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

( 54 )

Overview

Before Madeleine Albright turned twelve, her life was shaken by the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia—the country where she was born—the Battle of Britain, the near total destruction of European Jewry, the Allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War.

Albright's experiences, and those of her family, provide a lens through which to view the most tumultuous dozen years in modern history. Drawing on her memory, her parents' written reflections,...

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

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Overview

Before Madeleine Albright turned twelve, her life was shaken by the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia—the country where she was born—the Battle of Britain, the near total destruction of European Jewry, the Allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War.

Albright's experiences, and those of her family, provide a lens through which to view the most tumultuous dozen years in modern history. Drawing on her memory, her parents' written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly available documents, Albright recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring. Prague Winter is an exploration of the past with timeless dilemmas in mind and, simultaneously, a journey with universal lessons that is intensely personal.

The book takes readers from the Bohemian capital's thousand-year-old castle to the bomb shelters of London, from the desolate prison ghetto of Terezín to the highest councils of European and American government. Albright reflects on her discovery of her family's Jewish heritage many decades after the war, on her Czech homeland's tangled history, and on the stark moral choices faced by her parents and their generation. Often relying on eyewitness descriptions, she tells the story of how millions of ordinary citizens were ripped from familiar surroundings and forced into new roles as exiled leaders and freedom fighters, resistance organizers and collaborators, victims and killers. These events of enormous complexity are nevertheless shaped by concepts familiar to any growing child: fear, trust, adaptation, the search for identity, the pressure to conform, the quest for independence, and the difference between right and wrong.

"No one who lived through the years of 1937 to 1948," Albright writes, "was a stranger to profound sadness. Millions of innocents did not survive, and their deaths must never be forgotten. Today we lack the power to reclaim lost lives, but we have a duty to learn all that we can about what happened and why." At once a deeply personal memoir and an incisive work of history, Prague Winter serves as a guide to the future through the lessons of the past—as seen through the eyes of one of the international community's most respected and fascinating figures.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Even as a child, future U.S. Secretary of State saw history up close. As a young girl, she and her Jewish Czech family experienced the brutal Nazi takeover of her country, and, after their flight to safety, the brutal aerial Battle of Britain. Even their joyous post-World War II return to Prague was destroyed by the communist takeover and the onset of the Cold War. In this gripping memoir, she describes the events that made her the person she is. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

