BRIAN LAMB: Anne Applebaum, why do you open up with a quote from Winston Churchill?
ANNE APPLEBAUM: I open with a quote from Churchill because Churchill defined this era that I’m writing about probably without even meaning to. He coined the expression, ’The Iron Curtain.’ And it was such a emotive and such a evocative description of what had happened between 1944 and1946, when he gave the speech that the quote comes from, that I thought it was important to put that at the beginning of the book.
LAMB: Did you ever find out why he called it ’The Iron Curtain?’
APPLEBAUM: There is actually a long and complicated story to it it’s actually a theatrical term. There was an iron curtain that theatres used to use. They’d put down an iron curtain to prevent fires in the theatres. So it was a term that kind of was kicking around in Victorian England as an iron curtain. And actually it was used by other people.
But it was Churchill you used it first in a private communication with his American counterparts and then later in that speech.
LAMB: Do you know why he was speaking in Fulton, Missouri?
APPLEBAUM: Because it was doing a favor to Harry Truman, who was that’s where Truman was from.
LAMB: Well let’s watch just a slice of that speech so we can get a feeling for what it was like. (Video Begins)
WINSTON CHURCHILL: From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.
LAMB: So why did you want to write about this?
APPLEBAUM: I was in a way inspired by my first book this is in no way it wasn’t my first book. But my previous book, which was a history of the Gulag system. And although this is in no way a sequel, it represents a continuation of a set of thoughts I had after writing that book. One of the things that I got interested in when writing about the Gulag was the question of why people went along with it. Why do people go along with Totalitarian regimes what’s the mentality what are the institutional pressures why do camp guards do what they’re told to do why does it happen? And I decided to write about this period which is the period right after World War II because it’s the time when the Soviet Union was then had reached a kind of height there was sort of an apotheosis of Stalinism. So Stalinism was created throughout the 1920s and 30s. And by and then it was reinforced by the experience of the War. And by 1945, it was a fully developed system with a political theory and an economic theory and a clear ideology. And it was exactly at this moment when the Red Army marched into Central Europe and began imposing that system on the Central European states. So you can see how from scratch what did the Soviets think their system was? What did they think was important to do first and how did they try and carry it out.
LAMB: Where did they get the rights to march into Eastern Europe?
APPLEBAUM: Well they were the victors in the War. You know Hitler had invaded Germany in 1941, and they were they fought back against the Germans and then they kept going to Berlin.
LAMB: So define Stalinism.
APPLEBAUM: Define Stalinism Stalinism was a developed system as I say and it was a system of complete control. The Stalinist State believed it could control everything. It could control not only politics and not only economics, but it could control social life it could control civic life it could control sports clubs and chess clubs. In the Stalinist system, there were no independent institutions of any kind. And no independent voices of any kind were allowed to speak. All of the economy was under State control, and all of society was.
There was a cultural aspect to Stalinism too. The arts were under Stalin’s control. And there were also a cult of Stalin himself so Stalin’s portrait hung everywhere. All of society was organized around his name and his image.
LAMB: I have to tell you as I kid I grew up in a small town in Indiana and one of the main streets in my neighborhood was Kossuth Street. I know that I’ve learned since then that’s not the way you pronounce it but you talk about radio Kossuth in here. We never knew what Kossuth was when I was growing up.
APPLEBAUM: He was a Hungarian hero of 1848 of an earlier period. And much later on, radio Kossuth is this is the later part of my story was in 1956 was there was a free Hungarian radio. And they adopted the name of a previous Hungarian liberating hero. And they applied it to that radio and that was in 1956 that was you would have to call it the Anti-Stalinist radio.
LAMB: So in 1956, what was the what was the circumstances in Hungary?
APPLEBAUM: Well 56 is the end of the Stalinist period by 1956 Stalin is already dead he dies in 1953 and after 53, people begin to want to reform his system and in 56, you had the revival of what I just described. So if Stalinism was when Stalinism was brought in Eastern Europe, if it was an attempt to put everything under State control, 56 was really the revenge of civil society when people began re-organizing themselves and re-organizing social life independently and spontaneously and among other things, creating independent radio stations.
LAMB: You say in your book it took you six years to do this.
APPLEBAUM: At least yes it depends on how you count.
LAMB: What I really want you to do and take a little time back up and tell us what you went through where you went and what you were trying to find out and how you did this book.
APPLEBAUM: Well as I say, my inspiration was the idea I wanted to explain how Totalitarianism happens. We do know the story of the Cold War we know the documents we’ve seen the archives that described relationships between first Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, and Truman. We know the main events from our point of view. We’ve read them. We’ve written them.
What I wanted to do was show from a different angle from the ground-up what did it feel like to be one of the people who were subjected to this system and how did people make choices in that system and how did they react and how did they behave.
And so I started very systematically. I went through archives in Warsaw, in Berlin, and Budapest. I looked at government archives. I looked at party archives. I looked at secret police archives. All of which are now open some of which are easier to use than others. Some countries give you better/worse access some archives close at irritating times and so on but basically in this part of the world, the archives are open and you could read them.
