Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From the shelves of someone else’s library

During the 1970s and 1980s, I devoured books pertaining to totalitarianism, with respect to both its theoretical underpinnings and practical effects. I read, with a mixture of horror and outrage, The Gulag Archipelago, The Diary of Anne Frank and Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps, just to name a few non-fiction works that made the deepest impression. In literature, Orwell, Koestler, Grossman and Kuznetsov elevated the heart-breaking reality to the level of art. Yet in all that time, I have somehow managed to overlook what seems to be a classic: Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968, by Heda Margolius Kovály. Michael McDonald has written an excellent review. A very brief sample:
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Communist parties in Eastern Europe, at Stalin’s direction, began a series of purges. Although he was an economist and, as such, not involved in Party politics, the Czechoslovak secret police arrested [Rudolf Margolius, Heda’s husband] on January 10, 1952. The next time Heda saw him was nearly one year later on the eve of his execution. Rudolf was one of 14 government officials, 11 of them Jewish, who were convicted, after repeated torture, of “anti-state conspiracy” as part of the notorious Slánsky show trials. The Communist state had Rudolf hanged and his body cremated. As the secret police were transferring his ashes, the car they were in began to swerve on an icy road. They threw his ashes under the car’s wheels for traction.
Read the whole thing.


bruce said...

Clive James' recommendation and sounds spot on.

Note this though: 'The European Commission in Brussels recently issued a report in response to calls from the Czech Republic and other East European states to consider adopting penalties across the European Union for denying or downplaying the crimes committed by Communist regimes.'

Fighting oppression with more...

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I encountered a young Communist after the annual International ANSWER protest parade in Hollywood. After pointing out the horrors and failures of communism around the world, I asked her why she thought it would succeed now? Her answer was "because we know how."

It would be nice if all the Marxists, Stalinists, Maoists living here in freedom had the chance to hear these stories. Perhaps it should be on the reading lists at universities, especially the University of Minnesota.

Deborah Leigh

Paco said...

I really need to read some of Clive James' books.

cac said...

I tend towards free speech myself but can understand why those formely under the Communist yoke want to stop the commie romanticisers. Eastern Europe is one of my favourite places and I'm looking forward to again being in Prague this Christmas, but I'm always struck by the combination of stunningly beautiful cities(communism's abysmal economic record meant that much was preserved, unfortunately capitalism is doing its best to destroy this legacy as anyone who has seen the Hilton on the Danube at Budapest can attest) and an appalling grim history within living and indeed recent memory. Next to our apartment in a nondescript square in Pest was a monument to some 1,000 shot in 1956 and these are literally everywhere around the city.

The collapse of the Iron Curtain was one of the greatest advances in human civilization since WW2 and deniers make me angry so I can only imagine what your average Czech, Slovak or Estonian thinks.