In addition to consulting archives, I conducted a series of interviews in Poland, Hungary and Germany, in order to learn from people who actually lived through this period, and to hear them describe the events and the emotions of that time using their own language. I am very conscious that this may have been the last possible moment for such a project, and in the course of my writing this book several people whom I interviewed in the early stages passed away. I remain extremely grateful to them and to their families for allowing me to ask them extensive questions at that stage in their lives.
The goals of this research were varied. In the documents of the period, I sought evidence of the deliberate destruction of civil society and small business. I investigated the phenomena of social realism and communist education. I gathered as much information as possible on the founding and early development of the region's secret police. Through both reading and conversations, I sought to understand how ordinary people learned to cope with the new regimes; how they collaborated, willingly or reluctantly; how and why they joined the party and other state institutions; how they resisted, actively or passively; how they came to make terrible choices that most of us in the West, nowadays, never have to face. Above all, I sought to gain an understanding of real totalitarianism not totalitarianism in theory, but totalitarianism in practice and how it shaped the lives of millions of Europeans in the twentieth century.
Excerpted from Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum. Copyright © 2012 by Anne Applebaum. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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