Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, is a memoir by Madeleine Albright. She chronicles the atrocities of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe, followed later by the Soviet takeover of her birth country. She reminds readers of the need for constant vigilance against demagogues.
Albright is the daughter of a former Czechoslovak diplomat, serving his country before, during, and after World War II. Albright’s family immigrated to the United States following the takeover of Czechoslovakia by Soviet communists. Albright later was U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.
She tells of Hitler’s ascent in Germany and his unexpected rise to power. Hitler “transformed his country from a tottering democracy into a tightly organized dictatorship with a skyrocketing military budget and an aggressive international agenda.”
Konrad Henlein, a Czechoslovakian of German ethnicity, was used by Hitler in his conquest of the country. Henlein, Albright tells us, “was motivated less by Nazi ideology than by the lure of power and fame. His skill as a politician stemmed from his gift for lying with apparent sincerity.”
In paving the way to World War II, Albright quotes Winston Churchill’s assessment of Hitler, explaining why Europe was so desperately duped by him: “ . . . the world lives on hopes that the worst is over, and that we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.”
I could not help but be reminded of expressed hope in the early months of Trump’s presidency that he would become “presidential.”
Czechoslovakians of German ethnicity had valid reasons for contention with the Czech government, but their complaints were grossly exaggerated by Hitler to justify his occupation of their region. Similar to today’s “fake news,” Hitler spun the story his way.
I am reminded of Americans with valid complaints about their status—workers who have lost jobs and wages while digital newbies barely out of school become wealthy, or evangelical Christians who are sneered at. Unfortunately, they too often allow themselves to be used by politicians interested only in the advancement of their own fortunes or political agendas.
Yes, Albright’s memoir chilled me. We are never home safe. Democracies have fallen. Constant, sober vigilance is always needed.