What Did Ronald Reagan Say?

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2021 by Uwe Bahr

“Beyond the Elbe River begins the forecourt of hell.” The man who allegedly said this was Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the USA.

What he meant was the sphere of influence of the communist Soviet Union east of the Iron Curtain in postwar Europe. The Soviet Union – the decisive factor in the war against Nazi Germany – was the ally of the USA in World War II from 1941 to 1945. Only two years before the alliance came into being, Stalin was allied with Hitler’s Third Reich; together they invaded Poland and divided the country and the Baltic States among themselves like hungry predators. The sinister nature of these links can only be guessed at – links to dark forces presented in historiography as a necessity of the time. As is so often the case in normal life, it’s not quite so simple on the big stage, either. Rather, it is probably true that they all had dirt on them – not only Hitler, not only Stalin.

Unless Reagan’s statement from the 1980’s was of a symbolic nature, he was of course not quite right geographically – for the Elbe flowed for the most part on both sides of its banks through GDR territory. Only for a length of 58 miles did the river form the inner-German border (between Schnackenburg and Lauenburg)1, which was 855 miles long in total between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). This border was also the interface of the Cold War.

Happy to be who I am – for I was born in 1961 just west of the Elbe River, albeit only by four kilometers (2.5 miles). Otherwise, loosely based on Reagan’s thesis, I would probably still resemble the devil incarnate. Unfortunately, these four kilometers were not enough to bring me to the free West, for the area near Magdeburg belonged to the sphere of influence of communism – left to the Soviets by their American friends after the end of World War II, only 16 years before my birth.2

Notes:

1 I sailed on my small cabin boat downstream on the Elbe River from Havelberg to Doemitz in 1997. The Doemitz lock had been closed during the Cold War; had I been sailing the same route at that time, I probably would have paid for it with my life.

2 By the end of World War II, American troops had advanced farther toward Berlin than had been agreed with the Soviets during the Yalta Conference. As a result, Magdeburg and my later birthplace Wolmirstedt were initially occupied by the Americans. Against the advice of Winston Churchill, the U.S. troops withdrew to their agreed zone of occupation in July 1945. Thus, the entire Central Germany fell into the hands of the Soviets.