Besides being a great opinion columnist for the Washington Post, Applebaum writes books. This one has been much read. As of June 2019 it has 292 reader comments at Amazon, 88 percent of them highly favorable, 2 percent most unfavorable (1 star). One of the latter writes of her "immense wealth of detail." Someone who gave her three stars wrote:
The introduction is by far the best part of the book, but the individual chapters are organized thematically (youth; economy; politics; etc.) and this makes the discussion disjointed. Each section is then further carved up into individual countries (East Germany; Hungary; Poland; etc.) this tends to chop up the book into a series of country/issue nodules, relatively unrelated to each other, but each in their own way insightful and fascinating.
Eastern Europe suffered Hitler's armies pushing eastward into the Soviet Union. Then Stalin's armies came through, pushing Hitler's armies back. Eastern Europe had been where most of Europe's Jews lived (Jews having accounted for less than one percent of the German population when Hitler came to power in 1933). Applebaum writes: "Of the 5.4 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, the vast majority were from Eastern Europe." (p 8)
Applebaum writes of the war shattering a sense of natural order, of respectable citizens ceasing to regard banditry as a crime and boys from respectable families becoming hardened criminals. "One stole to keep one's partisan band alive, or to feed the resistance, or to feed one's children... Many really did resemble Hannah Arendt's 'totalitarian personality,' the "completely isolated human being who, without any other social ties to family, friends, comrades, or even mere acquaintances, derives his sense of having a place in the world only from his belonging to a movement, his membership in the party."(p 16)
Some in East Europe saw Stalin's troops as liberators and some did not. Behind his armies, Stalin sent a few communist exiles back to the country of their origin to organize communist parties. He wanted these parties to build coalitions with other leftists, people who were friendly to the Soviet Union, people whom his allies, including Roosevelt and Churchill, were calling "democratic forces."
Applebaum writes of the thievery of Soviet soldiers damaging their image as liberators. Soviet soldiers came upon luxury they were unaccustomed to, including "flush toilets and electric gadgets." They attributed the affluence to the evil ways of the bourgeoisie, and they saw the bourgeoisie as having contributed to Hitler and his expansion. Applebaum writes of a rationale for the thievery: the Soviet soldiers "stole back," including factory equipment that the Germans would need to build a new Soviet state.
... in every country occupied by the Red [Soviet] Army, the definition of "fascist" eventually grew broader, expanding to include not only Nazi collaborators but anybody whom the Soviet occupiers and their local allies disliked. In time, the word "fascist," in true Orwellian fashion, was eventually used to describe anti-fascists who also happened to be anticommunists. And every time the definition was expanded, arrests followed.
Applebaum writes that the Stalinists in East Europe believed that a successful socialist economy would win the hearts and minds of those who labored for a living. They began with land reform. But land reform in Poland didn't go as well as hoped. In Hungary, according to Applebaum, land reform increased support not for the communists but for the Smallholders' Party. And a so-called "volunteer" collectivization of agriculture in East Germany after 1956, writes Applebaum, ensured "that thousands of East German peasants fled to the West."
Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.