The sequence of events triggered off by Hitler’s invasion of Poland led directly to the advance of the Soviet Union into central Europe and the communization of the ‘lands between’. Not surprisingly, the future-pointing confrontation between communist and noncommunist, between Russia and the smaller powers has dominated ever since the investigations of historians and political scientists alike. But as so often in history, contemporaries had different perceptions. For them the war brought to a climax the conflicts of the past; it was the culminating point in the great struggle of Slav and Teuton, in whose eddies swirled the minor currents of a century of auxiliary nationalisms fair and foul. Ultimately, communism was installed in Eastern Europe by Soviet power. But the ability of East European communists to fit themselves into the anti-German scenario, to present their movement as the fulfilment of everything that was decent in the national tradition and the antithesis of everything that was not, greatly facilitated their dramatic success.
Between 1939 and 1941, in wary alliance with Stalin, Nazi Germany built up her power in Eastern Europe to an unprecedented peak. The rump Czech lands had been swallowed whole as a Reich protectorate in March 1939, with Slovakia cast adrift as a nominally independent state under German tutelage. Poland was divided up between Germany and Russia in September. Though not territorially interested in the Balkans, Hitler approved his Italian partner’s invasion of Greece in 1940 as a means of launching a peripheral strategy against Britain and her far-flung empire, for the moment invulnerable in its island heart. Could Russia be persuaded to turn her attention from Eastern Europe to India and the Persian Gulf? It was the strategy which Napoleon at the height of his continental