The War and the Victors, 1939–1948: Trial by Fire

  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.


By 1941, World War II had reproduced the geopolitics of the Eastern Europe of 1914, with minor variations. Most of the western and southern Slavs were again absorbed into German and Russian empires, and the independent states of the southeast, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, were trying to play the great powers against each other for national gain. The variations included formally independent states in Croatia and Slovakia and an Italian role on the Adriatic and in the Balkans. Although the outcome of the conflict made these variations almost ephemeral, the heightened Croat and Slovak national self-consciousness that they left behind subsisted into the Communist era (and has now reemerged in independent statehood). In this as in so many other aspects of East European life, the experience of the war perpetuated and reinforced the experience of the past — the dependence, the strength of the peasantries and their traditions, the strength of nationalism — even as it altered their forms. Yet because this was effected by destruction from outside much more than by the peoples themselves, what contemporaries saw was the destruction and the immense confusion — economic, political, moral — that it brought in its wake.


Population Transfer Western Zone Marshall Plan Czech Land Soviet Threat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    These assessments and data on the destruction are drawn from the following works: in general, Hugh Seton-Watson, East European Revolution, 3rd ed. (New York: Praeger, 1956),Google Scholar
  2. chap. 9, and E.A. Radice, “Economic Developments in Eastern Europe/German Hegemony,” in Martin McCauley, ed., Communist Power in Europe, 1944–49 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1977), 3–21;Google Scholar
  3. on the Balkans, John R. Lampe and Marvin R. Jackson, Balkan Economic History, 1550–1950. From Imperial Borderlands to Developing Nations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 520–575;Google Scholar
  4. on Yugoslavia, Dennison Rusinow, The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948–1974 (London: C. Hurst, 1977), 18;Google Scholar
  5. Bogdan Denitch, The Legitimation of a Revolution. The Yugoslav Case (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 84;Google Scholar
  6. and Joseph Rothschild, Return to Diversity. A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 57–58;Google Scholar
  7. and on Hungary, Iván Berend and György Ránki, The Hungarian Economy in the Twentieth Century (New York: St. Martin’s, 1985), 72–75.Google Scholar
  8. Rusinow estimates that the average age of Yugoslavia’s 1.7 million war dead (11 percent of the population) was twenty-two and that they included 90,000 skilled workers and 40,000 intellectuals. On Warsaw’s losses in the uprising, generally estimated at 200,000 but rising to 250,000 and especially heavy among the young, see Joanna K.M. Hanson, The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 202–203,Google Scholar
  9. and Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust. The Poles under German Occupation (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1986), 219. To break my own rule and cite a foreign-language source, Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz estimates Warsaw’s wartime losses at 685,000 killed and murdered and 180,000 allowed to die, out of a prewar population of 1.3 million, and 80 percent of the physical plant destroyed: Warszawa w latach 1939–1945 (Warsaw: Państowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1984), 370–371. Lukas (38–39) puts Poland’s total losses at 6,028,000, half Jewish and half non-Jewish, and 90 percent civilian. On the Soviet massacre at Katyń and other sites, the Russian government has now published the “smoking gun,” a Politburo decision dated 5 March 1940 and signed by Stalin, which calls for shooting 14,736 Polish officers and other officials in prisoner-of-war camps and 10,685 Poles in other places of detention. See Celestine Bohlen, “Russian Files Show Stalin Ordered Massacre of 20,000 Poles in 1940,” The New York Times, 15 October 1992, and Andrew Nagorski, “At Last, a Victory for Truth,” Newsweek, 26 October 1992, 41. At the same time, Jacques Rupnik very properly recalls that 5,000 Polish intellectuals were killed by the Gestapo in German-occupied Poland that same spring: The Other Europe (New York: Pantheon, 1988/9), 81.Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    Antony Polonsky, Politics in Independent Poland. The Crisis of Constitutional Government (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 38.Google Scholar
  11. On the life of these peasants, see Joseph Obrebski, The Changing Peasantry of Eastern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing, 1976),Google Scholar
  12. with photographs taken by the author in the 1930s; Louise Boyd, Polish Countrysides (New York: American Geographical Society, 1937), 53–85,Google Scholar
  13. with photographs; and on the politics of this ethnically mixed area, Stephen M. Horak, “Belorussian and Ukrainian Peasants in Poland, 1919–1939: A Case Study in Peasantry Under Foreign Rule,” in Ivan Völgyes, ed., The Peasantry of Eastern Europe. Vol 1: The Roots of Rural Transformation (New York: Pergamon, 1979), 133–156.Google Scholar
  14. 4.
    On the changes in the minority situation, see Leszek A. Kosiński, “Changes in the Ethnic Structure of East-Central Europe, 1930–1960,” The Geographical Review, 59, no. 3 (1969): 388–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. and Nicolas Spulber, The Economics of Communist Eastern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press/John Wiley, 1957), 29–33.Google Scholar
  16. On Poland, see John F. Besemeres, Socialist Population Politics. The Political Implications of Ethnic Trends in the USSR and Eastern Europe (White Plains, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1980), 128–130 with citations. C.A. Macartney describes the Greek-Turkish exchange of the early 1920s and, writing in a more civil time, dismisses it as an option for the rest of Europe: National States and National Minorities (London: Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press, 1934), 430–450. Noting how Hitler’s espousal of population exchange was turned against the Germans at war’s end, Sir Lewis Namier concludes sardonically, “Hence their wrath:” “Basic Factors,” in Personalities and Powers (New York: Macmillan, n.d. [1955]), 117. The Federal German Government has published massive documentation on the process in English as Documents on the Expulsion of the Germans from Eastern-Central Europe (Bonn: Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, n.d.), in several volumes.Google Scholar