Istvan Deak
"An extraordinary book. . . . Albright artfully presents a wrenching tale of horror and darkness, but also one in which decent and brave people again and again had their say."
Publishers Weekly
The author’s childhood reminiscences of her first 11 years and savvy grasp of history inform this absorbing account of Czechoslovakia’s travails and Albright’s family’s suffering in the Holocaust. The daughter of a diplomat in the Czech government who migrated from Prague to wartime exile in London and back to postwar Prague, former secretary of state Albright (Madam Secretary) sketches lively recollections of weathering the Blitz and other adventures, but her narrative mainly investigates things hidden from her as a child. Raised a Catholic, Albright famously learned of her Jewish ancestry in middle age. She pens a moving portrait of life in the “model” ghetto at Terezín, near Prague, through which her relatives passed on their way to death camps. Centering the book is a searching diplomatic history of Czechoslovakia’s interwar democracy, which was abandoned to Hitler by the West and then snuffed out by Soviet-backed Communists. The story is enriched by Albright’s colorful thumbnails of Eduard Benes, Jan Masaryk, and other principals and by her insights into geopolitics, which yield sympathetic but clear-eyed assessments of the compromises statesmen made to accommodate the ruthless powers surrounding Czechoslovakia. Showing us villainy, heroism, and agonizing moral dilemmas, Albright’s vivid storytelling and measured analysis brings this tragic era to life. Photos. One-day laydown. Represented by Bob Barnett. (Apr. 24)
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A gripping account of World War II. . . . In taut prose, Albright weaves a powerful narrative that wraps her family’s story into the larger political drama unfolding in Europe.”
The Daily
“Albright has supplemented a deeply researched history of World War II-era Czechoslovakia with a moving family narrative.”
The Los Angeles Times
“A riveting tale of her family’s experience in Europe during World War II [and] a well-wrought political history of the region, told with great authority. . . . More than a memoir, this is a book of facts and action.”
The Washington Post Book World
“A compelling personal exploration of [Albright’s] family’s Jewish roots as well as an excellent history of Czechoslovakia from 1937 to 1948. . . . Highly informative and insightful. . . . I can’t recommend Prague Winter highly enough.”
The New York Review of Books
“In the crowded field of memoirs written by former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright’s books stand out. . . . Albright is a charming and entertaining storyteller.”
The Economist
“Albright’s book is a sprightly historical narrative of this long decade. . . . Her account of the destruction of inter-war Czechoslovakia, both as a geographical entity and as an idea of democracy, first by the Nazis and then by the Communists, is balanced and vivid.”
The Jewish Journal
“A blend of history and memoir that reveals in rich, poignant and often heartbreaking detail a story that had been hidden from her by her own parents. . . . The beating heart of the book is Albright’s searing account of her intimate family saga.”
Leon Wieseltier
“A genuinely admirable book. Albright skillfully returns us to some of the darkest years of modern times. Spring eventually came to Prague, but in much of the world it is still winter. The love of democracy fills every one of these instructive and stirring pages.”
Michael Korda
Prague Winter is not only a family story-a proud and moving one-but a brilliant and multilayered account of how Czechoslovakia was formed along the most idealistic lines in the aftermath of World War I. An altogether fascinating and inspiring read.”
István Deák
“An extraordinary book. . . . Albright artfully presents a wrenching tale of horror and darkness, but also one in which decent and brave people again and again had their say.”
Walter Isaacson
“I was totally blown away by this book. It is a breathtaking combination of the historical and the personal. Albright confronts the brutal realities of the Holocaust and the conflicted moral choices it led to. An unforgettable tale of fascism and communism, courage and realism, families and heartache and love.
Vaclav Havel
“A remarkable story of adventure and passion, tragedy and courage set against the backdrop of occupied Czechoslovakia and World War II. Albright provides fresh insights into the events that shaped her career and challenges us to think deeply about the moral dilemmas that arise in our own lives.”
Library Journal
Most people are aware of the result of the Munich agreement in 1938. Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová), the first female U.S. secretary of state, provides a deeper account of the Czech Republic's road to independence. From Prague to the Terezin concentration camp (where many of her Jewish relatives perished) to the "winter" of the republic's existence as it endured the dictatorships of the Nazis and then the Communists, Albright details the situations and personalities prominent in this struggle. Though born only the year before the Munich agreement, Albright, the child of a Czech diplomat, has distinct insights into the moral dilemmas confronted by her countrymen. She spent the war in London with the exiled government and provides her childhood impressions of the Blitz. VERDICT Although categorized as a memoir, this book represents history made more vivid by Albright's personal perspective. It serves as a remembrance of the personalities who defined this era, including her father and other Czech democrats who helped create the independent republic after World War I. The accessible style and inclusion of notes and timelines make this an excellent addition to any library. Recommended to all who enjoy reading history from a personal perspective. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/11.]—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL
Kirkus Reviews
The former U.S. secretary of state blends World War II–era history and memoir in her account of her discovery, at age 59, that she had lost more than two-dozen relatives in the Holocaust. Albright's (Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership, 2008, etc.) parents had never told her of her Jewish heritage, and in January 1997 she had only recently learned of it when a Washington Post reporter broke the larger story. She spent the ensuing years researching her family's history and the history of her native Czechoslovakia. She was aided in her endeavors by family material she found stored in boxes in her garage--and by a small research team. Born in 1937, the author naturally doesn't remember the war's earliest days, so the initial sections are principally a summary of history of the region and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Occasionally, she slips into the first person to talk about the activities of her father, a career diplomat, and her mother, a diplomat's wife but also a woman very interested in the supernatural. The most gripping parts are those personal stories; the others mostly repeat what can be found in many histories of the war and Holocaust. Retellings do not, of course, diminish the horror, but Albright sometimes focuses more on the politics and the war than on the remembrance. The personal passages increase in number and detail as she grows older. Also engaging are the later sections, which deal with the postwar politics in Czechoslovakia, especially the communists' moves to subvert the fledgling democracy. Although much is conventional history, the unconventional--the personal--animates and brightens the narrative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062030344
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/19/2013
  • Pages: 467
  • Sales rank: 83,244
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 7.86 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright served as America's sixty-fourth Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. Her distinguished career also includes positions on Capitol Hill, the National Security Council, and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a resident of Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Setting Out l

