On March 5th, 1946, Winston Churchill said in his Sinews of Peace speech that

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.

At the end of the 20th century the term "Iron curtain" meant the absence of movement of freedom between Eastern and Western blocs, i. e. it was hard for individuals and organizations to move from Eastern Europe to Western Europe and vice versa.

Did such lack of freedom of movement exist at the time of the speech (March 1946), i. e. was it hard to impossible for individuals and goods to travel from places occupied by Western troops to those occupied by the Soviet ones and vice versa?

If, say, a Pole, wanted to emigrate from Poland in March 1946, could he or she easily leave the country?

1 Answer 1


Independent of political reasons, travel for private persons was greatly restricted until 1949.

Churchill feared, correctly, that politicaly a division was being created by the Soviet Union to separate their area of influence from that of the Western Powers.

Occupied Germany was still (in 1946) under common Allied control, so Germany was excluded by the use of the city name Stettin

  • which was situated right/east of the red area near the Baltic sea

In reality the city name of Lübeck could have been used

  • which was situated left/west of the red area where the thick black line starts on the Baltic sea

  • the purple was part of the agreed Soviet Zone
    • whick they occupied in July 1945 after the US troops withdraw
  • Berlin was not part of the Soviet Zone
    • but was subdivided into Sectors under common Allied control
    • the common administration of the city effectively ended during the Berlin Blockade in September 1948

After occupying their Zone in Germany, the Soviet Union started immediately to fortify their border to the US and UK Zones with bob wire.

Interzonal traffic:

Following the military occupation of Germany in May 1945, civilians were initially only allowed to leave their place of residence or its immediate vicinity with a permit from the garrison authority of their zone. By June 1945, the bus and train service within the respective garrison zones had been resumed on many stretches. However, the public train service did not run between the garrison zones. Nevertheless, there were numerous travelers who crossed the extensive uncontrolled boundaries between the garrison zones on foot, by bicycle or by hitch-hiking.

On June 30, 1946, the boundary between the Soviet garrison zone and the Western garrison zones (the American, British and French zones) was blocked. The Soviet military administration in Germany (SMAD) had previously asked the Allies to secure the line of demarcation to the Western zones. A special identification card, the Inter-zones Travel Passport (Germany), known as the inter-zones passport, was introduced by the Allies. This had to be applied for by citizens wishing to travel in occupied Germany.

Not sure if the same is true for the areas inside Austria. The systematic closing of the borders started on the 26 May 1952, which included the borders between the Western Sectors of Berlin and the Soviet Zone.

It is assumed this is what led to the 'Iron' in the term used by Churchill.

For Czech border it was not so much the case in 1946, since the Soviets had less control there until the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état.

In general, travel for everyone (East and West citizens) was greatly restricted. Permits were needed for everything.

Another problem was documentation of the individuals were in a sorry state.

I have seen Polish passports, issued for persons to work for the polish government as a representative to the US Military government in Frankfurt. Almost 1/3 of it was filled with the needed permits to travel and stay there (add to that return trips home for consultations).

For an individual, even with reliable documents, it would have been very difficult due to the general chaos that exsited on both sides.

Add to that any political reasons against emigration that any of the local governments may have had, then 1946-49 were not good years for travelling.

  • 1
    Before the construction of the Berlin Wall the border between the four zones in Berlin was completely open. They did not even have border checks.
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:57
  • @fdb 1) Berlin was sub divided into Sectors. 2) Only former Berlin residents were permitted to return to Berlin, everyone else had to bypass the city since the infrastructure was destroyed. 3) 1948 the border between the western sectors and the Soviet Zone was also closed off. 4) A Permit was needed to enter or leave Berlin (no flights for private persons) 5) Even before the wall was built, sporadic checks were made at the east/west sector borders. Non residents with luggage were often turned back. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 5:24
  • @MarkJohnson Ad After occupying their Zone in Germany, the Soviet Union started immediately to fortify their border to the US and UK Zones with bob wire.: Can you please provide a source for this?
    – user23839
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 10:17
  • 1
    @FranzDrollig Saw a quote this morning with details of the initial activities, but can't find it at the moment. Will try later. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 11:02

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