World War II Behind Closed Doors

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-05-04
  • Publisher: Vintage
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In this revelatory chronicle of World War II, Laurence Rees, winner of the 2006 British Book Award for History, documents the dramatic and secret deals that helped make the war possible and prompted some of the most crucial decisions made during the conflict. Drawing on material available only since opening of archives in Eastern Europe and Russia, Rees reexamines the key choices made by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during the war. And as the truth about Stalin's earlier friendly relationship with the Nazis is laid bare, a devastating and surprising picture of the Soviet leader emerges. The emotional core of the book is the amazing new testimony obtained from nearly a hundred separate witnesses from the periodformer Soviet secret policemen, Allied seamen who braved Arctic convoys and Red Army veterans who engaged Germans in hand-to-hand fighting on the Eastern Front. Their dramatic personal experiences make clear in a compelling and fresh way the reasons why the people of Poland, the Baltic states and other European countries simply swapped the rule of one tyrant for another. Rees' ability to weave high politicsthe meeting of the Allied leaders at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdamwith the dramatic personal experiences of those on the ground who bore the consequences of their decisions is eye opening.World War II Behind Closed Doorswill change the way we think about the Second World War.

Author Biography

Laurence Rees is the writer and producer of the BBC/PBS television series World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. His previous work includes the acclaimed television series and books The Nazis: A Warning from History, War of the Century, Horror in the East, and Auschwitz: The Nazis and the "Final Solution," for which he received the British Book Award for History Book of the Year. His other awards include a George Foster Peabody award and an Emmy. He lives in England.

Visit the author's website at www.laurencerees.com.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
An Alliance in All but Namep. 7
Decisive Momentsp. 91
Crisis of Faithp. 151
The Changing Windp. 211
Dividing Europep. 275
The Iron Curtainp. 345
Postscriptp. 405
Acknowledgementsp. 413
Notesp. 415
Indexp. 429
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



When do you think the Second World War ended? In August 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese?

Well, it depends how you look at it. If you believe that the end of the war was supposed to have brought ‘freedom’ to the countries that had suffered under Nazi occupation, then for millions of people the war did not really end until the fall of Communism less than twenty years ago. In the summer of 1945 the people of Poland, of the Baltic states and a number of other countries in eastern Europe simply swapped the rule of one tyrant for that of another. It was in order to demonstrate this unpleasant reality that the presidents of both Estonia and Lithuania refused to visit Moscow in 2005 to participate in ‘celebrations’ marking the sixtieth anniversary of the ‘end of the war’ in Europe.

How did this injustice happen? That is one of the crucial questions this book attempts to answer. And it is a history that it has only been possible to tell since the fall of Communism. Not just because the hundred or so eye witnesses I met in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe would never have been able to speak frankly under Communist rule, but also because key archival material that successive Soviet governments did all they could to hide has been made available only recently. The existence of these documents has allowed a true ‘behind-the-scenes’ history of the West’s dealings with Stalin to be attempted. All of which means, I hope, that this book contains much that is new.

I have been lucky that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc has permitted this work. It was certainly something I could never have predicted would happen when I was taught the history of the Second World War at school back in the early 1970s. Then my history teacher got round the moral and political complexities of the Soviet Union’s1 participation in the war by the simple expedient of largely ignoring it. At the time, in the depths of the Cold War, that was how most people dealt with the awkward legacy of the West’s relationship with Stalin. The focus was on the heroism of the Western Allies – on Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and D-Day. None of which, of course, must be forgotten. But it is not the whole story.

Before the fall of Communism the role of the Soviet Union in the Second World War was, to a large extent, denied a proper place in our culture because it was easier than facing up to a variety of unpalatable truths. Did we, for example, really contribute to the terrible fate that in 1945 befell Poland, the very country we went to war to protect? Especially when we were taught that this was a war about confronting tyranny? And if, as we should, we do start asking ourselves these difficult questions, then we also have to pose some of the most uncomfortable of all. Was anyone in the West to blame in any way for what happened at the end of the war? What about the great heroes of British and American history, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt?

Paradoxically, the best way to attempt an answer to all this is by focusing on someone else entirely – Joseph Stalin. Whilst this is a book that is fundamentally about relationships, it is Stalin who dominates the work. And a real insight into the Soviet leader’s attitude to the war is gained by examining his behaviour immediately before his alliance with the West. This period, of the Nazi–Soviet pact between 1939 and 1941, has been largely ignored in the popular consciousness. It was certainly ignored in the post-war Soviet Union. I remember asking one Russian after the fall of the Berlin Wall: ‘How was the Nazi–Soviet pact taught when you were in school during the Soviet era? Wasn’t it a tricky piece of history to explain away?’ He smiled in response. ‘Oh, no’, he said, ‘not tricky at all. You see, I didn’t learn there had ever b

Excerpted from World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West by Laurence Rees
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