Joseph Goebbels originated the phrase “Iron Curtain”

It is a common historical misnomer that Winston Churchill coined the Cold War phrase the iron curtain. The phrase in fact originated with Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, who used the phrase in a series of open letters to the Western World. He hoped to divide the Allies by playing on the Western fear of a spreading bolshevikism. In 1945 several of these letters were reprinted in the London Times.

Goebbels, of course, was unsuccessful in his effort, but a year later Winston Churchill would have better luck when frightening the American populace with the phrase. [It should come as no surprise Churchill never shared his source.]

The fact that it was Goebbels and not Churchill who coined the phrase should also come as no surprise to anyone with a little theater history under his belt. Goebbels, who came from the burlesque stages of 1920s Berlin, [Poison Dwarf fancied himself a playwright.], was using as a metaphor, a common proscenium stage devise called an iron curtain. A chainmail curtain used to protect audiences in the event of an on-stage fire. All theaters in Europe had them, [or at least, were supposed to have them.] Churchill, whose personal history had been one of public service, both in the military and the political arena, would have had little opportunity to encounter the device.

In America, in 1946, in Fulton Missouri, where iron curtains were not employed, the phrase worked particularly well for Churchill. Most American theaters at the time “protected” their audiences with an asbestos curtain instead, lucky us. This American lack of exposure to the actual chainmail curtain made Churchill’s metaphor that much more effective. As an alien sound to the American ear, its abstraction gave it that much more of a punch; the audience was free to visualize a Soviet iron curtain descending across the Continent’ any way it chose.

Being a cold War baby myself, mine was a large forbidding wall of dull gray, riveted steel. I can still see in my mind, reigniting it every four years, come the Olympics.

Personal note: Come the Olympics, I sure do miss the Soviets; they made such a wonderful nemesis. I do not know about you, but I just can’t muster the same desire to defeat the Chinese. Defeating the communists at ping-pong just doesn’t seem as important.


Source: "Das Jahr 2000," [The Year 2000] Joseph Goebbels, 25 February 1945

. . .The third, Stalin, follows much more far-reaching goals than his two comrades. He certainly does not plan to announce them publicly, but he and his 200 million slaves will fight bitterly and toughly for them. He sees the world differently than do those plutocratic brains. He sees a future in which the entire world is subjected to the dictatorship of the Moscow Internationale, [sic] which means the Kremlin. His dream may seem fantastic and absurd, but if we Germans do not stop him, it will undoubtedly become reality. That will happen as follows: If the German people lay down their weapons, the Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, would occupy all of East and Southeast Europe along with the greater part of the Reich. An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered. The Jewish press in London and New York would probably still be applauding. All that would be left is human raw material, a stupid, fermenting mass of millions of desperate proletarianized [sic] working animals who would only know what the Kremlin wanted them to know about the rest of the world. Without leadership, they would fall helplessly into the hands of the Soviet blood dictatorship. The remainder of Europe would fall into chaotic political and social confusion that would prepare the way for the Bolshevization that will follow. Life and existence in these nations would become hell, which was after all the point of the exercise.