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24: Stalin’s Peace

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The main reason for the break between Hitler and Stalin was the impossibility of agreeing on a lasting division of East Central Europe between Germany and Russia, both more imperialistic than ever before. It was not the ideological differences between the two most radical forms of totalitarianism. Therefore the claim of the German dictator that he was leading a crusade against communism did not convince anybody. The cruel treatment which the invaders inflicted upon the peoples in the occupied part of the Soviet Union excluded any chance of cooperation with anti-Communist and anti-Russian Ukrainians and White Ruthenians. Even the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians, who had hoped to liberate themselves on the occasion of the German invasion and who tried to form provisional national governments, were completely disappointed. They were placed under the German administration of the so-called Ostland which treated them so harshly, trying to mobilize all their resources in the interest of the occupants, that active and passive underground resistance were organized and secret committees for liberation were created.

    As everywhere else, that resistance was encouraged by the firm belief that Hitler could not possibly win the war, since his hopes of crushing the Soviet Union in another blitzkrieg had failed, and since in that same decisive year of 1941 the United States had joined the Allies. Even before formally entering the war after Pearl Harbor, America cooperated in preparing “a better future for the world after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” as was declared in the Atlantic Charter which President Roosevelt, together with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, signed on August 14, 1941.

    For the peoples of East Central Europe, all of whom were enslaved by the Nazis at the time, that joint declaration had an appeal similar to that of Wilson’s peace program in World War I. Less specific than the Fourteen Points, the Atlantic Charter included, however, the solemn promise that “sovereign rights and self-government” would be “restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.” In full agreement with that promise, the exiled governments of those allied nations which Germany had deprived of their sovereign rights and self-government were admitted to sign, on January 1, 1942, in Washington, the United Nations Declarations which reaffirmed the principles of the Atlantic Charter. The governments in exile of the allied countries of East Central Europe at the same time were making a constructive contribution to the common peace program by preparing a federal system. This was based upon the plan of a confederation which had already been announced on November 11, 1940, by the Polish government and the Czechoslovak government, the latter reorganized in London with Edward Benes again assuming the presidency, and on a similar Greek-Yugoslav agreement of January 15, 1942. Close cooperation of both groups in a federal system open to the other countries of East Central Europe was included in that project of postwar organization which was to be placed within the framework of the international organization of the United Nations.

    The Soviet government also signed the United Nations Declaration and thus adhered implicitly to the Atlantic Charter, including its first article in which the signatories promised to “seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other.” But according to the Russian interpretation, that engagement did not refer to those “aggrandizements” which the Soviet Union had gained before the drafting of the Atlantic Charter, in the years of cooperation with Nazi Germany. The claim to Eastern Poland, the three Baltic republics, and parts of Finland and Rumania was therefore never abandoned. Furthermore, the Soviet government was definitely opposed to any federation or confederation among the western neighbors of the Soviet Union, and they practically forced the Czechoslovak government to discontinue its negotiations with the Polish government in that matter. Even more than the Greek and Yugoslav governments in exile, that of Poland was considered insufficiently “friendly” to Russia because it was not prepared to yield to Russia s territorial claims.

    But since Britain and particularly the United States also still hesitated to recognize these claims, another pretext had to be found before the formal break with that government. That first Russian blow to Allied unity, delivered on April 25, 1943, was motivated by the fact that the Polish government had requested an investigation by the International Red Cross into the murder of many thousands of Polish officers, prisoners of war taken by the Russians in 1939, whose disappearance the Soviet government had failed to explain for almost two years and whose bodies were now discovered by the Germans in a mass grave in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. Although the Polish government in exile did not accept in advance the German version which was later substantiated by ample evidence, namely, that the victims had been executed by the Russians, the U.S.S.R. considered the very claim to an impartial investigation “a treacherous blow to the Soviet Union,” a pressure exerted “in accord with Hitler” for the purpose “of wresting territorial concessions” from the Soviet republics.

