Under a Cruel Star Background

Under a Cruel Star Background

Heda Margoulis Kovaly originally published her memoir under the title "The Victors and The Vanquished" in Canada in 1973. A second version, "I Do Not Want To Remember", was published later the same year in the U.K. The memoir tells of the years that she spent during the Second World War as a woman of Jewish ancestry, captive in the Lodz ghetto and then imprisoned in the most infamous of Nazi death camps, Auschwitz. As the war drew to a close, and the Germans realized that they were shortly to be overpowered by the Allied forces, prison authorities marched prisoners into the middle of nowhere on "death marches" and shot them. When her camp was marched, she escaped and made her way back to Prague but found that her old friends were too frightened of Nazi reprisals to help her and so had to rely on her wits to survive. In May 1945 she participated in the Prague Uprising against the Germans.

Although her parents and family were killed at Auschwitz, both Heda and her husband, Rudolf, survived. Her memoir also explains why it was so difficult for Jews liberated from the camps to reintegrate back into a society that was still shockingly anti-Semitic. She chronicles the rise of Communism, her husband's political career within the Communist government and his subsequent arrest and trial in a Soviet-created trial and his execution in 1952. Under the draconian Czech constitution unemployment was illegal and the widowed Heda struggled to stay in a job. In 1968, Prague was invaded after the infamous Prague Spring; the memoir ends as Heda emigrates to the United States.

The memoir was well-received and was given praise universally by critics. Clive James wrote that if any book could educate the reader in thirty seconds as to the political structure of the political tragedies of the Twentieth Century it was this one. Heda married for a second time; she and her husband did not return to her homeland until 1996. She passed away in Prague at the age of ninety-one and is memorialized at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague, just behind the tomb of Franz Kafka.

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