Part I Before March 15, 1939

1 An Unwelcome Guest 21

2 Tales of Bohemia 27

3 The Competition 46

4 The Linden Tree 63

5 A Favorable Impression 93

6 Out from Behind the Mountains 117

7 "We Must Go On Being Cowards" 131

8 A Hopeless Task 164

Part II April 1939-April 1942

9 Starting Over 189

10 Occupation and Resistance 208

11 The Lamps Go Out 229

12 The Irresistible Force 252

13 Fire in the Sky 272

14 The Alliance Comes Together 294

15 The Crown of Wenceslas 320

Part III May 1942-April 1945

16 Day of the Assassins 341

17 Auguries of Genocide 368

18 Terezín 381

19 The Bridge Too Far 411

20 Cried-out Eyes 426

21 Doodlebugs and Gooney Birds 457

22 Hitler's End 478

Part IV May 1945-November 1948

23 No Angels 493

24 Unpatched 514

25 A World Big Enough to Keep Us Apart 529

26 A Precarious Balance 550

27 Struggle for a Nation's Soul 581

28 A Failure to Communicate 602

29 The Fall 616

30 Sands Through the Hourglass 631

The Next Chapter 653

Guide to Personalities 665

Time Lines 669

Notes 677

Acknowledgments 720

Credits 729

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Interviews & Essays

An essay from Madeleine Albright

On the evening of February 4, 1997, I led the cabinet into the House of Representatives prior to the President's annual address—the first woman ever to do so. Exchanging greetings with senators and other dignitaries, my heart should have been joyful; instead, I was stunned. That morning's Washington Post headline had read: "Albright Family Tragedy Comes to Light."

I was fifty-nine when I learned from a reporter and from certain letters I had received that my ancestral heritage was Jewish and that more than two dozen of my relatives had died in the Holocaust. The revelation shook my deeply ingrained sense of identity, and prompted me to seek answers to questions that I had never before thought to ask. That search began with visits to the small towns in Czechoslovakia where my parents had grown up and to the ancient synagogue where the names of Holocaust victims are enshrined. Prague Winter is a continuation of that personal journey, but also a much wider tale concerning a generation compelled to make painful moral choices amid the tumult of war.

In 1939, when efforts by British and French leaders to appease Hitler had backfired, the Nazis invaded my homeland. I was not yet two years old. My parents escaped with me to London where my father became head of broadcasting for the Czechoslovak government in exile. Strangers in an embattled land, we endured along with our new neighbors the terrible bombing of the Blitz. Back home, the German occupation quickly evolved into a reign of terror under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, "The Butcher of Prague." As preparations were made to exterminate the country's Jews, Czechoslovak parachutists returned to their native soil with a mission: to kill Heydrich — the only successful assassination of a senior Nazi during the war. In the months that followed that daring assault, Czechs suffered from Hitler's vengeance, while Jews confined to the infamous Terezin ghetto struggled to retain hope despite overcrowded conditions and the periodic departure of fellow inmates on trains to the east. In England, Czechoslovak leaders maneuvered to reclaim their country's independence; my mother and father agonized over the fate of loved ones who had remained behind.