    After severing relations with the legitimate government of Poland which on the sixth of July of the same year, 1943, lost Prime Minister and Commander in Chief General Sikorski in an airplane crash, Soviet Russia openly opposed to that government the small group of Polish Communists which continued to function in Moscow as the “Union of Polish Patriots.” Contact was established with the few Communists inside occupied Poland in order to create in that country, as in Yugoslavia, a division in the resistance movement. In the Polish case it was particularly obvious that as soon as the Red Army in its victorious advance after Stalingrad could reach the territory of that allied country, the “liberators,” instead of restoring “sovereignty and self-government,” would simply replace German by Russian occupation, make impossible the return of the national government, and force upon the population a Communist-controlled regime.

    The other two big powers, Britain and America, were not unaware of that danger which was a challenge to the principles of the Atlantic Charter. But their main immediate objective was, of course, winning the war, a truly global conflict in which the fate of Poland —the initial issue—had long since ceased to be of decisive importance. And Russia’s continued cooperation was essential. Furthermore, the Western democracies were under a twofold illusion. They failed to realize in time that Russia’s policy toward Poland was only part of a general pattern to be applied in all countries of East Central Europe, allied or not. And as far as Poland was concerned, they believed that the Soviet Union could be appeased and the independence of even that country saved if the requested territorial changes were admitted.

    These changes did not seem unreasonable to Western statesmen, who were quite superficially informed on Polish problems, since Russia no longer claimed the Ribbentrop line of 1939 but the Curzon line of 1920 which was a little more favorable to Poland and which had been misinterpreted as having been the Allied decision at the Paris Peace Conference regarding Poland’s eastern boundary. Therefore, although the Anglo-Saxon powers, and especially the United States, wanted to postpone all boundary problems until the end of the war, Stalin persuaded Roosevelt and Churchill at the Teheran Conference, at the end of November, 1943, that the Polish-Soviet frontier had to be agreed upon at once in view of the imminent penetration of the Red Army into the territory under dispute. He obtained the secret consent of the other two Allied leaders to the Curzon line.

    As a matter of fact, when in their sweeping advance the Russians occupied the eastern half of prewar Poland as in 1939, they rapidly liquidated the forces of the Polish home army which went into the open and cooperated in the fight against the Germans. They then treated that area as an integral part of the Soviet Union. The Western Allies now persuaded Sikorski’s successor as prime minister of Poland, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, to go to Moscow. Churchill exercised a particularly strong pressure upon him to accept the Russian demands. These were, however, not at all exclusively territorial. After crossing the Curzon line, the Russians transformed the “Union of Polish Patriots” into a “Polish Committee of National Liberation” which, together with a so-called “National Council” presided over by the Communist agent Boleslaw Bierut, was established in Lublin, the first “liberated” city in what the Soviet Union recognized to be Polish territory. There, on July 22, 1944, these Russian puppets issued a manifesto taking over the power in the country. Therefore it was with the representatives of that Committee, and not only with the Russians, that Mikolajczyk had to negotiate when he arrived in Moscow a few days later, facing the demand for the creation of a new Polish government with strong Communist participation.

    Under these circumstances the Poles received no credit for the Warsaw uprisings in August and September which had been partly provoked by Russian broadcasts. Instead they were left completely to the mercy of the Nazis. When in October, after the Warsaw tragedy, Mikolajczyk returned to Moscow, the pressure exercised upon him was so strong that he was prepared to yield. He failed, however, to persuade the president and the majority of the government in exile, resigned as prime minister, and was replaced on the twenty-ninth of November by a former underground leader, the Socialist Thomas Arciszewski. And while the Soviet Union on January 1, 1945, recognized the Lublin Committee as the “Provisional Government of Poland” which soon was established in Warsaw, Britain and the United States ceased to support Poland’s legitimate authorities in exile, though formally they still recognized them.

