Heda Margolius Kovly (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 Kovly and award-winning filmmaker Helena Trest-kov. In it, Kovly 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 Slnsky Trial and executed for treason. Remarkably, Kovly, 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 Trest-kov 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, Kovly 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
Kovly'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 Kovly 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
About the Author
Heda Margolius Kovly (1919-2010), a Czech writer and translator, was born in Prague to Jewish parents. Heda spent the years of the Second World War in a ghetto, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, escaped from a death march, and took part in the Prague uprising against the Nazis in May 1945. After the war Heda worked at various Prague publishing houses as a graphic designer. In 1952, her first husband, Rudolf Margolius (1913-1952), was convicted in the Stalinist Slnsk Trial. The 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia forced Heda into exile in the United States. She translated over two dozen books and her celebrated memoir, Under a Cruel Star, was first published in 1973 and has since been translated into many languages. Her crime novel Innocence appeared in Czech in 1985 and in English in 2015. Heda returned to Prague in 1996 where she died. Helena Trest-kov 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 Kaplick.