From the day America entered the war, my parents and their friends were confident the Allies would win. As democrats from Central Europe, they prayed that the United States—not the Soviet Union—would wield the decisive postwar influence in our region. It was not to be. When at last the Nazis were defeated, Czechoslovakia became again a battleground between democracy and totalitarianism; before long, my family was forced into exile for the second time, finding a permanent home in America.

The story of Prague Winter is often as intensely personal as a mother's letter, a father's hidden sorrow, and the earnest artwork of an imprisoned ten-year-old cousin. The themes, however, are universal: loyalty and betrayal, respect and bigotry, accommodating evil or fighting back. What fascinates me is why we make the choices we do. What prompts one person to act boldly in a moment of crisis and a second to seek shelter in the crowd? Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity while others quickly lose heart? What drives many of us to look down on neighbors based on the flimsy pretexts of nationality and creed? Is it education, spiritual belief, parental guidance, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that causes us to follow the paths that we do? My search for answers compelled me to look back—to the time of harshest winter in the city of my birth. —Madeleine Albright

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 54 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(29)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

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1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 20, 2012

    Still reading, but enjoying it so much.

    This book is written in the most beautiful voice that I want to start by saying that first. The insights she shares about the behind-the-scenes drama that is the beginning of World War one are intimate and are documented with pictures throughout. To see this event from a Czechoslavian perspective is enriching my understanding and assumptions about the war and the people who lived during this terrible time. It is a very, very good book.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2012

    Highly recommended

    A great book for those that like to read about personal history. Written very well and could not put it down.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2012

    Great read

    A wonderful book by Madeleine Albright. It held my attention throughout the whole story. Such an intelligent woman. I learned so much about Czechoslovakia then & now. I thought I knew everything there was to know about WWII but I surely missed the boat on that one.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 27, 2012

    Wonderfully Written History and Personal Story

    This book is a well written recollection of Czech history from a very personal perspective. Although Ms. Albright's life is intertwined in the book, she very masterfully keeps the context broader.

    Her observations and commentary as a well respected stateswoman provide just the right amount of opinion that cause readers to question how decisions are made and what really may the affect choices and actions of each of us.

    Really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend this for anyone who wants to understand the personal experience of Europeans in the WWII era.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great book. Only 98 more pages to go and I started it six days a

    Great book. Only 98 more pages to go and I started it six days ago. The history is from a different perspective than most Americans are used to reading. It is accessible and approachable for almost anyone.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    No text submitted

    No text submitted

    3 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2013

    Outstanding read

    This book is a wonderful read. It gives a beautifully clear and focused insight into the period of pre and post war years in Czechoslovakia, along with outstanding recall of the years during WWII. Lessons we must never forget.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013

    Madeleine Albright writes an easy to read well researched accoun

    Madeleine Albright writes an easy to read well researched account of the events in Europe leading up to WWII and its aftermath. However, if you are expecting a story predominately about her family you will be disappointed. The book is more history than her story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2013

    A book worth reading. I wanted to write the author and thank he

    A book worth reading. I wanted to write the author and thank her for sharing her family story- it helped me understand the region and how history shaped it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

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

    Prague Win­ter: A Per­sonal Story of Remem­brance and War, 1937–1948 by Madeleine Albright is a non-fiction book in which the author talks about the years men­tioned from her per­spec­tive. Some­what per­sonal, adven­tur­ous and mov­ing, this mem­oir takes the reader on a Euro­pean his­tory les­son which is not often told.

    "There is not deeper cause for despair than mali­cious hope (Hitler proved that), and few traits more valu­able than sad­ness and anger at suf­fer­ing. The dis­tinc­tion that mat­ters is not whether a story con­cludes hap­pily but whether there is at its core an affir­ma­tion that life has mean­ing. That is why this book of remem­brance and war will end in hope."