And I looked at specific institutions. So I looked at the Hungarian Film Industry how did the Hungarian Film Industry, which was one of the biggest and most powerful film industries in Europe before the War in the 1930s as we know because so many of it’s leaders ended up in this country during the War. It was how did it become a Social-Realist Film Industry it had a completely different background.
I looked at German painters. Germany had a very vibrant expression abstract art movement in the 1920s and 30s which was destroyed by Hitler many painters had left the country they went abroad they came back to Berlin thinking they would finally be able to paint as they wanted many of them were Communists and many of them were on the Left and discovered to their horror that actually they weren’t going to be allowed to.
So how did they react? What did they do? Some of them taught themselves how to paint again. They tried to paint in Social-Realist in a Stalinist way.
I looked at some economic questions; in particular, I was interested in small shops and retailing. This is in some ways the hardest part of the economy to control traders. So I looked at the files of the Ministry of Economics in Germany and in Poland.
I looked at the Secret Police documents because I was looking for the origins of the secret police. How was it created? What who were the people who were the original secret police and where did they come from how were they trained.
I went through all this in addition to that, I used Soviet documents. Some of which had been published or had been made available in the 90s and weren’t available anymore. There’s a wonderful collection in Warsaw in about 1991 or 92 the Polish Military Archive sent a researcher and a couple of Xerox machines to Moscow and they Xeroxed all of the archives that had anything to do with the Red Army’s liberation of Poland in 1944 and 45 and in particular it’s first encounters with the Polish resistance movement. So it’s all Xeroxed. You can read it in Warsaw I don’t even know if those documents are accessible anymore in Moscow, but you don’t have to go and see them there. So there was, so there is a tremendous amount of material available and in a way my problem was what not to use because in addition to the archives, I spoke to people as well.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
APPLEBAUM: I now live in Warsaw, although I spend a lot of time in London as well.
LAMB: How old are your kids?
APPLEBAUM: My kids are 15 and 12.
LAMB: Where do they live?
APPLEBAUM: They live also some of the time in Warsaw and some of the time in London.
LAMB: And what does your husband do now?
APPLEBAUM: My husband is the Polish Foreign Minister.
LAMB: How did that happen?
APPLEBAUM: Well, he wasn’t the Foreign Minister when I met him. He was a journalist which is what I was in 1989 when I met him. He came to report on the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. I met him then and we drove to Berlin on the November night when the wall fell and spent the evening sitting on the wall chipping at it with a chisel. I got married to him about a year later.
LAMB: What did that mean at that time? What did it feel like when the two of you were sitting there and the wall is coming down what was that November 9th 1989?
APPLEBAUM: First of all well people have forgotten how much fun it was really. It was a very exhilarating time in history. But they’ve also forgotten how nervous people were. I remember sitting on the wall it was about 4 o’clock in the morning and everyone was awake in Berlin everything was open. And we but there were many hundreds of people sitting on top of the Berlin Wall. And the East German guards were still there because there was a wall and there was no-man’s land and there was actually a second wall. And they were standing in between the two walls. And very nervous they were wearing riot gear. And at 4 o’clock in the morning, everybody’s drunk drunken champagne and have already sung the National Anthem what do you do next? So they started to, rather drunkenly, tease the guards. So people started to jump off the wall from the West and to the East and then the guards would rush over and throw people back over The wall.
And it wasn’t an entirely satisfying moment and I’ve discovered many years later that actually as we were sitting there, the East German Politburo was trying to decide what to do about these people who were sitting on the wall and should they start shooting. So it could have all ended differently.
LAMB: Going to run some video of your husband who appeared on our call-in show when he was with the American Enterprise Institute. His name is Radek Sikorski.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Radek Sikorski has been Defense Minister for how long?
RADEK SIKORSKI: Six weeks.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Six weeks and prior to that, you’ve been living in the States, correct?
SIKORSKI: I was a Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: For several years.
SIKORSKI: For three years. I had been in the Defense Ministry before as a Deputy Minister in the early 90s and I was Deputy Foreign Minister later on.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: And here in Washington, you’re known as Mr. Anne Applebaum who is of course the Op Ed writer
SIKORSKI: I have heard that and I’m proud to be married to her.
LAMB: That was seven years ago.
APPLEBAUM: He looks so young.
LAMB: Does he look that young today after having been Foreign Minister?
APPLEBAUM: No he looks wonderful of course but
LAMB: So what does it mean now that he’s the Foreign Minister of Poland? How does that figure in to all your interests here?
APPLEBAUM: I it doesn’t figure in directly. He I have a background of knowledge and sympathy for that region of course that wouldn’t have otherwise. I don’t think it’s he doesn’t influence me in a direct way he’s not sitting with me in the archives while I’m looking up the you know what happened to the Hungarian Film Directors in 1947. And he’s not would be too busy to even help me write my books but I think knowing that region and having lived in it and having a now 20 year-long connection with it, gives me some empathy some interest in what happened there.
LAMB: What are the residuals from World War II and the Iron Curtain period today in Europe? In Eastern Europe? Anything?