    In the meantime, however, it had become obvious that the Russians wanted to control not only Poland. Delaying their offensive on the Polish front, they advanced all the more rapidly in the direction of the Danubian countries and the Balkans where they had always opposed an invasion by the Western Allies who hoped in vain to share some kind of influence in South Eastern Europe with the Russians. The Red Army first conquered Rumania which surrendered on the twenty-third of August and two days later declared war upon Germany after the overthrow of the Antonescu regime by King Michael. Bulgaria wanted to surrender to the Western Allies, but on the fifth of September the Soviet Union declared war upon that country, which had avoided breaking with Russia, and through this fictitious conflict succeeded in conquering Bulgaria and forcing surrender terms upon her after a state of war which had lasted only four days.

    The occupation of Rumania and Bulgaria was immediately followed by the Russian advance into Yugoslavia, Hungary, and the Carpatho-Ukraine, the latter a part of prewar Czechoslovakia. In the first of these countries Russian control was particularly easy to establish, since the Tito-Subasich agreement in August had already opened the door to the supremacy of the Communist leader who practically ignored the king and helped the Russians to enter Belgrade in the middle of September. King Peter’s last-minute decision to dismiss Prime Minister Subasich, which was made at the end of 1944, was simply disregarded. In Hungary the regent, Admiral Horthy, who on the fifteenth of October had tried to save the country by surrendering to the Allies, was overthrown by adherents of the Nazi alliance. But before Budapest was finally taken by the Russians in February, 1945, a new government set up under Russian auspices in Debrecen accepted the armistice terms of the Soviet Union on the twentieth of January and declared war upon Germany. Last among the countries of East Central Europe, Czechoslovakia as a whole was to be freed from the Germans. But though the Soviet Union had promised in the 1943 treaty with the Czechoslovak government in exile to restore the pre-Munich boundaries, it was already resolved to annex Carpatho-Ruthenia.


This was the situation in East Central Europe when another wartime conference of the Big Three met at Yalta in the Crimea from February 4 to 12, 1945. This proved to be the real peace conference after World War II, which was by then practically decided, at least in Europe. A few weeks before Yalta, a last desperate counteroffensive of the Germans in the West had created the misleading impression that their power to resist was still considerable. Incorrect military information on the situation in the Far East was responsible for the conviction that in order to defeat Japan in a war which might last for a long time, Russia’s cooperation was sorely needed. This was the main reason why Churchill and Roosevelt (who probably paid with his life for the tremendous effort a sick man made in flying to the Crimea) considered it necessary to make another series of concessions to Stalin. Stalin too made concessions, more apparent than real, on some points, but he was adamant as far as the basic issues in East Central Europe and the secret decisions affecting China were concerned.

    One of Stalin’s concessions was a promise of full cooperation in setting up the United Nations Organization. He also accepted limitation of the number of votes of the Soviet Republics in the Assembly to three instead of sixteen. In addition to the U.S.S.R. as a whole, votes were promised and really given to Byelorussia and the Ukraine at the San Francisco Conference. The choice of these two republics was in close connection with the privilege of autonomy in foreign affairs and defense granted to them in agreement with the amendment of the Soviet Constitution of February 2, 1944, which made possible such a concession to individual Union Republics under the general supervision of the central authorities. In both cases the Ukraine and Byelorussia were singled out because they had particularly suffered under Nazi occupation and had made a special contribution to the war effort. These arguments were indeed fully justified. Next to the Russian, they were also the most populous and (with the exception of Kazakhstan) the largest of the Soviet republics. Culturally, they were more highly developed than any of the others except the three Baltic countries, whose re-annexation after the expulsion of the Germans was tacitly admitted in the peace settlement. But the privileges granted, not indeed to the White Ruthenian and Ukrainian peoples but to their imposed Communist leaders, could serve in turn as an argument that inclusion in the Soviet Union was compatible with a high degree of self-government, in order to justify further annexations in East Central Europe.

    As a matter of fact, in all the countries of that region which the Red Army had occupied, there was a widespread fear that the next step would be a forced inclusion into the Soviet Union, thus indefinitely increasing the number of the sixteen Union Republics. That the Russian claims neither at the end of the war nor in the following years went as far as that was received with some feeling of relief and made easier the acceptance of the Yalta decisions even in their Russian interpretation.

