Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History

Czech writer and translator Heda Margolius Kovály (1919-2010) was living in Prague in 1941, when she, her husband and parents were among the first 5,000 Jews taken by the Nazis to Łódź Ghetto in Poland. In 1944, Heda was separated from her family during the selection process at Auschwitz. Her parents were gassed, her husband sent to Dachau and she was sentenced to slave labor. As the war neared its end, Heda escaped from a death march to Bergen-Belsen and returned to Prague, where terrified former friends and acquaintances offered little help. Her husband, Rudolf Margolius, survived the war, and took a job with Czechoslovakia's new Communist government. In 1952, Rudolf was among 14 defendants (11 of whom were Jewish) convicted in the Slánský show trial. He was executed under treason charges fabricated by Stalinists. Heda struggled to raise their young son as an unemployable persona non grata. She finally fled to the United States in 1968, after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Heda did not return to her homeland until 1996.

Her memoir, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968, has been re-published in several languages since the 1980s. In 2001, Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková interviewed Heda for a documentary titled Hitler, Stalin and I. Her son, Ivan Margolius, has translated transcripts of these interviews into an oral history of an extraordinary life. Heda's torturous path through some of the 20th century's greatest calamities is rendered with deep wisdom and a poetic eye for detail. Her misfortunes, and her perseverance through them, make Hitler, Stalin and I both an important historical account and a testament to human endurance. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

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