The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (10 weeks)
S 2018


At the close of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied eight countries in Eastern Europe, the countries the West came to view as the "Eastern Bloc". During the period of Communist domination, these countries shared a common fate and appeared to be an ideologically and politically homogenous region. In and of itself, this is remarkable; these countries had little in common prior to 1945, and since 1989, they have moved in separate directions.

Between 1945 and 1953, the Soviet Union successfully "sovietized" these countries, effectively creating totalitarian regimes from the Baltic to the Adriatic. This did not happen overnight but it did follow a well-planned blueprint.  How did this happen and what did it involve?  Using Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (2012),we will see how the Soviet Union deliberately destroyed civil society and how individuals living in these countries survived. Applebaum's book is based on extensive research in the archives, opened after 1991, in the former Soviet Union and in each of the countries that formed the Eastern Bloc.  In understanding how the Soviet Union succeeded in their quest to create ideological and political homogeneity, we will better understand what a totalitarian society is for the people living in it and how it comes into existence.

Weekly Topics

  1. The end of the war and the victors (Introduction and chapters 1 & 2)
  2. Communists and policemen (chapters 3 & 4) 
  3. Violence and Ethnic Cleansing (chapters 5 & 6)
  4. Youth and Radio (chapters 7 & 8)
  5. Politics and Economics (chapters (9 & 10) 
  6. Reactionary Enemies and Internal Enemies (chapters 11 & 12)
  7. The Soviet Man (chapter 13) 
  8. Socialist Realism and Ideal Cities (chapters 14 & 15)
  9. Reluctant Collaborators and Passive Opponents (chapters 16 & 17) 
  10. Revolutions and conclusions (chapters 18 and the Epilogue)


Core Book: 

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (2012)

Other Books: 

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2011)

Vladimir Tismaneau, ed., Stalinism Revisited:  The Establishment of Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe (2009)

Applebaum's book contains an excellent bibliography.  Additionally, Applebaum's earlier work, Gulag (2003) offers tremendous insight into the workings of Soviet totalitarianism, which is excellent background for this course.