Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum
Stunning. I had no idea of the magnitude of what was lost in Eastern and Central Europe after the War, due to Soviet coercion and control.
By focusing on just the first decade or so after V-E day, and restricting her story to mainly Poland, East Germany, and Hungary, Applebaum is able to go in deep on how the Soviets – and their local communist allies – were able to subvert their newly conquered satellite states, and impose a foreign totalitarian system on them.
Three things I learned:
- Poland, Hungary, Germany, Finland: their borders were radically remade after the Soviet conquest. The Baltic countries vanished altogether, absorbed into the Soviet Union. Germany lost much eastern territory to Poland, who in turn lost its eastern reaches to the Soviet Union. The Ukraine was gone.
- Poland lost 20% of its population in the war. In comparison, France lost 1.5%
- The first step for most of the communist parties was to form a "national front" with other leftist parties, sometimes by force, usually with some amount of arm-twisting. Once that was established, communists would take over the mechanisms of state power (Interior, Secret Police, etc) while leaving the most visible positions in the hands of others, so it looked like a pluralistic government from outside.