APPLEBAUM: Well it’s interesting one of the things that’s happened since 1989 is the region that we use to call Eastern Europe has become very differentiated. It’s no longer these countries no longer have much in common with one another except for the common memory of Communist Occupation. You know Poland is as different from Bulgaria and Albania as Greece is from Finland I mean there’s Europe is really divided in different ways it’s changed quite a lot. I would say that there’re a few elements though of the Communist past that you can see in post-Communist countries.
There’s, sometimes, there’s a paranoid element in politics that comes from just the legacy of people being spied on and people having lived in an Oppressive system they’re more paranoid about secret deals being done behind their backs because secret deals were done behind their backs in a way that’s understandable.
And there’s an anxiety about being left behind or being left out by the West and they’re always keen to being inside the Western camp so there’s some the memory of the past continues to play out, but it truth these countries are more different from one another than they are similar.
LAMB: You chose three of how many eight countries that are behind the Iron Curtain?
APPLEBAUM: Sort of depends on how you count but yes.
LAMB: And what were the three?
APPLEBAUM: I chose Poland, Hungary, and East Germany.
LAMB: And why those three?
APPLEBAUM: I chose them because they were different because they had both different historical backgrounds they had both belong to different empires in the 19th century they had different political tradition And they because they mostly had very different experiences of the War. Germany was of course Nazi-Germany. Poland had resisted very strongly the Nazis they had one of the largest resistance movements in Europe. And the Hungarians were somewhere in between. They were reluctant collaborators with the Nazis at some points, but they also had some elements of resistance.
So I was interested in having had the very different experiences of the previous five years how did they now react to the Soviet invasion and then the subsequent process of Sovietization.
LAMB: How would you define the situation in each of those countries today? The lifestyle, the economy, the openness, the democracy, all that?
APPLEBAUM: Well all three of them are democracies. East Germany is of course not East Germany anymore it doesn’t exist it’s part of Germany. And so it’s indistinguishable now in it’s legal system and it’s economic system from West Germany. East Germany is still much poorer than West Germany and in some ways poorer than Poland.
Which has, as a country, recovered more vigorously than the eastern part of Germany. Poland is a very vibrant democracy maybe even too vibrant annoyingly vibrant but and it now plays a very important and central role in Europe. It’s a member of the EU, it’s a member of NATO. It really is the largest of the former eastern European countries. And so it has perhaps a larger role in the region than anybody else.
Hungary is also still a democracy and it’s also a Liberat-Capitalist state. It’s a less happy place it’s been badly governed in the last 20 years, extraordinarily badly governed actually and it’s still in many ways there are many Hungarian institutions haven’t been reformed very much since 1989 and it now has there’s an unattractive far-right in Hungary. There’s an unattractive left as well. It’s a less happy and less stable State but as I say it’s still a Democracy and it’s still a very open society.
LAMB: At what point in your research did you say ”I didn’t know that”?
APPLEBAUM: Constantly. I was constantly running into and one of the things that happens when you read archives when you read Communist Party archives you discover that behind closed doors, the Communist Officials are much more open than they are in public. So they’re always saying things very surprising things to one another they actually understand their societies fairly well. They’re driven by ideology and they believe in their ideology, which is an important point.
We often now tend to dismiss that like they were just mouthing these slogans no, they weren’t mouthing them, they believed the Proletarian Revolution was coming and that if we just do the right thing and press the right buttons, we’ll be able to create it. And they’re constantly surprised by what goes wrong. It’s supposed to be happening this way the peasants or workers are supposed to be supporting us and they should vote for us in these elections.
But they don’t. Why? What’s wrong? Well, and they argue about that. We need more ideology. Or we need more of this or more of that. They discover the factories aren’t producing as much as they’re supposed to be why not? Well, maybe we need a different and they’re always looking for ways but they have the statistics. They have the evidence. They know it’s gone wrong. And they can’t ever figure out how to fix it. And this happens over and over and over again. And that’s in a way the most surprising thing.
LAMB: How did the leaders live in those countries compared to the Proletarians?
APPLEBAUM: The leaders lived they lived in very isolated communities. They lived in villas they were cut off from the rest of society. In this period in particular, they had access to privileges that may not seem so extraordinary now to us. But at that time, you know, they had indoor plumbing and they had access to all kinds of food at a time when there were great shortages.
So the leaders were very isolated, very protected, often surrounded by servants, maids, and chauffeurs who were employees of the state who were employees of the interior ministry. So they were protected at all sides and at all times. And they were often very nervous about making public appearances. They had a lot of bodyguards. They were anxious.
LAMB: How did that track with their idea that everybody should be equal?
APPLEBAUM: It’s an interesting question you know all the pigs are equal and some are more equal than others. There was this was one of the things that developed during the course of the revolution. They thought of themselves ”we are working hard” if they were asked to justify it, they would have said ”we are working hard on behalf of the State. We are the avant-garde of the Proletariat. We will lead the Proletariat into a full-state of Communism. We aren’t there yet and until we’ve reached the full-state of Communism, we have to have these temporary inequalities.”
That would have been the justification of it that’s what they would have said. What actually went through their heads, one doesn’t actually really know.
LAMB: How’d you do with translation? How much did you do yourself?
APPLEBAUM: I speak Polish and read Polish fluently and I speak Russian and read Russian fluently so I have those two languages. With German, I have some extremely week German, but I with both German and Hungarian, I had translators in both cases. People who were more than translators.