    Easiest to accept and even welcome, in spite of some initial doubts on the part of President Roosevelt, seemed the section of the Yalta decisions which was entitled “Declaration on Liberated Europe.” But though quoting the Atlantic Charter, the Big Three announced that in any country “where in their judgment conditions require,” they would “jointly assist” the people concerned to establish internal peace, to form “interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements,” and to hold free elections. Such interference with the internal problems of any nation, even of allies who were put on the same level as “former Axis satellites,” was left to the decision of the three signatories of the Yalta agreement, including the totalitarian Soviet Union, of course, which thus received the right to determine what were the “democratic elements” in the liberated countries. And though the planned interferences were supposed to be “joint responsibilities” of all three powers, it was easy to anticipate that in practice all would depend on the question which of the three had liberated and militarily occupied the given country.

    In contradistinction to Western Europe, liberated by the truly democratic Anglo-Saxon powers and therefore left free from any arbitrary interference with unavoidable internal difficulties of its peoples, almost all East Central Europe was being occupied by the Red Army and was therefore at the mercy of the Soviet Union, without any guaranties for the Western Allies that they would really be consulted and permitted to share in the discharge of the promised “assistance.” That danger had already become obvious at Yalta in two concrete cases which seemed particularly urgent, when the internal problems of allied nations, not represented at the conference at all, were decided by the Big Three exactly as the Soviet Union, which was in control of both countries, wanted it to be done.

    The case of Poland was discussed at length but the question of her eastern boundary, which was taken up first, was not at all an internal problem. It was a dispute between Poland and the Soviet Union, which in the absence of Poland was decided in favor of the Soviet Union, the host to the conference. President Roosevelt wanted to save at least the city of Lwow and her only oil fields for Poland. His appeal to Stalin’s generosity was made in vain. The Curzon line, as interpreted by the Russians, was fixed as Poland’s eastern frontier at once, while the “substantial” compensation which the again partitioned country was to receive from Germany was left undetermined and was supposed to “await the peace conference.”

    More involved and therefore subject to controversial interpretation was the decision regarding Poland’s government. Her president and legal government, the wartime ally still recognized by all powers except Russia, was not even mentioned. The “provisional government now functioning in Poland,” that is, the former Lublin Committee sponsored by the Soviet Union, was to be “reorganized on a broader democratic basis.” This was indeed not the formation of an entirely new government, as the Anglo-Saxon powers wanted it, but merely an enlargement of the Communist-controlled group without any indication as to how many “democratic leaders from Poland itself and from abroad” should be included. Their choice was not left to the Polish people but to a commission composed of Mr. Molotov and of the American and British ambassadors to the Soviet Union, who would “consult” in Moscow some Polish leaders chosen by them, but again with the tacit exclusion of the legal authorities of the Republic. The “reorganized” Provisional Government was pledged to hold “free and unfettered elections,” but without any fixed date or guaranties of control, and it was to be recognized by America and Britain as soon as formed, without waiting for the result of the elections.

    Not having thus “restored” but destroyed the sovereign rights of allied Poland, the Yalta Conference, without much discussion, did practically the same with allied Yugoslavia. It began by “recommending to Marshal Tito and Dr. Subasich,” without any reference to the king and the government in exile, that they form a new government based on their agreement. In that case, too, the idea of extending the Communist-controlled bodies, in Yugoslavia the “Anti-Fascist Assembly of National Liberation,” by including members of the last parliament, was put forward. It was added that the legislative acts of that assembly should be ratified by a “Constituent Assembly,” but how and when the constituent assembly should be elected was left open.

    In Yugoslavia, Tito was so strong already that King Peter transferred his power to a regency, anticipating the abolition of the monarchy by the Communist dictator whose regime, with Subasich as a mere figurehead, was now universally recognized and already represented at the San Francisco Conference. But at that conference, which opened on the twenty-fifth of April and, soon after Germany’s unconditional surrender of the seventh of May, set up the United Nations Organization, Poland, the first nation to oppose Hitler and therefore the nucleus around which the United Nations had gradually been formed, was not represented at all. The Yalta agreement, rejected by the legitimate Polish government, simply failed to work from the outset.

