Gauntlet: Five Friends, 20,000 Enemy Troops, and the Secret That Could Have Changed the Course of the Cold War, by Barbara Masin. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006. 382 pp. $30 (hardcover).
As a child, Barbara Masin had a favorite bedtime story: her father’s retelling of the time he (Pepa), her uncle Radek, and their friend Milan hid under a pile of branches to elude East German troops who were hunting them down. This cliff-hanger of a story, told to her in fragments, never seemed complete. Pepa Masin did not talk much about what came before and after this adventure, and the story he did tell—of a daring escape from Communist Czechoslovakia through East Germany to the freedom of West Berlin—seemed incredible. It was easy to understand the desire to escape to the West, but why were twenty-four thousand East German and Soviet troops deployed to stop five lightly armed young Czechs? And how did her father and his friends survive against such overwhelming odds? Barbara Masin finally found the answers after teaching herself rudimentary Czech and painstakingly researching recently opened secret police archives from Germany and the Czech Republic.
The result of Masin’s research is Gauntlet, the gripping story of these young Czech freedom fighters determined to escape to the West, join the U.S. military, and return to overthrow the evil Communist regime that was terrorizing their country.
Shortly after the Communists seized power in 1948, the Masin brothers and their friends began engaging in small acts of protest against the regime. Convinced that a more-aggressive approach was necessary, the boys advanced to acts of vandalism and then to the formation of an underground resistance group dedicated to sabotaging their new tyrants, the Czech Communists. Unapologetic about their deadly tactics, the boys stole money and weapons from the government, at times killing agents of the regime who stood in their way. . . .