The oral history of a renowned Czech writer, whose optimism and faith in people survived grueling experiences under authoritarian regimes.
Heda Margolius Kovály (1919-2010) was a renowned Czech writer and translator born to Jewish parents. Her bestselling memoir, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968 has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Her crime novel Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Streetbased on her own experiences living under Stalinist oppressionwas named an NPR Best Book in 2015.
In the tradition of Studs Terkel, Hitler, Stalin and I is based on interviews between Kovály and award-winning filmmaker Helena Treštíková. In it, Kovály recounts her family history in Czechoslovakia, starving in the deprivations of Lodz Ghetto, how she miraculously left Auschwitz, fled from a death march, failed to find sanctuary amongst former friends in Prague as a concentration camp escapee, and participated in the liberation of Prague. Later under Communist rule, she suffered extreme social isolation as a pariah after her first husband Rudolf Margolius was unjustly accused in the infamous Slánsky Trial and executed for treason. Remarkably, Kovály, exiled in the United States after the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, only had love for her country and continued to believe in its people. She returned to Prague in 1996.
Heda had an enormous talent for expressing herself. She spoke with precision and was descriptive and witty in places. I admired her attitude and composure, even after she had such extremely difficult experiences. Nazism and Communism afflicted Heda's life directly with maximum intensity. Nevertheless, she remained an optimist.
Helena Treštíková has made over fifty documentary films. Hitler, Stalin and I has garnered several awards in the Czech Republic and Japan.
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About the Author
Helena Treštíková is a documentary film director born in Prague and studied at the Prague Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts. Since 1974, Helena has made over fifty documentary films mostly on the themes of long term human relationships and was awarded number of prizes including the European Film Academy 2008 Prix Arte. The film Hitler, Stalin and I, based on her interview with Heda, was first shown on Czech television in 2001 and subsequently received the Festival Award Special Commendation at the 2002 Japan Film Festival; the ELSA award for the best Czech TV documentary film by the Czech Film and Television Academy in 2002, and the Gold Kingfisher award for the best documentary film at the Festival of Czech Films, Plzen in 2003.
Ivan Margolius is an architect, translator and author of memoirs, books and articles on art, architecture, engineering, design and automobile history. Ivan, son of Rudolf and Heda, was born in Prague, where he studied architecture and in London following his arrival to the United Kingdom in 1966. He practiced architecture at Foster and Partners, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Yorke Rosenberg Mardall and collaborated on books with Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Jan Kaplický.
Table of ContentsIntroduction by Helena Trestiková and Ivan Margolius
I The Eyeglass by Kupka (The First World War and the First Republic)
II A Small Bloke in a Dirty Trench Coat (The Beginnings of Fascism and the Occupation)
III Weeds for Dinner (The Transport to Lódz Ghetto)
IV A Zest of Life (Living in Lódz Ghetto)
V A Word of Honor (The Transport to Auschwitz)
VI Columns of Five into the Gas Chambers (Auschwitz)
VII Kudla (The Labor Camp)
VIII Now or Never (The Death March)
IX Ten Lumps of Sugar (A Search for Prague Refuge)
X Striptease at the Housing Department (The Prague Uprising)
XI Carps Are Not Killed Here (The Postwar Life)
XII The Country in Decline (After the Coup, 1948)
XIII Without a Single Word (The Trial)
XIV The Eleventh into the Tally (After the Execution)
XV The Den in Žižkov (Life in Isolation)
XVI An Elegant Torch (The Warsaw Pact Invasion: 1968)
XVII A Line for Apple Strudel (The Exile)
XVIII What Else Could I Possibly Want? (The End)
What People are Saying About This
Heda Margolius Kovály's personal account speaks well to students: it's so expressive without being polemical, so very human. I've never found anything else that gives students such a vivid sense of that interaction of the experiences of Nazism and Stalinism in such a small number of pages. Young people are captivated by her story.
— Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History, Yale University
A story written by life itself. […] After all the hardships, Ms. Kovály remained someone with an open mind and many truths echo in her life story. The book is difficult to tear yourself away from until you finish the last page. This emotionally charged story, yet realistic and without embellishment, will not leave you in peace.