The Wall Cold War Resources Essay

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Teachers’ Guide

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Introduction
In The Wall, one man’s personal history reveals a larger story: the history of a country, the vagaries of culture, the power of world politics, and the universal human longing for personal freedom. Through the narrative, the journal entries, and the captions, and by examining and re-examining the pictures, readers see the second half of the twentieth century from Peter Sís’s perspective as a young boy, an artist, growing up during the Cold War in Communist Czechoslovakia. Every page of The Wall offers many discoveries. Some will raise questions that become the start of students’ research, some will introduce ideas that lead to discussions, and some will fill in missing pieces in students’

own knowledge of the time or of a particular subject. This guide is meant to help educators take advantage of the teaching and learning

THE WALL opportunities the book presents in the subjects of history, politics, geography, language arts, and art. Some background: The Cold War was an outgrowth of the victory by the Allied forces and the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany that ended World War II in 1945. Germany was partitioned into sectors, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and France holding administrative control over western Germany and the Soviet Union in control of the east. In addition, Berlin, the capital of Germany, was partitioned into four occupation zones. The three zones under control by the Allies came to be known as West Berlin, and the zone controlled by the Soviet Union as East Berlin. When the German national government was restored in May 1949 as the Federal Republic of Germany (commonly known as West Germany), it included the occupation zones of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. In response, in October 1949, the Soviets sponsored the foundation of a German Communist country in the eastern zone: the German Democratic Republic (known as East Germany). Both West and East Germany were declared sovereign in 1955. Allied troops remained in the west, and Soviet troops in the east. As a result, the Soviets were in a position to exert influence over all of the countries in eastern Europe. Soon, much of eastern Europe came under Soviet domination. Although the border between West and East Germany was largely closed, many East Germans managed to flee to the West, especially over borders in Berlin. In 1961, the construction of the Berlin Wall physically enclosed West Berlin and effectively cut off East Germany. The Cold War lasted for over forty years, until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter. (The Introduction to The Wall provides a concise summary of the history behind the story and an explanation of the terms “Iron Curtain” and “Cold War.”)

Preliminary Activities
Social Studies / History / Map Study
Even before your class reads The Wall, the students can become familiar with the world Peter Sís grew up in by studying historical maps of Europe. The political map of Europe changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century. While existing countries vied for territory, ethnic groups sought to form their own nations. This struggle, which has gone on for centuries, continues today. Look at Europe from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. On the next page is a list of Web sites your students can access that show the changes in the European landscape from before World War I through World War II, the Cold War, and into the present. The sites include maps of Czechoslovakia then and now. Your students should notice that Czechoslovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and didn’t exist as a sovereign nation until after World War I; today it is two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. To begin, have your students look at the map of…