Both of them were journalists they were people who had both had worked in archives before and had done translation lot of different kinds of translation. And I literally physically went around with them. So we would go with my translator to the Bundesarchiv, which is the main German Federal Archive. Sit in the back, open the documents, and she would start whispering in my ear. And everybody in the Bundesarchiv would turn around and go ”sshh.”
We would have to be even quieter. We I simply talked my way out of through some of these things. We read books together. We spent a lot of time together me and these(finely-tuned) translators. And they of course translated interviews for me but that is how I dealt with that problem.
I felt that it was important to do these countries, even though I didn’t have, you know, all the languages. One of the reasons there’re so few books like mine is because Historians feel awkward about using translators. And so you never get regional portraits you know there are many wonderful books about Poland in this period, Hungary in this period, Germany in this period written both in those languages and in English. But, there are very few that do a wider range and I felt that what I wanted to do is establish patterns. What was happening in different countries and different times. And I felt that I could only do that doing several countries.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier about the Russian Archives only being opened for a short time. Why did they open the Archives and who shut them?
APPLEBAUM: The Archives were opened in the 90s in a period when the Russians were in the wake of Glasnost and in the wake of the end of the Soviet Union. There was a move a movement in Russia to end secrecy and to discuss the past openly. This was actually an authentic movement. It came from the ground-up and people at the top supported it and sympathized with it. And the Archives began to open in the 90s and in some ways were extraordinarily accessible and archivist began working with Western Scholars or there’re many instances of that.
I did begin to have the impression I worked a lot in Russia towards the end of the 90s and I began to have the impression that the one of the other reasons that they were open was the Russians were so preoccupied with other things at that time that they didn’t care and people often said to me, ”how is it that a young American you youngish American woman how could you be wondering around these Archives is anybody stopping you and the answer is no. I think the attitude was ’she wants to go look at some old documents? So what we’re busy with forming our economy with massive change.’
What happened in 2000 is Putin became President of Russia and he had much more instrumental idea of what history was and what it is for and he re-politicized history. He began to become much more conscious over what history was told and how it was being told. And he and this always trickles down became more aware of what Archives were open and who had access to what information.
I should add that they aren’t totally closed and you can still work in them some particular ones have become difficult particularly the Military Archives.
LAMB: What’s the difference when George W. Bush came into the presidency, he made it more difficult to get the Archives pushed off time when you could get access to his father’s and other’s Bill Clinton’s archives and all that what’s the difference between that attitude and what you have over in these countries? Is it a matter of degree or do they really have a different attitude about these things?
APPLEBAUM: I mean we believe that in principal it should all be open and we argue around the edges what’s still classified and how long should it be classified and when will Historians have access to it. The Soviet Union, until 1991, assumed that all of it was closed and no one would ever have access. And what one worries about Putin is that we’re returning to that kind of attitude. So not just, you know, let’s wait a little bit longer until everybody’s dead and then you can talk about it. But nobody’s ever going to have access to this it’s a secret history’s a secret and the truth does never get out.
LAMB: Why do we even keep it then? I mean, why do they keep it if they’re never going to let it out?
APPLEBAUM: Because they find it interesting. The number of the KGB writes it’s own books. It writes it’s own histories. And it wrote I should say it’s not the KGB anymore but wrote it’s own histories and kept them and published them and kept them inside their buildings. They’re interested in their own history.
LAMB: How do we do in the world with openness when it comes to archives?
APPLEBAUM: The U.S. is actually good I mean the U.S. is better than the European countries. And generally speaking, the U.S. Archives are easier to use. Some of the CIA archives are harder to use. And I would actually argue they could be more open in particular the older ones. OK, you don’t want to show from the last 20 years, but I know people who’ve had trouble accessing the CIA archives for people who’ve for stories from the 40s and 50s and why? I think that could all be done. But the U.S. the National Archives is easy I actually have never worked in it American Archives but I have friends who’ve worked there I know that it’s not hard to use.
LAMB: Go back to where you started this book in 1944 and it goes up to 1956 how did the Soviets take over Eastern Europe? What was their what did they use? You mentioned a lot of stuff earlier but give us some examples specifically?
APPLEBAUM: There were really three or four, depending on how you count it, institutions that they considered important. So if you look at the world in 1945, Stalin did not have a plan. He did not have a 10 Point plan we’re going to do this, this, and this and then these will be Soviet satellites. He was an opportunist and a tactician. And what he had was a conviction that sooner or later, these will become Communist countries. Because Marxist-Leninist ideology says so. It says that there will be international revolutions and the Soviet Union will bring the international revolution to these countries.
And so, he had a conviction that it would happen but not a lot of certainty about when and he was still nervous about how the West might react. But what he did, to make sure that he had enough influence in these was that he set up I would let’s I’ll choose three institutions in particular that he thought were important. Number 1 was the Secret Police. He created in all of these countries, the Red Army in conjunction with the NKVD that’s what the KGB was called then created secret police forces, speaking the local languages sometimes from people coming from the Soviet Union sometimes from natives and began training them in NKVD methods and they began doing that right away.