  17. For specific figures on Poland, see Zbigniew Pelczynski in R.F. Leslie, ed., The History of Poland Since 1863 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 444–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 5.
    Flora Lewis, A Case History of Hope (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 7, and Pelczynski in Leslie, History of Poland, 295, with citations.Google Scholar
  19. 6.
    As it does so often, contemporary literature conveys the confused moral urgency of the time better than most analysis. Examples: Adolf Rudnicki, “The Crystal Stream,” in Maria Kuncewicz, ed., The Modern Polish Mind (London: Secker & Warburg, 1962), 123–144;Google Scholar
  20. Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind (New York: Vintage, 1981);Google Scholar
  21. C. Virgil Gheorghiu, The Twenty-fifth Hour (New York: Knopf, 1950);Google Scholar
  22. and one of my favorites, Eric Ambler, Judgment on Deltchev (New York: Knopf, 1951), the book that led to his break with the British Communist Party.Google Scholar
  23. 7.
    The strength of this dream can still be felt in retrospective personal accounts ranging from the tender to the bitter: Teresa Toránska, Them: Stalin’s Polish Puppets (New York: Harper & Row, 1987);Google Scholar
  24. Sandor Kopacsi, In the Name of the Working Class (New York: Grove, 1987);Google Scholar
  25. Zdeněk Mlynář, Nightfrost in Prague: The End of Humane Socialism (New York: Karz, 1980);Google Scholar
  26. and, both tenderly and bitterly, part 2 of Milan Kundera’s The Joke (New York: Harper & Row, 1982).Google Scholar
  27. 8.
    See Franz Schurmann, “Selections from the Logic of World Power,” in Charles S. Maier, ed., The Origins of the Cold War and Contemporary Europe (New York: New Viewpoints, 1978), 60–61 and passim, for intriguing political analysis of American ideological dynamics in this period.Google Scholar
  28. 9.
    For the flavor of this particular aspect of the new postwar world, see Cornelius Ryan, The Last Battle (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), 484–493 and 520,Google Scholar
  29. and Erich Kuby, The Russians and Berlin, 1945 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), 260–288.Google Scholar
  30. 10.
    For examples of such hopes among the Romanian elite, see Geir Lundestad, The American Non-Policy Toward Eastern Europe, 1943–1947: Universalism in an Area Not of Essential Interest to the United States (Tromso: Universitetsforlaget, 1978), 225–256.Google Scholar
  31. 11.
    I have found the following the most helpful accounts of the origins of the Cold War, and have drawn heavily on them in the summary that follows: Wilfried Loth, The Division of the World, 1941–1955 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988);Google Scholar
  32. Vojtech Mastny, Russia’s Road to the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979);Google Scholar
  33. Lynn Etheridge Davis, The Cold War Begins: Soviet-American Conflict over Eastern Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974);Google Scholar
  34. Lawrence Aronsen and Martin Kitchen, The Origins of the Cold War in Comparative Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988); Geir Lundestad’s The American Non-Policy Towards Eastern Europe, the collection of essays edited by Charles S. Maier, Origins of the Cold War and Contemporary Europe,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. and Thomas Paterson, ed., The Origins of the Cold War (New York: Heath, 1991).Google Scholar
  36. Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power. National Security, The Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992),Google Scholar
  37. now gives us a massive and detailed study of the U.S. side of the emerging equation. In addition, William Hyland, The Cold War is Over (New York: Times Books, 1990) is idiosyncratic, like this work, but (it is hoped like this work) studded with insights.Google Scholar
  38. 18.
    For a sense of what it meant to be a participant, see W.W. Rostow, The Division of Europe after World War II: 1946 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  39. 19.
    An intriguing if still necessarily speculative argument in the scholarly literature is that in this period Stalin felt obliged to reconstitute the party — which he had effectively destroyed in the purges — in order to overcome the independence of the military and the population he had had to tolerate to win the war. Reconstituting the party meant allowing a new surge of revolutionary fervor and a modicum of tolerance for promotion of separate roads to socialism by the East European parties. This suggestion was first put forward systematically by William D. McCagg, Stalin Embattled 1943–1948 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978),Google Scholar
  40. and it is of course controversial: see Werner G. Hahn, Jr., Postwar Soviet Policy: The Fall of Zhdanov and the Defeat of Moderation, 1946–53 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982)Google Scholar
  41. versus Gavriel D. Ra’anen, International Policy Formation in the USSR. Factional “Debates” during the Zhdanovschina (Hamden, Conn.: Anchor Books, 1983),Google Scholar
  42. and in relation to the Tito-Stalin split, Ivo Banac, With Stalin Against Tito: Cominformist Splits in Yugoslav Communism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), 24–28.Google Scholar
  43. For a summary, see Jerry F. Hough, “Debates about the Postwar World,” in Susan J. Linz, ed., The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985), 253–281.Google Scholar
  44. 22.
    On these developments, see John Gimbel’s fine The Origins of the Marshall Plan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  45. In the end, the Marshall Plan injected $12 billion, or about 2 percent of the recipient countries’ Gross Domestic Products, over four years. The equivalent in today’s dollars would be perhaps $180 billion, but the equivalent four-year G.D.P. contribution for Eastern Europe would be only $20 billion: Lawrence Summers, “The Next Decade in Central and Eastern Europe,” in Christopher Clague and Gordon C. Rausser, eds., The Emergence of Market Economies in Eastern Europe (Cambridge, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 31.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Thomas W. Simons, Jr. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations