The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0822358352

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In The Left Side of History Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi-allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson, brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson, and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right. Victory brought forty years of communist dictatorship followed by unbridled capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today in democratic Eastern Europe there is ever-increasing despair, disenchantment with the post-communist present, and growing nostalgia for the communist past. These phenomena are difficult to understand in the West, where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly equated with Stalin and Soviet labor camps. By starting with the stories of people like Thompson and Lagadinova, Ghodsee provides a more nuanced understanding of how communist ideals could inspire ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices.

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them. The soldiers suspected that there were still partisans hiding among the trees, and they did not give up their search. Thompson and Scott would have heard the boots of the soldiers as they grew nearer. When the two Brits were certain of being discovered, they tried to run. The gendarmes opened fire. Kenneth Scott was shot and fell injured to the forest floor. They captured Thompson at gunpoint. Both men wore the uniforms of British military officers. While the gendarmes could summarily

away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.”2 The final line of E. P. Thompson’s letter comes from the funeral oration of the Greek king Pericles as written by Thucydides in his History of the Pelo­ ponnesian War. It was the kind of classical reference that Frank Thompson himself might have made. The fact that Edward John Thompson chose to quote his younger son’s letter made me wonder if the sentiments expressed Words of One Brother  |  97 in that letter had somehow

a wonderful memory for details. She also knows how to tell a good story. But she always wants me to be eating. If I stop eating, she stops talking. I carefully extract the individual watermelon seeds from the watermelon chunks with my fork and knife. Once the dark pink flesh is stripped of the little black ovals I slice off a healthy sliver. I then cut off a piece of cheese with my knife. With my fork, I stab the cheese and then the melon and bring them both together to my lips. The sweetness

104  |  Chapter 13 Elena Lagadinova (center right) with other partisans in 1944 Elena Lagadinova (center) with her British hat and jacket, and the pistol she wore on a chain around her neck when the gendarmes set fire to her house. When she joined her brothers in the mountains, her skirt was slit and sewn into trousers. She inherited a jacket and a cap that had fallen out of the sky. Nothing matched. Elena probably never wondered if her British jacket suited her complexion. “I was in the

documents are individually numbered. This folder is full of articles and newspaper clippings about “the Amazon,” things she has collected over the course of her life, photographs and copies of the books and pamphlets written about her. They are organized chronologically from 1944 to 1988. It is a thick folder. “I have everything,” she says. “I collected everything.” After glancing at the first five or six documents, Elena closes this folder. 106  |  Chapter 13 Partisan Brigade in Razlog in

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