In Poland, they began in 1939, which is when they invaded Eastern Poland in 1939 and they begin creating a Polish Secret Police force then. And they import those people back into the country in 1944 when they begin fighting the Germans beating chasing the Germans out of Poland. That’s number 1.
And that’s institution is used in turn to target people. So the Soviet Union does not use mass violence during this period you don’t see mass murder actually. You what they begin to do is, you look for potential opponents. And this could be church leaders, resistance leaders- the first encounters between the Red Army and the Resistance Army, which is called the Home Army, are very violent with the Home Army expecting to collaborate with the Red Army against Fascism.
Instead, what happens was the Red Army arrested them, disarmed them, and sent them east to labor camps. And this may sound paradoxical, but because they plan from the beginning to eliminate or suppress the leadership of these countries potential leaders people that might be post-war leaders and this of course the Home Army.
The Second institution that was in a way they set up the repressive organizations right from the beginning. At the same time, the other institution they were obsessed with was the radio. And they were interested in radio, as opposed to newspapers or other forms of media, because they thought of the radio as the most effective means of reaching the masses you know reaching the peasant, reaching the work, reaching the Proletariat.
LAMB: No television at the time?
APPLEBAUM: There was no television at the time. Not much television anywhere at the time of 1945. Television they get later Television eventually serves a similar function. But in 1945, it’s the radio. And in everywhere they go, one of the first things they do is either take over or create new radio stations. In East Berlin not East Berlin Central Berlin, they occupy the Nazi radio station immediately on the first day as soon as they get there. They protect it from harm.
And some of the first East German Communist, who have been flown in from Berlin, are sent to work on the radio station. That’s how important they considered it to be. In Poland, they create a radio from scratch all radio equipment had been destroyed in Poland during the War and they create it from scratch. And the reason is, they believe the other thing that shows is they believe in the efficacy of their own propaganda. You know, once we begin to explain to people what we’re doing and what we want, they will go along with us.
And the radio is going to be the means to do that. So they care enormously about targeted Secret Police uses the radio.
And the third element, which is maybe surprising, is the other thing they do very early before they do they eliminate political opposition and before they fully nationalized the economy they begin to target what we would call organizations of civil society. So, youth groups youth groups in particular other kinds self-organized Women’s groups Women’s charitable organizations charities, church organizations, these are the groups they immediately want to put under state control. They don’t want any independent institutions or associations of any kind to come into existence.
LAMB: Let me ask you about the YMCA in Poland. What happened to that?
APPLEBAUM: YMCA they did have a building in Warsaw. It was one of the few buildings to survive more or less the War and very soon after the War, people began moving into it. The YMCA had some resources from it’s an international organization it had resources from outside. It was able to bring in clothing sent from the West and feed people to set up their soup kitchens. And it also very quickly became, because of a shipment of jazz records that arrived at the YMCA, it became a kind of center of social life in Warsaw.
And it was the place where you’d go to parties in 1947 and 1948 Warsaw used imagine a city where just everything is rubble and there’s practically nothing standing. And the YMCA is an island of jazz music. And the YMCA is and this poses such a threat, such a problem to the at the very highest levels the Communist leaders right to one another angry letters ”we must doing something about the YMCA,” ”we must destroy the YMCA.” And actually, eventually they do they shut it down. They close it up and at a very tragic moment, the Communist Youth Group is sent in to smash the jazz records because it’s seen as anything that’s seen as an island of self or self-organized or spontaneous organization, is seen as a potential threat to the regime.
LAMB: At one point you mention Jean-Paul Sartre? And Pablo Picasso. What role did they play? And who were they by the way in case somebody doesn’t know?
APPLEBAUM: Sartre was the probably, the pre-eminent French Philosopher of the post-war period. Pablo was one of the great modernist painters. Both of them were at one time or another for part of their lives were either Communists or Communist sympathizers of course they were Communist Party members. And both of them were seen as a kind of justification. Even if people like Sartre were Communists, then it’s OK for intellectuals in Poland or Hungary to be Communists too. They sort of they provided some intellectual ballast for the regime. Picasso actually came to Warsaw, he came to a kind of ’Cultural Congress.’
He painted a he was taken to seek a new apartment block being built by the City this was part of a Homes-for-the-Workers project which he was shown as part of a sign of Communist, progressive architecture. And he painted a picture he did a kind of sketch on the wall of one of these new apartments which later became a mini-tourist attraction. There was a couple that was given that apartment to live in and they became annoyed by the number of people who would knock on their door and say they would like to see the Picasso sketch on the walls so they painted it over.
LAMB: If you were going to send people to a number of places today over in Eastern Europe that would somehow reflect what was happening in those years, where would you send them?
APPLEBAUM: I would certainly send them to Warsaw. If you walk around Warsaw you can walk around Warsaw and sort of do a visual archeology. You can see what was built when. And there are a number of very prominent Stalinist buildings in the centers of Warsaw including something called the Palace of Culture, which is sort of a Ziggurat skyscraper built in the kind of high-Stalinist architectural style and you get a very good idea there of what that period was like or at least aesthetically, what that period was like.
