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 Street—based on her own experiences living under Stalinist oppression—was 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 Slánský 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.
PRAISE FOR KOVALY’S INNOCENCE
A luminous testament from a dark time, Innocence is at once a clever homage to Raymond Chandler, and a portrait of a city – Prague – caught and held fast in a state of Kafkaesque paranoia. Only a great survivor could have written such a book.
– John Banville
Innocence is an extraordinary novel … in 1985, Kovály produced a remarkable work of art with the intrigue of a spy puzzle, the irony of a political fable, the shrewdness of a novel of manners, and the toughness of a hard-boiled murder mystery … Just as few will anticipate the many surprises and artful turns of Innocence, a book sure to dazzle and please a great many readers.
– Tom Nolan, The Best New Mysteries, The Wall Street Journal
Kovály’s skills as a mystery writer shines, as she uses suspense, hints, and suggestions to literally play with the reader’s mind … Innocence is an excellent novel for readers who are up for a challenging, intelligent, and complex story – one that paints a masterful picture of a bleak, Kafkaesque, and highly intriguing time, place, and cast of characters.
– The New York Journal of Books
Although not out of love for Hegel, Heda Margolius Kovály makes a very Hegelian point: actions, as Hegel tells us in the section on Antigone in Phenomenology of Spirit – even seemingly small, meaningless actions – always reach beyond their intent; and the impossibility of foreseeing how the consequences will ripple outwards does not absolve us of guilt. As for innocence, the woman who went to hell twice wants her readers to know that there is no such thing.
– The Times Literary Supplement