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

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

by Madeleine Albright


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

Drawing on her own memory, her parents’ written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly-available documents, former US Secretary of State and New York Times bestselling author Madeleine Albright recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring.

Before she turned twelve, Madeleine Albright’s life was shaken by some of the most cataclysmic events of the 20th century: the Nazi invasion of her native Prague, the Battle of Britain, the attempted genocide of European Jewry, the allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War. 

In Prague Winter, 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 exile leaders and freedom fighters, resistance organizers and collaborators, victims and killers. These events of enormous complexity are 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. 

Prague Winter is an exploration of the past with timeless dilemmas in mind, a journey with universal lessons that is simultaneously a deeply personal memoir and an incisive work of history. It 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. Albright and her family’s experiences provide an intensely human lens through which to view the most political and tumultuous years in modern history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062030344
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/19/2013
Pages: 467
Sales rank: 52,511
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 7.86(h) x 1.17(d)

About the Author

Madeleine Albright served as America’s sixty-fourth secretary of state from 1997 to 2001.  Her distinguished career also in-cludes positions at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.  She is a resident of Washington D.C., and Virginia.

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

What People are Saying About This

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.”

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.”


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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Prague Winter 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 61 reviews.
keepssecrt More than 1 year ago
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.
CharliCG More than 1 year ago
A great book for those that like to read about personal history. Written very well and could not put it down.
Genapa More than 1 year ago
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.
Manhattan136 More than 1 year ago
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.
aefulmer More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Nocash More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was history and the facts of life then presented in an open, honest and interesting way. Glad I read it.
Anonymous 3 months ago
I loved it. As an American born person of check dissent, I thought it was an interesting book.
RachelGW More than 1 year ago
This book was so wonderful. I saw it while browsing through B&N and just had to grab it...and I'm so glad I did. I'm very interested in WWII history and the Czechs' experience. I spent a semester in Prague during college and this book made me appreciate the county, its history, and people even more than I already did. This book gives a great history and puts an interesting, personal touch on that history. Couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this was a biography, it gave a take on WWII that I had not heard. The impact on the Czech people and their world views were unknown to me. A worthwhile read if you are interested in a more personal view of history.
JaxJV More than 1 year ago
i realty enjoyed reading this book because it gave mea personal perspective of the History of the Czech Republic showing the fortitude of its citizens during the Naxi. occupation in WWII. My son, John Jr., lives in Prague with his family and I have had the opportunity to visit the many locations described in this book. Madeline Albright is an extraordinary good story=teller John J Vax, Sr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good account of Czech history especially the WWII years.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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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.