    Before President Roosevelt’s death on the thirteenth of April, it had already become apparent, to his disappointment, that the Soviet Union hardly respected and differently interpreted the Yalta “compromise,” as the President himself called that agreement in his report to Congress. He did not live to hear Molotov’s announcement at the very beginning of the San Francisco Conference that the Polish underground leaders, invited to the negotiations regarding the formation of a new government, had been arrested by the Russians and brought to Moscow not for consultation but for trial. In spite of the indignation first raised by that announcement, Harry Hopkins was sent to Stalin one month later and the Russian list of Polish democratic leaders to be heard by the Molotov Commission was approved by America and Britain, with only the addition of Mr. Mikolajczyk who, contrary to the attitude of the government in exile of which he was no longer a member, accepted the invitation of the Commission. During the trial of the sixteen underground leaders who received prison terms as reward for their resistance against the Nazis, the sixteen members of the Provisional Government created and sponsored by the Soviets accepted participation of five democratic Poles in the “Government of National Unity.” One of them refused, while Mr. Mikolajczyk was make second vice-premier. On July 5, 1945, America and Britain recognized that settlement and withdrew recognition from the legal Polish government.

    Four weeks later, at the Potsdam Conference of the Big Three, it was declared that government no longer existed. After hearing representatives of the regime now established in Warsaw, it was decided that the eastern part of Germany, to the Oder-Neisse line, would not be part of the Soviet zone of occupation but would be placed under the administration of the Polish State." Since the transfer to the West of the German population of these territories was authorized at the same time, that decision could be interpreted only as the delimitation of Poland’s territorial compensation in the north and west which had been promised at Yalta. Again, however, the reservation was made that the new German-Polish frontier would be finally determined at the peace settlement, while the Russian annexation of part of East Prussia, together with Königsberg, was at once approved by the other two big powers.


It took a long time before the West realized that the new Poland, much smaller than before the war in spite of the formerly German territories that had been acquired at Potsdam, together with almost all the other countries of East Central Europe, was left behind a dividing line which Mr. Churchill, himself partly responsible for that solution, now called an “Iron Curtain,” although it was quite easy to see what was going on behind that line.

    The last joint action of the Western powers and Russia was the laborious drafting of peace treaties with Hitler’s satellites, all of them except Italy in East Central Europe, which was achieved between the twenty-fifth of April and the fifteenth of October at another Paris Peace Conference, very different from that of 1919. This time the most important peace treaty, which would again have been that with Germany, was postponed indefinitely, like that with Japan, in view of the obvious impossibility of agreeing with Russia as to the future of the main enemies in the war. Also delayed was the conclusion of peace with Austria, which during the war had been promised the treatment of a liberated victim of Hitler’s first aggression, and which after victory remained, like Germany, divided into four zones of occupation, with a division of Vienna even more complicated than that of Berlin. For the Russians also wanted to keep that country, closely associated indeed with East Central Europe, under their control, even after the eventual signature of a treaty with the new Austrian government to which really free elections had given a truly democratic character.

    Among the remaining treaties, the only ones which under such conditions could be signed in Paris on February 10, 1947, the one with Italy greatly reduced the territory of that country which had been defeated in World War II, in favor of Yugoslavia which had to yield to most Italian claims after their common victory in World War I. Now not only Fiume (Rjeka),then the main object of controversy, but also the whole Istrian Peninsula, Dalmatian Zara (Zadar) in the south and most of Venezia Giulia (the province of Gorizia) in the north, were transferred to Tito’s Yugoslavia. This move was strongly supported by the Soviet Union. The predominantly Italian city of Trieste, also claimed by Yugoslavia, was to be made a Free Territory. It proved even more difficult to organize this, however, than the Free City of Danzig after World War I.

