History,  Obituary

RIP Heda Kovaly

The Washington Post reports:

Heda Margolius Kovaly, who wrote a widely acclaimed memoir, “Under a Cruel Star,” about the horrors she endured first in Nazi concentration camps during World War II and later under communist rule in her native Czechoslovakia, died Dec. 5 in Prague. She was 91 and had Alzheimer’s disease.

Filled with more tragedy and loss than seems possible for one lifetime, Ms. Kovaly’s slim volume has been heralded as an intimate and powerful account of life under totalitarian rule.

“Given 30 seconds to recommend a single book that might start a serious student on the hard road to understanding the political tragedies of the 20th century,” author Clive James once wrote, “I would choose this one.”

Born to a Jewish family in Prague, Ms. Kovaly was a young woman when Czechoslovakia was overrun by Germany during World War II. In 1941, she was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Over the next several years, she was sent to concentration camps that included Auschwitz, where she saw her mother go to a gas chamber.

Ms. Kovaly survived the war, only to live through the loss of her childhood sweetheart and first husband, Rudolf Margolius, a Czech deputy minister of trade who was imprisoned by the Communist Party on invented charges of anti-state conspiracy.

After nearly a year in jail, he was hanged Dec. 3, 1952.

“More than 30 years have now passed and that night is still not over,” she told the Guardian of London in 1988, by which time she had remarried, moved to Boston and built a reputation as a literary translator. “It remains to this day a screen onto which my present life is projected. I measure all my happiness and all my misfortunes against it.”
“Three forces carved the landscape of my life,” she wrote in the opening lines of her memoir. “Two of them crushed half the world. The third was very small and weak and, actually, invisible. It was a shy little bird hidden in my rib cage an inch or two above my stomach.”

“The first force was Adolf Hitler; the second, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin,” she wrote. “The little bird, the third force, kept me alive to tell the story.”

Has anyone read it? It looks to be a book worth seeking out.