THE CRUSHING OF EASTERN EUROPE, 1944-1956."
By Anne Applebaum.
In the topsy-turvy world of postwar Eastern European politics,
the fact that the Polish YMCA had no obvious political agenda made
Communist officials even more suspicious of its intentions.
In 1947, its dormitory offered young men a clean, quiet, if not
especially well-lighted, place amid the ruins of Warsaw. The
building was also the site for jazz concerts, billiards matches and
All those activities worried a government minister named Stefan
Jedrychowski, according to historian Anne Applebaum. He recommended
an immediate audit of YMCA finances and surveillance of all its
lectures and programs, especially the potentially subversive jazz
By 1949, Polish authorities concluded the Y was a "tool of
bourgeois-fascism." Its building was confiscated, and water and
electricity were periodically cut off in efforts to get the original
occupants to leave. "Eventually the young communists threw
everyone's possessions out of the windows ... and removed their
beds," Ms. Applebaum writes.
The story of the Polish YMCA was repeated over and over again in
the countries "liberated" by Soviet forces from the Germans at the
end of World War II. Local Communists, much more beholden to Moscow
than to any grass-roots support, followed a Soviet model for
remaking their diverse societies.
In "Iron Curtain" Ms. Applebaum takes an exhaustive look at how
those plans were carried out in Poland, Hungary and East Germany.
The result is a well-written book that tells dozens of mostly sad,
often tragic and usually little-known stories about how Eastern
Europeans found one set of oppressors replaced by another.
Ms. Applebaum has traveled widely in and written previously about
this part of the world. She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-
winning "Gulag," a narrative history of Soviet concentration camps.
(And she is married to Radoslaw Sikorski, a prominent Polish
politician who is currently the nation's minister of foreign
Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin all were totalitarians, Ms.
Applebaum writes, with the Italian dictator providing the best
definition of the system: "Everything within the state, nothing
outside the state, nothing against the state." Hitler and Stalin
took those words to heart and millions suffered and died. Their
efforts meant bad news for groups and individuals as disparate as
Boy Scouts, Masons, Orthodox and Catholic churches, artists, writers
and, of course, the YMCA. …