Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

by Madeleine Albright, Harper Publishing, April 2012

...a marvelous personal account of monumental events

I do have a weakness for reading histories of the first half of the twentieth century.  Just when I think there can’t be anything new to learn about this time period I read a personal account of events that brings a whole new perspective.  Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, has written just such a history in recounting events in Czechoslovakia from 1937-1948.  Interspersed with these major events is the story of Albright’s own family.  Her father, Josef Korbel was a diplomat for the Czech government and worked in Prague before WWII, in London during the war and back in Czechoslovakia after the war.  His family, Albright and her mother and later a sister and brother accompanied him during this time.   
Albright who has access to her father’s diplomatic papers gives very good descriptions of the major players in this drama.  The larger than life founder of the republic; TG Masaryk is described as is Edvard Benes the Czech president in exile during WWII.  Czechoslovakia was really the only true eastern European democracy after WWI.  The republic was betrayed at Munich by the British and French when they ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler.   Albright tells this story from the Czech viewpoint and it reads like a thriller.  She also describes scenes and characters from the Czech resistance movement during the war who assassinated the Reich proctor, Reinhard Heydrich.  Again the detail in this story is riveting.  When the war ends the Czechoslovakia is again abandoned by the western allies and the Soviet Union adds Czechoslovakia to its group of satellite states in eastern Europe.  In the immediate post war years Albright’s father is a key player in the democratic government and is forced to leave the country after the Soviets murder Jan Marysk the pro western foreign minister.  Albright examines all of the evidence about Masaryk’s death and concludes as have most historians that he was murdered by the Soviets.
While the national events are interesting, Albright’s family story is fascinating.  As you might know, Albright found out in the 1990s that her heritage was Jewish and not Roman Catholic as she had thought.  Her parents became Catholics in Britain during the war and never discussed that decision with their children.  The family was not religious so I continue to be puzzled by this decision made in the relative safety of England in 1940.  Albright seems as mystified by the decision as I was.  Most of her extended family (grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles) was lost in the Holocaust.  She discussed this in the book, and as with any story that puts faces on this horror it is quite moving.  Her family experienced the Blitz in London and the post war events in Prague and in Belgrade where her father was ambassador.  She details the leadership failings that allowed communism to rise in Czechoslovakia.  The book ends the story in 1948 when the Korbels immigrate to the United States. 
 I was interested to read this book because I will attend an author event where Albright will speak about the story.  Only in American could someone, a woman no less, come as an immigrant and end up as the secretary of state.  Can’t wait to hear her story first hand!
I read a copy of this book that I bought

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

I haven't read much about Czechoslovakia and this story sounds fascinating to me for so many reasons. I am glad to hear that it was such a success with you, and that makes me want to go out and investigate where I can get a copy of my own! This was a wonderfully detailed and insightful review, and I really enjoyed it. Great job today!