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Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

4.21  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,150 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
A memoir of the author who describes the lives caught up in Czechoslovakia's tragic fate under the Nazis. It also illuminates the chaotic life of a nation during the Stalin era.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published January 1st 1997 by Holmes & Meier Publishers (first published 1986)
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Feb 19, 2016 Dem rated it really liked it
Under a Cruel Star: Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly.

This is one Woman's compelling account of strength and courage from the end of World War II and through the communist era in Czechoslovakia.

I have read many many accounts of life during the War and in the Concentration Camps but this particular Memoir picqued my interest when I learned that Heda was born in Prague of Jewish ancestry, survived the concentration camps and the death march to make her wasy back to Prague to learn
Aug 04, 2015 Chrissie rated it it was amazing

During the last few days I have been reading Under A Cruel Star. Tom, one of my GR friends, brought to my attention that the author, in her nineties, had recently died. I had the book sitting there on my shelf and memoirs always attract me. I needed a good book after having been so disappointed by the last book I had read, Buddha's Orphans. Opening it I wondered, what would this book give me? You never really know by simply reading the blurb describing the book, as Buddha's Orphans ma
La Petite Américaine
Mar 02, 2016 La Petite Américaine rated it really liked it
2/17/16: Removing a reference to an author/adding one that's more relevant + cleaning up this garbage. It's unfair to take an accusatory tone with someone who can't defend herself because she's too busy being dead. It's especially unfair when you've read her book 4+ times. Updating now.
(Excuse all the mixing of tenses that follow--reworking this review for 4th time since 2007).


This memoir provides a glimpse into of the life of a woman who survived two of the greatest tragedies of the 20th ce
Nancy Oakes
May 22, 2015 Nancy Oakes rated it it was amazing
this is the short can find the longer one here.

Kovály's memoir covers a span of time from 1941 to 1968, from when the Nazis began to deport Jews from Prague (and the author found herself first in the Lodz ghetto and then Auschwitz) until just prior to arrival of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, after a very brief Prague Spring. She was lucky -- when the Nazis evacuated the camp she was in and made all of the remaining prisoners walk from Poland to Germany under heavy guard, she and
“The war ended the way a passage through a tunnel ends. From far away you could see the light ahead, a gleam that kept growing, and its brilliance seemed ever more dazzling to you huddled there in the dark the longer it took to reach it. But when at last the train burst out in the glorious sunshine, all you saw was a wasteland full of weeds and stones, and a heap of garbage.”

Heda Margolius Kovaly survives WWII only to find herself in Communist post-war Prague. She and her husband join the commun
Jun 28, 2014 Francisco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Narración autobiográfica de los horrores del Fascismo y el Comunismo que sufrió la población checa. Dolorosa y brutal, no duda en ofrecernos todo el sufrimiento, la violencia y la destrucción innata a ambos modelos.
Jul 09, 2014 Víctor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Interested in Socialist Czech Republic life
Las personas que están dispuestas a sacrificar su propio bienestar por un noble idea probablemente acabarán exigiéndoles un sacrificio parecido a otros no tan dispuestos a hacerlo. Un sistema político que no puede funcionar sin mártires es un sistema político malo y destructivo.

