with the doomed attempts at rebellion in East Germany and then Hungary.
A lot of research must have gone into this book, but the author manages to present her ideas clearly and simply. Partly of necessity, she has to concentrate on only three countries, Hungary, Poland and East Germany. She shows that the conventional picture of the Cold War only breaking out in 1948-9 is misleading. The communists genuinely believed, after the War, that they could win popular elections. But they were soon disabused of these ideas. Instead, they effectively seized power and crushed any opposition.
By relating the personal stories of many of the people that she was able to interview, the author is able to make the story that she is relating much more interesting. A major theme is how private institutions were not allowed to survive for very long under Communism.
This book is well worth reading. It extends our knowledge of what happened in Eastern Europe after the War, and never fails to interest the reader.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I cannot fully express the wonder of this book. The author has already been praised for her earlier work, but this book is as good as Gulag.

Applebaum is an academic, a researcher and an expert, yet she writes like a poet!
The style and access granted by her language is superb. This is a treat to read - I felt like I was on a wonderful roller coaster ride through the middle of the last century, in fact it was so good it could have been a novel. Yet, there is no doubting the reality of what she writes, this is a definitive work that allows non-historians like me to access recently available archives and to take a glimpse backwards in time.

I felt the depravity and failings of modern political systems, the wickedness of humanity and the obsession of those seeking to change Europe whatever the human cost. Whatever I actually felt, I was empowered with factual history that helped me learn from the past and realise how similarly we live today.

The chapters are labelled simply and clearly giving you a sense of where the author is going with each one.

The lessons of the 20th century on experiments of social engineering ought to be enough for us, but of course too few people read history and so keep making the same mistakes. This decade we are doing many of the same things, and we will also have to pay the piper.

When you place this on your bookshelf you will be proud to own a copy. It is a long time since I read such a large historical text with such vigour and delight. I can only commend it to you and say please, please read it!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Iron Curtain: The Crush of Eastern Europe, is a return in some ways to an earlier epoch of history. Contemporary historians have focussed on the causes of events, their social context, and the complexities of theories which try to account for what has been happening. Anne Applebaum faces quite a different scenario in this detailed and often grim book.

The Cold War in Eastern Europe is unlike other periods of history, because we know without any shadow of a doubt the underlying philosophies which caused the events to happen, and we have a vast wealth of detail, now, about the mechanisms by which they were carried out. What we are largely unaware of is actually what happened. Although I grew up during the Cold War, many of the events described in this book were entirely new to me, having gone largely unreported in whatever news media it was I absorbed my contemporary history from. Applebaum is therefore chronicling as much as interpreting, and her interpretation is often a gentle rebuttal to the false hopes which were raised at a particular time, entertained, and then discarded as events moved beyond them.

For the general reader, this is a very important book, though not a comforting one.
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on 17 March 2013
This book is a very good overview of the situation in Eastern Europe at a crucial time. However much more reasearch needs to be done in this area. The author highlights and describes many aspects and approaches the Soviets used, military, poltical, through media, censorship etc.

In my opinion there are some issues glossed over. For example the Kielce pogrom is blamed uncritically on a primitive blood libel - which seems to be a standard line regarding Kielce. The American ambassador Bliss-Lane at the time, believed it was a communist provocation whilst Jewish leaders he spoke to blamed the high number, and highly visible members of the Soviet security apparatus who were of Jewish background. This is an exceptionally difficult topic and the author has gone some way to acknowledging this fact elsewhere in the book by stating the number of Jews involved in the leadership of the security forces as being at 30%, though I think Timothy Snyder's figure of 37% is the accepted one. In Kielce communist propaganda and subsequently historians blame ordinairy Poles when communist troops acting under communist orders were largely responsible.

President Roosevelt's selling out to the Soviet's is another area that is ignored. His establishment was well aware that the Soviet's had committed atrocities against Poles, such as the Katyn massacre, but this was delibrately ignored in favour of keeping Stalin "on board". Furthermore Arthur Bliss-Lane's reports of what was actually happening in Poland fell on deaf ears or was hushed up. To his credit Ambassador Bliss-Lane would go on to repeat his experiances on his return to the US, even as the official line was to ignore verything he said!

I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People

Between the years 1943 - 1956, some 50,000-250,000 were murdered by Soviet forces. The true figure is still to be arrived at. Hundreds of thousands were arrested and tens of thousands sent to Siberia. It is a time that is frequently referred to as a civil war, however given the prepondrance of foreign troops, and foreigners posing as Poles in communist Polish uniform this reference is suitable for propaganda purposes to make it look as if this time was one of internal Polish political conflict. This view is largely false. Had there been no Soviet back-up with literally NKVD troops holding pistols to people's heads to get things to go their way, the Soviet system would have got nowhere in Poland.

An Eye for an Eye: The Untold Story of Jewish Revenge against Germans in 1945

Overall the book is in my opinion one of the best available to give an insight into the situation in Eastern Europe just after the war, because of the authors knowledge of the area and spending time there especially when the political map began to change. Because of this the author will have a unique insight into the peoples, systems and politicians she is describing.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56
Much has already been said by other reviewers about this book. I have read it in one sitting and found the depth of research and presentation to be vivid and accurate.

The narrative is hard hitting and direct but this is more because of the subject matter than the style of the well-respected author. The interviews with survivors are very moving and direct but needed in the context of the book.

Anne Applebaum has done an amazing research job here and got to the facts rather than the speculation of what went on. The book is the product of many years work and it shows by the hard hitting research and presentation.

This is certainly not bed time reading but an authoritive and comprehensive text on the USSR after the Second World War and how it was run and communism developed. Any student studying this era will get a lot from the book and the references included.

A recommended read for any advanced history student.
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