    My grand­fa­ther was born in Bratislava, a city in Czecho­slo­va­kia. He wasn’t very talk­a­tive, my grand­fa­ther, and would answer ques­tions very spar­ingly and it is a shame that I did not ask that many. He passed away many years ago and I would have loved to tour his birth city with him. That is if he was will­ing to do so, he man­aged to escape the Nazi occu­pa­tion as a teenager but never saw his par­ents or sis­ter again who were mur­dered in the con­cen­tra­tion camps (his brother became a par­ti­san and they reunited after the war).

    That is one of the many rea­sons I wanted to read this book, I wanted to learn more about his­tory which I didn’t even know I was curi­ous about. How­ever, the more I read the book the more I real­ized that I have heard the names of Czech lead­ers and states­man even though I did not know exactly what their con­tri­bu­tions were.

    Prague Win­ter by Madeleine Albright was a book which sur­prised me from start to fin­ish. At first I thought I was pick­ing up a mem­oir by the famed Sec­re­tary of State about her child­hood, but what I got was a first-class les­son in his­tory before, dur­ing and after World War II from per­spec­tive seen thor­ough Czecho­slo­va­kian eyes.

    As a daugh­ter of Josef Kör­bel, a Czecho­slo­va­kian diplo­mat, Mrs. Albright has a unique life­time per­spec­tive of the country’s sit­u­a­tion and blends her per­sonal insights into the polit­i­cal dynam­ics which shaped Euro­pean and Amer­i­can poli­cies dur­ing those tur­bu­lent years. The author’s fas­ci­nat­ing nar­ra­tive and per­spec­tive drew me into the book from the first sev­eral pages and engrossed me until the last page.

    This book should be on the read­ing list of every State Depart­ment employee. The lessons which Ms. Albright brings to the fore­front can save us from the same traps that gave rise to the Nazis and also the com­mu­nists at the end of the war. The book also high­lights indi­vid­ual achieve­ments, where sim­ple peo­ple rise to the occa­sion in small, mean­ing­ful ways which don’t make it to the his­tory books (Jews cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity in a ghetto, Lon­don­ers’ band­ing together dur­ing the bomb­ing, as well as indi­vid­ual diplo­matic achieve­ments for democ­racy) but are inspir­ing and meaningful.

    The book includes pic­tures from the Kör­bel fam­ily col­lec­tion of peo­ple and events, the writ­ing is amaz­ing and even the foot­notes are superb. Ms. Albright’s grasp of polit­i­cal mea­sures, his­tor­i­cal events and artic­u­late nar­ra­tive makes this book a grip­ping read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2013

    Can't read on Nook Apps

    While I could read the sample on my IPAD Nook app after I bought the book I found it to be incompatible. This is also tru on a Windows Nook app. I should have been warned.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2013

    This was a great book. I visited Prague for 2 days in 2010 while

    This was a great book. I visited Prague for 2 days in 2010 while on a whirlwind tour of Europe. It is a beautiful city and I only
    wish I had read this book prior to my visit because it would have given me more insight into the history and culture of Czechoslovakia.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    Interesting as well as educational

    This was history and the facts of life then presented in an open, honest and interesting way. Glad I read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014

    This was a great read and my book club's choice. This gives a v

    This was a great read and my book club's choice. This gives a very good history of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. I loved the pictures. This really brought the characters to life. A significant piece of work for Ms. Albright.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    Highly recommended, you must reat this book.

    For some time I as traing to buy this book, I live in Mexico and coudnt find it. Right now Im reading it and is a great history of this lady and all the terrible this her family went trought.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    I had the unique experience of reading this book while on a trip

    I had the unique experience of reading this book while on a trip to Prague and East Germany. It is indeed an exceptional book...well written, keenly observant, and deeply personal. I learned far more than I expected about the contributions of many Czech democrats as well as the heart-rending stories of those who did not survive and the cruel exploits of the betrayers of democracy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    Very nicely written and accessible even for teen readers. Personal connections to a modern figure made many passages more impactful: reflections on what one might have done under such circumstances begs us all consider tough choices & reflect.

    Well done!

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    Posted April 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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