Twice in this century, Germany initiated wars of unimagined terror and destruction. In both cases, defense of the Prussian realm, the German homeland, was the perceived and vilified perpetrator. Few today understand with any precision what Prussia means, either geographically or nationalistically, but neither would they deny the psychic resonance of the single word. To most, it means unbridled aggression, the image of the goose-stepping Junker.But what was once Prussia is now a significant portion of Eastern Europe, a contested homeland first won by Christian knights of the Teutonic Order. For centuries thereafter its terrain has been crisscrossed by war and partitioned by barbed wire. In its final catastrophe of 1945, nearly two million German refugees fled the region as Russian armies broke the eastern front, perhaps the greatest dislocation of a civilian population at any time during World War II. With the Berlin Wall now a memory and the Soviet Union in a state of collapse, this remains a geography in shambles. Modern travelers can now, for the first time in decades, see and ponder for themselves what Prussia really was and now is. James Charles Roy and Amos Elon, two writers noted for their inquisitive natures, have gone to search through the rubble themselves. They intermingle present-day observations with moving vignettes from the German and Prussian past, sketching a portrait of the Europe we know today. The story is spiced with interviews and reminiscences, unforgettable in their sadness, of people looking back at a life now gone, a life full of turmoil and heartache, memories both fond and tragic. The final result: a far deeper understanding of the tattered lands of today's Eastern Europe.
James Charles Roy has been a peripatetic independent scholar since 1970, when he left Time Inc. He has written innumerable articles on Irish history and five distinguished books, including The Fields of Athenry and Islands of Storm, a Book-of-the-Month and History Book Club selection. He divides his time between Moyode Castle in County Galway and his home in Newburyport, Massachusetts.