Heda Margolius Kovaly observó cómo los alemanes invadían su Checoslovaquia natal y mataban a toda su familia por su condición racial, obligándole a esconderse para sobrevivir; cómo el gobierno comunista de su propio país
Mar 08, 2014 Tracey rated it it was amazing
I had never heard of Heda Kovaly prior to finding this book in my local Oxfam Bookshop.However, after reading the blurb, I was very keen to know more.
We are all aware of the countless atrocities that took place during the holocaust, but at times Mrs Kovaly's firsthand account seems unbelievable in its graphic portrayal of events and reads almost like a harrowing novel.
However,the events are real and not only did Mrs Kovaly endure persecution as a Jew during the Second World War, she was also ca
Sep 04, 2015 Libba rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read recently. It follows the life of the author, a Jewish woman living in Prague, from the Nazi era through the unsuccessful uprising against Soviet rule in 1968. Her vantage point as an escapee from Auschwitz and later as the wife of a communist official who was arrested and executed in a 1951-52 purge gives her a unique perspective on Czech history during these years. But the most fascinating aspect of the book is its exploration of how t ...more
Mar 21, 2008 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Do not read this book in public. I read it on the plane ride back from Italy over spring break and had to work hard to keep myself from bawling out load and freaking out the other passengers. This a is phenomenal personal memoir about the human and political experience of a Jewish girl at the tail end of WWII and the beginning of the Communist rule in Prague. It was poignant and very educational in a nonacademic way. This book made me understand the human condition that existed in Czech that ena ...more
Feb 03, 2013 Adrian added it
Recommended by T. Judt. Excellent short volume by Czech Jew who recounts her life from deportation from Prague by Nazis- she escaped while on the way to concentration camp- until her escape from Prague in 1968 after Soviet invasion. During the years in between her husband Rudolf reached the post of Deputy Minister of Trade was accused of treason in 1952, convicted and hanged. Author lost job, house and health and suffered life as a pariah until thaw of early 1960s. This was when Rudolf was exone ...more
Dita Murinová
Skvělý příběh, který by byl o moc lepší, kdyby byl jen vymyšelný. Představa že tohle všechno se jednou stalo, mi asi dneska nedá spát. Každopádně moc hezky napsáno a pro někoho jako jsem já (člověk, který toho bohužel o naší historii moc neví) úžasný náhled do těch hrůz, které se děly. Doporučuji :)
Ivánek, Rudolf, Pavel a Heda, ti všichni mi včera nedali spát. Pro někoho,kdo, i když se za to šíleně stydí, o historii své země neví zrovna moc, znamenala takhle knížka víc, než jenom poohlédnutí
Sep 29, 2011 Mary rated it it was amazing
My mother was equal halves Irish and Czech. The Irish side was talked about more within the family, but I recently learned my great-great-grandparents came to America from Austro-Hungary in 1867. Why? Where did they enter America? What was life like in Cuba, Kansas for Bohemian immigrants...? As they say 'Youth is wasted on the young', I never thought to ask these questions and now it's too late.

I am now relying on books to help quench my desire to learn more about the Czech Republic (Austria-Hu
Jun 07, 2015 J.P. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prague-2015
This book was a punch in the gut. Ms. Kovály suffered the perfect storm of injustice and terror, from her tenure at Auschwitz, to being rejected by even her closest friends upon her escape and return to Prague in the final weeks of WWII, to her husband's false conviction and very real execution at the hands of the Communists, and subsequent (and second) rejection by all her friends, employers, even doctors. It paints a nice, personal account of just how the Communists drew support in the early d ...more
May 03, 2016 Stefan rated it liked it
An eclectic mixture of genuine personal tragedy and superficial liberal ideology.
Rick Boyer
Feb 21, 2015 Rick Boyer rated it it was amazing
A powerful memoir, by a Czech Jew, living in Prague through the Nazi occupation, through the "liberation" of the Soviet communists, and then the further havoc and destruction which was wrought by the communist liberators. It is an intelligent, astute, and piercing piece of work.

There is much to learn here, about the dehumanizing tendencies of totalitarianism; the human proclivity to fear and the marginalization of the "other;" the corrupting effects of power; and the horrifying capacity that peo
Feb 02, 2008 Hannah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history
Recommended to Hannah by: required class reading
This is a great historical book with a lot of heart behind it. Heda Kovaly writes her autobiography about the years of her life in which she survived a concentration camp and Stalinist communism in her country. Her story is fascinating and heartfelt without crossing over into sappy territory. It gives a very in-depth look at what everyday life was like under these circumstances as well as exploring the ideologies and attitudes that lead to these situations.
Feb 24, 2014 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Tři síly ztvárnily krajinu mého života. První dvě rozdrtily polovinu světa. Ta třetí byla docela nepatrná a dokonce neviditelná: bylo to male tiché ptáče, které se uhnízdilo v mém hrudním koši kousek nad pátým žebrem. Čas od času, obyčejně v těch nejneočekávanějších chvílích se ptáče probudilo, zvedlo hlavu a zatřepotalo křídly jako u vytržení. A tehdy jsem I já zdvihla hlavu, protože na ten prchavý okamžik mne pokaždé pronikla naprostá jistota, že láska a naděje zmohou nekonečně víc než nenávi ...more
Mar 14, 2013 Richard rated it it was amazing
This memoir gives the personal experiences of a woman who spent much of her adult life enslaved by the two most destructive politic forces of the 20th Century, Fascism and Communism. It is filled with tragedy as well as lessons which all people and nations must not forget. I would recommend this book to anyone, but particularly to individuals interested in daily life in a communist country.
Dec 16, 2010 Tom is currently reading it
After reading this NYT obit of Heda Kovaly (whom I'd never heard of), I knew I just had to read this book. The first chp alone will blow your ears off. Thought I was burned out on Holocaust Lit, but this one quickly changed my mind, and besides, it covers K's life post-war, as well.
Apr 13, 2015 Yamini rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

