CHAPTER 9 The Communists Prepare for Power

ALL through the summer of 1945 the Czechs and the Slovaks watched the "liberating" Russian Army streaming across their country -- an avalanche of tanks and motorized vehicles, horse-drawn wagons and carts loaded with loot, and tough, grimy foot soldiers. The Red Army lived on the land, consumed the peasants' chickens, seized vehicles of all kinds, and requisitioned from the local authorities whatever else they required. The tales of pillaging and rape at that time in Czechoslovakia differ little from those told of the Germans.

Many a Czech found there was only one protection against the Red Army's arbitrary violence, albeit not a very sure one: A word from an influential Communist individual might save a man's automobile, his cow, or his daughter. And other Czechs whom one would not have suspected of Communist sympathies now flocked to the banner of the hammer and sickle because they hoped it might protect them from the consequences of questionable collaborationist activities during the Nazi occupation. Among these were many business and professional men who had traded with or provided services to the Germans, and many former members of the political parties that had been outlawed. It should not be difficult to understand why, in this atmosphere, most of the National Committees (local, district and regional administrative organs) elected Communists as chairmen while non-Communists tended to be stooges.

In December 1945, American Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt succeeded in arranging for a simultaneous withdrawal of the liberating armies from Czechoslovakia: the Americans from their corner in the southwest, the Russians from the rest. But the damage had already been done. The Czechoslovak people -- even if they did not know what had happened at Teheran -- felt psychologically surrounded by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by their friends in the West.

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