    With the exception of the Italo-Yugoslav frontier, the territorial settlement in the Danubian and Balkan region was to a large extent a return to the much criticized boundaries of the 1919—1920 peace treaties. Again Hungary lost what Hitler had restored to her in 1939—1940 at the expense of Czechoslovakia and Rumania. But Czechoslovakia did not regain Carpatho-Ruthenia, which she formally ceded to the Soviet Union on June 29, 1945, and Rumania did regain the whole of Transylvania but not her losses to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. The treaty with Finland was even harsher than that imposed on that country in 1940. She now also lost to the Soviet Union her access to the Arctic Sea at Petsamo. She had to pay her powerful neighbor the same tremendous amount of reparations three hundred million dollars which was claimed from Rumania and Hungary.

    The treaty with Finland did not have to promise the withdrawal of occupation troops because that country, after concluding an armistice with the Soviet Union on September 19, 1944, was not occupied by the Red Army. And in spite of the economic clauses of the treaty which made Finland heavily dependent upon Russia, she had to suffer much less political interference than any other country of East Central Europe and was permitted to again enjoy a democratic form of government, having to observe a very cautious attitude, however, in the field of foreign relations. Such comparative respect for Finland’s sovereignty and self-government, at least for the time being, can be explained by the fact that as in the past the main drive of Russia s expansion was not in the direction of the Scandinavian region, with which Finland remained more closely associated than with East Central Europe, but in the direction of the center and the south of the Continent.

    In the south, at least as far as the shores of the Mediterranean were concerned, again as in the past that drive met the decided opposition of Britain and now of the United States too. And this not only explains why Russia hesitated to press her traditional claims regarding the Straits, which Turkey was determined to defend with Western backing, but also the situation of Greece which, like Finland in the north, remained exceptionally free from Russian and Communist domination. Liberated by British troops, the Greeks, too, in 1946 could hold free elections supervised by the Western powers. These elections showed a rightist majority as well as a plebiscite in favor of the return of King George II who after his death in 1947 was succeeded by his brother Paul. After failing to seize power through violence, the Communist minority in the country could continue guerilla warfare, particularly in the northern border regions. This delayed sorely needed postwar reconstruction because the guerilla fighters were supported from the Communist-controlled neighboring states.

    From the very moment of Red Army occupation, the whole of East Central Europe between Finland and Greece was indeed Communist controlled. This was true not only of the Baltic countries, which like Byelorussia and the Ukraine were again considered Soviet Republics and had to suffer once more the most violent terror and mass deportations, amounting to a gradual genocide of these small nations, but also of the remaining seven countries which were supposed to be restored to independence. The fate of the former allies, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, of the ex-enemies, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria, and that of Albania, submerged by the Italian conquest on the eve of the war, was strangely analogous. One of the few differences in their respective situations resulted from the fact that under the pretext of protecting the communications lines with the Russian zones of occupation in Germany and Austria, strong Red Army forces were to remain indefinitely in Poland as well as in Hungary and Rumania, which otherwise should have been evacuated ninety days after the coming into force of the peace treaties.

    There were also differences in the timetable of the Sovietization which in all these countries was steadily progressing on Moscow’s orders, the promise of consultation or joint action with the Western powers broken everywhere immediately after Yalta. Since comparatively free elections like those held in Czechoslovakia and Hungary did not give the Communists a needed majority, the elections in Poland, to whose complete control Russia attached a special importance as in the past, were delayed until January 19, 1947. They were then prepared and held under such pressure that the only important opposition group, the Peasant Party, was reduced to an insignificant number of seats in the Diet and could be completely excluded from the government. Its leader, Mr. Mikolajczyk, decided to escape from the country in the fall of the same year. One year later the Socialists were forced to merge with the Communists, and on November 7, 1949, the last appearances of Poland’s independence were dropped, when at the “request” of Communist President Bierut the Soviet Marshal Constantine Rokossovsky was made commander in chief of the Polish army, minister of defense, and the real master of the country.