Anyone wanting to read more about communism imposed in Czech Republic should read this! It’s a wonderful, heart wrenching story about how people survive the worst acts of humanity. More professors and teacher should be using this book alongside Anne Frank to teach students about WWII and what came after.
It hardly seems possible that a mere 192 pages could contain the story of a life lived during the most turbulent years of the 20th century. Heda Margolius Kovaly survived Auschwitz; where her entire family perished, lived through the terrors of totalitarian Communism during which time her husband was hanged as a wrongly condemned traitor to the state, yet still survived with enough strength to raise a child and participate in the uprising of the Prague Spring. Engaging, fast-paced and eminently ...more
Arturo Trafny
Feb 13, 2014 Arturo Trafny rated it it was amazing
my brother and i registered for a history class together. We both love history and read and watch films about it ask the time. however i have always found it hard to get into an assigned book for a class for some reason. this is the first book that completely captured my attention as a required reading. I read it in its entirety in a day and a half with work and school mixed in. right from the opening chapter (spoiler alert: a great escape) it was captivating and the story was so moving. a must ...more
Heda Margolius Kovály née Bloch, a Jew, and her family were forcibly evacuated from their home in Prague to the Lodz Ghetto during October 1941. They remained there as conditions deteriorated and the family lost at least one cousin during this period of incarceration. The family otherwise remained more or less intact for three years until about September 1944 when they were forcibly evacuated to Auschwitz concentration camp. There, Kovály's mother was immediately gassed and burned and her father ...more
Mar 28, 2015 Jamie rated it really liked it
I found Under a Cruel Star to be a compelling memoir on Heda Kovaly's life after WWII. Her experiences are rich and remarkable. I found myself amazed by how she survives within a world of anxiety, malice, and selfishness.

The memoir starts at Kovaly's escape from the concentration camps. These segments read as fast-paced and confused. However, I think this is to her credit because the escape itself seems to be fast-paced and confused. She primarily discusses the rebuilding of her life and the rei
Feb 14, 2015 Jackie rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-for-class
After having read so many books for classes in the past, I didn't have high hopes for this one. However, I was actually wrong. Not only did I learn more about communism/socialism than I'd ever known previously, but I was also able to enjoy a beautifully-written memoir. One of my favorite quotes was the very first paragraph or so of the book: "I carry the past inside me folded up like an accordion, like a book of picture post cards that people bring home as souvenirs from foreign cities, small an ...more
Thomas Paul
Aug 08, 2013 Thomas Paul rated it it was amazing
As good as this book is, it could have been much better. Kovaly has a fascinating story to tell but too much of her story tells how this happened and then that happened without enough analysis or explanation. Kovaly lived through Hitler and Stalin and she has an amazing story to tell.

The book starts with the deportation of the Jews from Prague, where Kovaly lived, to the ghetto of Lodz in Poland. She describes the horrors and the death she encountered there. She then skips ahead to the last conc
Jan 16, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
This book read quickly and easily. Having read other books about genocide, political repression, tyranny, I was personally a bit disappointed at the lack of in-depth characterization. However, this is assigned reading for a college-level history course (for one of the student workers in my office), so it shouldn't be too "painful" for the younger folks to read. :) I could appreciate the way it described the common citizenry's push for an idealistic solution (Marxism/Communism) in the aftermath o ...more
Jan 16, 2013 Luboš rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-story
Přežít koncentrační tábor, aby si pak mohla prožít na vlastní kůži politický proces padesátých let, což snad bylo ještě horší. Naděje šedesátých let zabitá sovětskou invazí. Hodně depresivní, přesto bez sebelítosti. Krátké a čtivé.

Důležité memento pro budoucí generace, reflexe pro pamětníky. Nesmíme zapomenout!

Celý život jsem dělal stranického funkcionáře, a teď abych si hledal práci?

Když u nás na vesnici zloděj ukradl husu, zapíral do poslední chvíle, i když ho třeba chyti
Nathalie Hourihan
Mar 16, 2013 Nathalie Hourihan rated it it was amazing
I picked up this short memoir a week ago in Prague and devoured it as if it were a thriller. In a way, it was. Somewhat over-read on the topic of the holocaust, I didn't think I had room for more ... but this isn't a book about the camps even if the story starts there.

Clive James is quoted on the back with the statement, "Given thirty seconds to recommend a book to start a student on the road to understanding political tragedies of the 20th century ... I would choose this one." I second that. I
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