LAMB: Speaking of earlier, and we’ve talked about it before in the Gulags, and the Jews how many Jews have either moved back in to Eastern Germany or Poland or Hungary?
APPLEBAUM: I am not going to remember the numbers right off the top of my head you probably have them somewhere in the book.
LAMB: I actually don’t but the reason why I ask that is whether or not any of the Jews have moved back in.
APPLEBAUM: Yes many thousands have moved back and many thousands have survived.
LAMB: But why?
APPLEBAUM: Remember that many people were in hiding they were in disguise, the survived the war. More survived in Hungary than I think is generally known in particularly the City of Budapest because the attack on the Hungarian Jews happened later in the War when Hungary’s government became, effectively, the Nazi’s took over Hungary in the end. And that was when the Holocaust began in Hungary and actually a large community of Jews survived in Budapest probably a couple hundred-thousand which is a significant figure at that time give the population of the city. In Poland, they survived all kinds of ways.
Many of them survived by going to the Soviet Union by coming abroad and many people come home and they come home to find what’s left and see what kind of lives they’ve made. And as one very sad and moving archival document says many come home just to see the cemeteries and leave because they don’t want to live there anymore.
But Jews do come back. Some try to make new lives there. Some join the Communist Parties the Communist Party has an attraction for actually not just Jews but for anybody who’s experienced the devastation of the War and the shattering of all ethics and all morality that War brought. Many people did see in Communism a sort of alternative you know maybe this new system will work you know, Liberal Democracy has failed, the West did not come to our aid, Capitalism was a disaster maybe there’s some sort of alternative here and there was a period a very brief period where some people they were listening to the radio station and they were attracted to it and it was particularly attractive for you know Jews who really had nothing else and who had been excluded from all kinds of politics not only during the War but in some cases before.
So, they come back some make their way and some immediately some it’s a strange and hard story to tell because some join the Communist Party and some immediately come into conflict with the Communist Party because a lot of them are small traders or small merchants, and are subject to the nationalization and take-over of this period. And begin to leave and there then begin to be large groups begin to leave for Israel right in the late 1940’s. Some with the complicated story some leave with the aid of those countries. There’s actually a couple of moments when both the Poles and Hungarians help train Jews who were going to go ahead and fight for independence in Palestine to the irritation of the British.
LAMB: You write about at one point to use two words ”Mickey” and ”Mouse” come up in your book. What’s that about? Because we have some entertainment here in a moment.
APPLEBAUM: I was describing the origins of a famous song. There’s a song called ’The Song of the Party.’ And it basically goes ”The Party/The Party/The Party is always right/” that’s more or less when I was described this and while I went to look on the internet for somebody singing this song so that I could hear it and I found a number of parodies including a Mickey Mouse parody Mickey Mouse singing it. This became a song that in later years in the last 20 years, people have made fun of. What interested me about it was OK you can make fun of it now, you can do Mickey Mouse parodies of it now but people were singing it 30 years ago in Berlin or 40 years ago in Berlin and I began to ask the question, ”Why were they singing it?” And what did they think when they were singing it? This was the introduction to my chapter on what I describe as ’Reluctant Collaborations.’ People who go along with things without necessarily believing in them.
LAMB: It’s in German and here’s some of the language here ’She gave us everything/sun and wind/always generous/Wherever she was/there was life/We are what we are because of her/She never abandoned us/Even in a frozen world/we were warmed/The Party/The Party/She is always right/’
LAMB: Did they really believed that?
APPLEBAUM: It’s hard to know what people really believe. They some would like to believe it or would hope to believe it. Some people felt they had to believe it. And some people thought it was OK to sing it, even if you didn’t believe it because it was a minor sacrifice to make, in exchange for keeping your job, your house, and keeping your children in school.
LAMB: We found this on You Tube it’s not labeled very well so we don’t know where it comes from. But it makes the point that some man by the name of Ernst Busch, who was born in 1900 and died in 1980 at age 80 who was a German.
APPLEBAUM: East German singer.
LAMB: Lets watch.
(Video Song Parody begins and ends)
LAMB: Who were some of the people we saw besides Castro, and Khrushchev, and Gorbachev.
APPLEBAUM: It was going fast but I saw Erich Honecker, who was the last leader of East Germany, who in the period I read about was the Youth Leader he was the head of the Free German Youth Communist Youth Movement. I saw Walter Ulbricht, who was the East German, the sort of, head of the party effective the little Stalin of East Germany in this period and he was standing next to Wilhelm Pieck, who was President of East Germany. I saw Mao, I saw Castro, Stalin.
LAMB: What started to break up control of the Soviets in Eastern Europe?
APPLEBAUM: In a way the it’s very important to look at this period when you ask that question. Because, in a way, the Soviet Union and the Soviet system in Eastern Europe, contained the seeds of it’s own destruction. Many of the problems we saw at the end begin at the very beginning. I spoke already about the attempt to control all institutions and control all parts of the economy and political life and social life. One of the problems is when you do that when you try to control everything then you create opposition and potential dissidence everywhere. If you tell all artists they have to paint the same way and one artist says, ”No, I don’t want to paint that way. I want to paint another way.” You have just made him into a political dissident somebody who might have been otherwise apolitical.