    Under these circumstances it proved to be of the highest importance that Poland alone among all the countries “behind the curtain” continued to have her free and legitimate government in exile which still is recognized by at least some powers, including the Vatican. From London it remains in contact with Poles all over the world. Before he died in 1947, President Raczkiewicz constitutionally designated the former foreign minister, August Zaleski, as his successor, and the National Council or Parliament in Exile was reopened in 1949.

    King Michael of Rumania, who first was forced by the Russians to appoint a Communist government and who on December 31, 1947, had to abdicate, while a reign of terror liquidated all democratic opposition in the country, also went into exile, along with King Peter of Yugoslavia. In Bulgaria mass executions started at once after the occupation by the Red Army, and culminated in the death of the peasant leader Petkov in 1947. A year before the monarchy had been abolished, though King Boris who died during the war, probably a victim of the Nazis, had left a minor son, Simeon II. Equally easy proved to be the establishment of a Communist dictatorship in Albania under the partisan leader Enver Hoxha.

    A similar “People’s Democracy,” as these regimes were everywhere called, could be forced upon the Hungarians only gradually. The royal tradition, here more than nine hundred years old, was abolished at once. But the truly democratic party of the Small Landholders first gained a decisive majority in Parliament so that the most ruthless pressure with the usual arrests and trials was necessary until its leader Ferenc Nagy was forced to go into exile. He was replaced as premier by the Communist Matyas Rákosi, whose regime became notorious through the persecution and trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, sentenced to life imprisonment on February 8, 1949 a symbol of the resistance of the Catholic Church against Communist tyranny.

    Those who hoped that Czechoslovakia with her uninterrupted democratic tradition and consistently pro-Russian policy would remain comparatively free were disillusioned when on February 25, 1948, a Communist coup also enslaved that country. President Benes, who had returned from exile immediately after a liberation to which the American forces, though already approaching Prague from the West, were not permitted to contribute decisively, now had to resign, as after Munich. He died soon after and was replaced by Communist Klement Gottwald. Jan Masaryk, the son of the founder of the republic and Benes’ closest collaborator, holding the office of foreign minister to the last moment, was either killed or committed suicide.

    Russia continued to oppose any federations among her satellites, even after bringing them under complete Communist control. Only bilateral treaties among them were permitted to supplement the treaties of close alliance and cooperation which each of them had to conclude with Moscow. Their policies were, however, coordinated under the strict supervision of both Russia and the Communist party by the creation of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in September, 1947. This now took the place of the famous Comintern, the Communist International, which was formally dissolved in 1943. But the following year, 1948, there nevertheless occurred a surprising split in the apparently well-consolidated camp of Russian satellites in East Central Europe. Tito decided to oppose Russian interference and Cominform control and to make Yugoslavia independent.

    The local dictator who had started out as a tool of Russia, and whose regime had been particularly ruthless from the beginning, as evidenced by the execution of General Mihailovich and the subsequent trial of Archbishop Stepinac, the Primate of Croatia, remained, however, a Communist who pretended to follow Lenin’s doctrine more faithfully than Stalin. It would therefore be a dangerous illusion to believe that the Western democracies can find in Tito a reliable ally, and that the freedom-loving individualistic peoples of Yugoslavia now enjoy real liberty in their internal life. There is no liberty behind the barbed wire which separates East Central Europe, abandoned to Communism, from the democratic world.


In the desperate situation after World War II, the peoples of East Central Europe are looking toward the United States of America, which contributed so much to their liberation after World War I and which, by contributing so decisively to the fall of Hitler, hoped to liberate them again. If that second liberation within the lifetime of the same generation did not succeed, it was because Soviet Russia, too weak to conquer East Central Europe in the confused situation after 1918, was not only strong enough to do so in the even more chaotic conditions after 1945 but in that critical year still enjoyed the confidence of the United States which did not yet know its most powerful ally sufficiently well or Russia’s earlier role in the history of East Central Europe.

    Even less well known in America was East Central Europe itself. The historic tradition of the close association of that whole region with the Western world had been concealed by the hostility of the immediate western neighbor, Germany, which always tried to create the impression that she was the last bulwark of the West and that east of her there was nothing but a semi-Asiatic region of transition, destined to be controlled by either Germany or Russia.

