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Book review: HITLER, STALIN AND I

No one deserves to be subjected to the tragedies which Heda Margolius Kovaly was forced to face in her amazing life. And very few could overcome them in the manner of this courageous, amazing lady. Heda was born in Prague, where she married Rudolf Margolius in 1939, a mere two weeks after the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia. Both Jews, they were transported to the Lodz Ghetto in 1941. From there, they were sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where they were separated upon arrival and neither knew of the other’s fate until after the war. Heda survived Auschwitz, was moved to other camps as the Soviets advanced into Poland, and eventually joined hundreds of others on the Nazis’ infamous death march. Miraculously, she escaped and walked hundreds of miles to Prague. There, she joined the uprising which pitted lightly armed and unarmed Czechs against the occupying German army. Eventually, in May 1945, Prague was liberated by the Red Army. Soon thereafter, Heda and Rudolf were reunited, both survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust. 
That should be the end of an amazing, horrific story–one with a happy ending. But that was not to be.

I had read previously Heda Margolius Kovaly’s beautifully written memoir titled UNDER A CRUEL STAR and considered it the best depiction of the tragedy that beset the country from which I had escaped with my parents a few days after the post-war Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Rudolf Margolius was an idealist, who believed that Communism presented the best opportunity for his nation and its people. He became deputy minister of trade in the newly formed, Stalin-controlled, government. In 1952, fourteen members of the government–most of them Jews–were accused of an anti-state conspiracy. After months of imprisonment, all were brought to court and, based on invented charges, sentenced to death. Rudolf Margolius was hanged on December 3, 1952. For Heda, this was another test of her courage. She was evicted from a hospital where she was being treated for a serious illness, dismissed from her job, and thrown out of her apartment. She and her son Ivan moved into an unheated shack, and she struggled to support the two of them. Eventually, she remarried and, following the brutal repression of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968, the Kovalys emigrated to the United States. Eventually, they returned to Prague, where she died in 2010.

In her memoir, UNDER A CRUEL STAR, Heda focused primarily on the post-war years. The current book completes the story of her life, as well as the recent history of her country. In 2000, she sat for two full days of interviews with Czech TV. Her son Ivan, himself a wonderful writer and author of a memoir titled REFLECTIONS OF PRAGUE, has translated the interview into English and published it as HITLER, STALIN AND I: AN ORAL HISTORY. The book completes the story of an amazing, courageous woman who overcame tragedies that few could survive. I recommend this unforgettable book as highly as is possible.

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