If you tell Boy Scout Troops that they can no longer be Boys Scouts they have to be Young Pioneers which is what happened in a number of countries and a one group decides they don’t like that so they form a secret underground Boy Scout Troop which absolutely happened underground scouts were very important in Poland all through the Communist period you have just created another group of political opponents from other apolitical teenagers.
So the system created pockets of resistance and opposition all over. The other just as important the other element of the system that you can see from the beginning is the gap that begins to grow between the ideology and the reality.
The Communist leaders continue to say, ”This is what things are going to be like. This is what should be happening. We’ve read Marxist doctrine. This is how things will develop. This is how the economy will grow.” And it doesn’t happen that way. Or it happens sort of, but not really. Or, there is some growth, but the West is growing much faster. The fact the system is never able to fulfill it’s promises means that by the end, by 1989, even the people leading it don’t believe in it any more. The loss of faith in the system, which begins in the 40s and simply grows worse and worse over time, means there’s no one left to defend it.
By 1989, not even the Soviet leadership at the very highest levels, was really able to defend the system. You know, once Gorbachev, in the late 80s, began the conversation about history, what’s really wrong, how is our system set up? As soon as people didn’t have to collaborate anymore, and they didn’t feel obligated to go along with the Party to sing the song to keep chanting ’The Party is always right,’ then they stopped and they stopped very fast.
LAMB: After the wall came down, we went over and did a 30 hour special in East Germany and I just remember interviewing a man I believe his last name was Zimmerman who was one of the Liepzig Six, one of those that started the revolution the revolution there outside of the opera house. He turns out to be one of the members of the German Stasiland I don’t know what the word is ratted on his own family. He ended up moving I’m not sure if he’s alive today. What kind of mentality is it when you know here’s a guy who just helped a revolution began back to freedom but he’s a member of the Secret Police in East Germany?
APPLEBAUM: This question of collaboration is incredibly complicated and it’s more complicated than we in the West like to think. People very often were one thing or another. They weren’t only collaborator and there were some stipulate there were some collaborators and there were some real heroes of resistance. But many people zigzag through their lives.
They collaborated at times, or they marched in the May Day Parade. And then at other times, even use telling jokes behind the party’s back, or agreeing to help somebody or hide somebody who’s been imprisoned. People often did they tried to find a path which they felt was moral and which they felt was right. And in a period when the State controls everything in everything, this is very difficult.
And I find that it often helps to think about if you have children, you know, would you be willing to say, ”I won’t march in the May Day Parade?” I won’t salute comrade Stalin? I won’t do all these things? If you know that it means your child will be expelled from school and won’t be able to study and won’t have a future and won’t be educated? These were really dramatic and radical choices people made.
They had to give up things that would never occur to us that we would have to give up in order to make a political point. I’m mean obviously, it’s more drastic to become a police informant, although even then, there were degrees, there were people who thought, ”Right. I’m going to inform just a little bit, and I won’t really say anything important. And I’ll do it so that I can protect my wife who’s ill and needs to get medicine from the hospital and if I do this, then I’ll get medicine for her and she won’t die.” So even then, sometimes the choices were much more grey and more complicated than we now imagine sitting here, now, in a free society.
LAMB: What even though you say we’re a free society what’s the difference between all the favoritism that was played back then to the people of the party and what goes on in this town when you’re in power and we have earmarks, or pick your moment, I mean the people here in power dish out favors to people based upon whether or not you follow the party. What’s the difference?
APPLEBAUM: Well the difference is there’s no threat of violence behind it that’s one difference. You know, if you don’t vote for the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party, you don’t go to jail and you’re not going to be arrested and your child will not be expelled from school. There’s a dramatic difference between the kinds of consequences and the radical nature of choices the people had to make. The second difference is our system is more or less open. We know this stuff goes on and we can have an argument about it and discuss it and then of course the Communist system was entirely closed. There was a high level of secrecy about all State affairs and all political affairs you didn’t necessarily know what was going on.
LAMB: Are there any lessons in you book this may sound like a stretch for the people who live in China? It’s a Communist government. I don’t know if it do you call it a Totalitarian system? Certainly there’s not the openness what would you say to the leaders of China about their future?
APPLEBAUM: I would start by saying that the Chinese leaders have drawn lessons from this story. The Chinese know that piece if history and then there’s a similar piece of history for them the Maoist era in China and they also had studied very carefully the 80s and the end of the Soviet Union. And one of the decisions they made, based on studying this piece of history, is they have made contemporary China less Totalitarian in the sense that they don’t make people march in parades, and they have abandoned ideology, in the sense that, making people repeat things that they don’t believe in. And the pressures they put on people, in that sense, is less. It’s much more subtle system where you’re allowed to say some things in context but not others and you can talk about corruption but maybe can’t criticize the party directly. So there’s these unwritten rules of speech that they’ve established. It’s more sophisticated than what I have described in this book. But I would I would say is what the Chinese have to be careful about is when the moment the basis of their legitimacy begins to deteriorate.