    Even in the times of their greatness and freedom, the friendly relations of the East Central European peoples with the West had been almost exclusively with the Latin West, particularly with France. Similar relations with the Anglo-Saxon world were slow to develop. First of these, of course, were with England. It was not before the Wilsonian era that intimate relations were established with the United States, since in the earlier phase of America’s independence most of East Central Europe was under the neighboring empires. But in addition to the well-known participation of a few Polish leaders in the American War for Independence, there was, from the colonial period and particularly through the emigration movement of the nineteenth century, a participation of large masses of people from all East Central European countries in the rise and development of the United States. Their descendants, so numerous among the Americans of today, have of course a special interest in their respective countries of origin, whose cultural tradition, badly distorted under the present regimes, has the best chance of survival on American soil.

    But East Central Europe is important for all Americans whatever their origin may be. As a world power, the United States has an interest in the whole world, and especially in those regions where peace has been frequently threatened in the past and may be threatened again in the future, and where the American principles of freedom and justice for all are disregarded. If this is true for all continents and for peoples of any race, even if their culture is completely alien to the American, it is even more evident in a case where at least one hundred millions of Europeans—one hundred and fifty if the Ukrainians and White Ruthenians are included—all of them united with the Americans by the most intimate bonds of religion, race, and culture, could be a stronghold of peace at the very frontier of Western civilization.

    The tragic fate of these peoples, claimed by the East but only to be absorbed and dominated by old Russian imperialism and modern totalitarianism in its Communist form, frequently rejected by a West that is artificially limited to the Anglo-Saxon, Romance, and Germanic peoples, ought to be a matter of serious concern for America, not only for reasons of principle but also because her own vital interests are directly affected. This was realized, though only for a short time, toward the end and in the aftermath of World War I. It was quite insufficiently realized at the beginning of World War II which shocked America deeply only from the moment when Western Europe was invaded and the British Empire endangered. And at the end of that war the great mistake was made of practically abandoning East Central Europe while theoretically assuming heavy responsibilities there without securing ways and means of carrying them out.

    There reappeared, therefore, a situation, familiar to those who look upon all history from the point of view of the nineteenth century, where Russia with her strictly controlled sphere of influence once more became a direct neighbor of Germany. This means a permanent pressure exercised upon the Western world with Germany as last line of defense, and a chance for the Germans, defeated at such a heavy price, to play the decisive role in the rivalry between West and East which divides Europe and the world.

    For the nations between Germany and Russia, this simply means a death sentence which at the same time would deprive America of a whole group of potential allies. Allies many of them have been in a recent past, and all of them would like to be in the future, after their terrible experiences of the present. They have been deeply impressed by American aid, official and private, in their tremendous task of postwar reconstruction, although their actual Russian masters did not permit them to participate in the Marshall Plan. They have been neither convinced by anti-American propaganda nor discouraged by the real failures of American diplomacy. They are aware that if the United States and the other Western powers continue to have diplomatic relations with their foreign imposed masters, who misrepresent them in the United Nations if they do not walk out at Russia’s order, it is because they would otherwise be entirely cut off from the free world. And they are more eager than ever before to join that world in the spirit of their own democratic tradition and cultural heritage.

    How that could be achieved is not a question for the historian to answer. But history clearly shows the foundations for such a process, which had been laid in the Middle Ages, which were developed in the Renaissance at least by those peoples of East Central Europe which were still free, and which survived the crises of modern times that temporarily deprived all of them of freedom. Since the democratic Christian West ceased to be limited to Western Europe and received America as a partner and eventually as a leader, the chances for such cooperation of East Central Europe with that West were greatly improved, although in the twenty years of freedom granted to that region between the two world wars no sufficient advantage was taken of these new possibilities. But such a chance can reappear again under circumstances that are still impossible to foresee. Then a new era might be inaugurated for all those who today suffer in East Central Europe, or at least for their descendants, because for the first time in history they would belong to the same great community, not only with Western Europe but also with America.

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