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In relation to inevitable/inexorable Soviet expansionism in December 1944, General De Gaulle stated that: ''the future lasts a long time.''  In typical portentous style, he continued: ''All things are possible, even the fact that an action in accord with honour and honesty ultimately appears to be a prudent political investment.''  He was of course, talking about America and Great Britain allowing Russia to fundamentally dominate, and do as she pleased at the looming Big Three conference at Yalta in February 1945.  

In hindsight, this is exactly what happened.  Premier Stalin annexed much of Eastern Europe while Messrs. Churchill and Roosevelt quintessentially sold Poland down the river – otherwise known as the Curzon Line.  That  Poland was one of the prime reasons for Great Britain declaring war on Germany in the first place, counted for very little by 1944; as this succinct, thoroughly well researched, and excellent book by Laurence Rees makes absolutely crystal clear:  ''For the Soviets what mattered above all else, was the elimination of any opposition.''  

Yalta was the kernel of an incriminating, Soviet ideology, which was to last well over forty years – thus echoing De Gaulle's infamous words that the future would indeed last ''a long time.''  It was also Stalin's platform to smokescreen the political rape of Poland, as only he, and he alone saw fit and spuriously comprehensible: ''For the Russian people, the question of Poland is not only a question of honour, but also a question of security.  Throughout history, Poland has been the corridor through which the enemy has passed into Russia.  Twice in the last thirty years our enemies, the Germans, have passed though this corridor.  It is in Russia's interest that Poland should be strong and powerful, in a position to shut the door of this corridor by her own force...  It is necessary that Poland should be free, independent in power.  Therefore, it is not only a question of honour but of life and death for the Soviet state.''

Which begs the question: what about the honour and the life and death of the Polish state?

The utterly unmissable six-part BBC2 history series: World War Two: Behind Closed Doors substantiated the fact that a great deal went on in wartime Russia, that no-one knew about.  Until now.  By re-examining the key choices made by the aforementioned leaders during the war – much of it revealing and revolting – Rees sheds much (painful) light on a period of history, many would sooner forget.   As such, the core of Behind Closed Doors (Stalin, The Nazis and The West) consists of tempestuous new testimony obtained from countless witnesses, such as former Red Army veterans, Allied seamen, victims of mass rape/torture and former Soviet secret police.   

Yet as high-brow politics are the thread throughout, a down to earth humanity is as equally present and consistent, which makes this book (along with the author's previous essential works, most notably the award winning Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution') all the more real, tragic, definitive, compelling and current.   No surprises therefore, that the Russian historian Orlando Figes, has just seen his new book The Whisperers banned in his homeland; because there's only so much unveiling that the Russian authorities can cope with at any one stage - which suggests that Rees's book is only just the beginning (which in turn, really doesn't bear worth thinking about).  

De Gaulle was right.  The future has lasted a long time - and it still hasn't entirely been accounted for yet.

David Marx
Behind Closed Doors
Stalin, The Nazis and The West
By Laurence Rees
BBC Books/Ebury Publishing – £20.00
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