Right now, the regime argues it has the right to stay in power because it’s bringing fast growth. And because it’s a meritocratic system, where the people at the top are all specially trained, as growth falls and as some of those people at the top are in fact children of important people so they’re not so such wonderful meritocrats, then I think, yes, the regime will have to find other ways to make itself legitimate. If it’s not to begin to incur the kind of public discontent and protest like we saw in 1989.
LAMB: Now your husband’s the Foreign Minister of Poland and you live in Warsaw part of the time and I guess London the other part what’s the difference of the life of people who are Polish and live in Poland and the people who live in the United States when we’re talking about freedom, and openness, and democracy and all that?
APPLEBAUM: Nothing of significance. People in the United States are wealthier than people in Poland, as a general rule. But in terms of civic freedom, and political freedom, I don’t think there’s any significant difference.
LAMB: What about the social well that’s not the word I’m looking for the overall social network of how well they take care of people in Poland versus how well we take care of people in the United States?
APPLEBAUM: You’re not comparing apples with apples in the United States it depends on where and what state and who you’re talking about and what you mean by that. Poland is a much smaller and homogenous society. I would say that in this country, civil society is far more developed and far richer the range of charities and institutions that we have here that have developed for over 200 hundred years is greater although Poland for that region has a very developed civil society, one of the most impressive things that happened in 1989 was pretty much the same day people started organizing private kindergartens. There were people who were ready to do stuff right away and volunteer organizations were set up right away. So Poland does have some of the, but you don’ t have the depth of it like you do here. You do have State Healthcare in Poland, as you do in all of Europe, but it varies.
LAMB: Does it work?
APPLEBAUM: In sometimes it works and in sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on how sick you are and what you problem is and in what part of the country you live in. Cost of living is lower is significantly lower. But again, salaries are lower too.
LAMB: In the back of your book for Acknowledgments, you run down a list of people who’ve supported you in this project and I ask you, how does this happen? National Endowment for Humanities Slate Foundation. The Smith-Richardson Foundation. (Christian Muthe) (who use to be with the) American Enterprise Institute, and is now the Hudson Institute. Paul Gregory of the Hoover Institution. On a how do you get support something like this?
APPLEBAUM: I write letters and ask there’s no secret to it.
LAMB: What do they want out of it?
APPLEBAUM: I mean The National Endowment for Humanities has a formal application process. You fill it out. You apply. You get references. And you ask for grants. And I’m one of many hundreds of grantees.
LAMB: How much time does it take you to get that kind of support?
APPLEBAUM: It depends sometimes it takes a lot of time but I mean I described to you my tense relationship with my two translators. I could not have paid for them and their time if I didn’t have some support from a range of institutions as you say.
LAMB: Who would read this that would make you the happiest?
APPLEBAUM: I mean I want people who are interested in the history of Europe but don’t know and the history of world but don’t know anything about this region. I would be most happy about the people who read who don’t know about Poland, or about Communism, or about Russia. I mean, people who are new to the subject. If teenagers read it if people in their 20s read it, then I’ll be happy.
LAMB: What’s the difference between being a Marxist, Leninist, and and being a Stalinist?
APPLEBAUM: Well Marxist-Leninist describes a philosophy and it’s a very complex, deep philosophy. Being a Stalinist implies something more political it applies to this period really a follower of Stalin. Marxist-Leninist is the broader term and maybe Stalinist is the narrower term Brezhnev was a Marxist-Leninist, and he came after Stalin.
LAMB: What’s Italian Fascism versus German Fascism?
APPLEBAUM: Well they have similar roots actually. I mention Italian Fascism in the book because the word ’Totalitarian’ comes from ’Italian’ and it was a word first used by Mussolini and it was Mussolini who coined some of the best definitions of the word and ”Everything within the State. Nothing outside the State.” That comes from Mussolini that’s why it appears in this book. I introduced the book by speaking about Totalitarianism, what was it, how do we understand it, where does the idea come from, what are the intellectual origins of the word?
LAMB: So what’s next?
APPLEBAUM: Many things. I would like to write a book about 1989 actually.
LAMB: What facet of it?
APPLEBAUM: Why it all fell apart. I would also like to write a book about the Ukrainian famine which is another piece of forgotten history in that region.
LAMB: How long do you intend to live in Europe?
APPLEBAUM: There’s no end date it’s indefinite.
LAMB: And how often do you still write for ”The Washington Post?”
APPLEBAUM: Every other week.
LAMB: And what’s the mission? What do they want you to do in that column?
APPLEBAUM: They seem to want to do whatever I want to do. What I usually want to do is provide some perspective International, and even American affairs, from a different view. You know, I live outside of the United States. I might see Foreign Policy, I might see American Policy from a different angle. And I think that’s what I can do on that page that there’s maybe cant.
LAMB: And your kids are going to do what, any of them want to follow their mom?
APPLEBAUM: It’s hard to want to go into journalism now it’s not a good moment. I often have people ask me about it and it’s difficult. They’re I don’t know they’re both bilingual, they’re both interested in History, one seems very interested in Science so he may go a different way.
LAMB: The name of the book is ”Iron Curtain: 1944 to 1956: The Crushing of Eastern Europe.” Our guest is APPLEBAUM:, and we thank you very much.
APPLEBAUM: Thank you so much.