Heda Margolius Kovály

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Heda Margolius Kovály
Color facial profile of Kovály in Prague, 1992
Kovály in Prague, 1992
BornHeda Bloch
(1919-09-15)15 September 1919[1]
Prague, Czechoslovakia[1]
Died5 December 2010(2010-12-05) (aged 91)[1]
Prague, Czech Republic[1]
OccupationWriter and translator

Heda Margolius Kovály (15 September 1919[1] – 5 December 2010[1]) was a Czech writer[2] and translator. She survived a ghetto and Auschwitz where her parents died. She later escaped whilst being marched to Bergen-Belsen to find that no one would take her in. Her husband was made a deputy minister in Czechoslovakia and he was then hanged as a traitor. As the wife of disgraced man she married again and they were treated badly. They left for the USA in 1968 when the country was invaded by the Russians. She published her biography in 1973. She and her husband did not return to her homeland until 1996.

Early life[edit]

She was born Heda Bloch[1] to Jewish parents in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where she lived until 1941 when her family was rounded up along with first 5,000 of the city's Jewish population and taken to the in central Poland.[1]

Concentration-camp and Margolius-marriage years[edit]

Married to her childhood sweetheart, Rudolf Margolius, she was separated from her parents when the Jews were taken out of the ghetto and transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. After arriving at Auschwitz, she was chosen to survive—though her parents were immediately gassed[1]—and to work as a laborer in the Christianstadt labour camp.

When the Eastern Front of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union approached the camp, its prisoners were evacuated. With a few other women in the first months of 1945, it was decided while on this journey to Bergen-Belsen, to escape back to Prague. After arriving in the city, Margolius discovered that most of the people who remained in the city during the war were too frightened by the threat of German punishment to aid an escapee from the camps.

When Soviet forces finally freed Prague from Nazi control the Communist Party began to rise. The experiences of her husband at Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps had led him to become a communist. Having been asked, he took a job with the Communist government of Klement Gottwald as Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade,[3] despite his own and his wife's reservations about the position.

In 1952, her husband was found guilty of conspiracy[3] during the notorious Slánský trial. Rudolf was one of the eleven Jews on the list of fourteen accused. Having been prevented from seeing her husband for eleven months after his arrest, and after he and the other arrested Jews gave false confessions extracted by torture, Heda later learned that he had been hanged and his body cremated and given to security officials for disposal. In a final indignity, a few miles out of Prague, the officials' limousine began to skid on the icy road and his ashes were thrown under the wheels to create traction.[4] Related to 'a people's enemy' her life was made harder—"Heda was thrown out of her job and her apartment, and then additionally persecuted for being unemployed and homeless."[5]

Their son, Ivan Margolius, was raised in impoverished conditions. For as long as the Communist Party remained in power, she was kept from good jobs and socially shunned. She did not tell Ivan the truth about what happened to his father until he was sixteen years old.

Kovály-marriage years[edit]

She remarried in 1955 to Pavel Kovály (1928–2006). Unfortunately, his name was tarnished because of his association with her as the widow of the alleged traitor, her first husband, Rudolf Margolius.[6]

Emigration from Czechoslovakia to the United States[edit]

Finally in 1968, when once again Soviet Union troops invaded Prague after the Prague Spring and occupation seemed inevitable, Margolius Kovály fled Czechoslovakia to the United States.

She worked as a reference assistant librarian in the Harvard Law School Library at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Return to Prague[edit]

Margolius Kovály returned to Prague to retire with her second husband in 1996.


Her memoir was originally written in Czech and published in Canada under the title Na vlastní kůži by 68 Publishers in Toronto in 1973. An English translation appeared in the same year as the first part of the book The Victors and the Vanquished published by Horizon Press in New York. A British edition of the book excluded the second treatise and was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson under the title I Do Not Want To Remember in 1973.

In 1986, she re-published her memoir Under A Cruel Star – A Life in Prague 1941–1968 (published in the United Kingdom as Prague Farewell). The memoir is dedicated to her son and it has been widely translated and is available in French and English as an e-book. The memoir is also available in Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Romanian, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Japanese.

In 1985 she published a novel called Nevina (Innocence) in Czech by Index, Köln and republished in the Czech Republic in 2013 by Mladá fronta, Praha. The English translation, by Alex Zucker, was published by Soho Press, New York in June 2015.[7] Professor Marci Shore said of the book: "Although it is crime fiction and designed to be fine reading there is a deeper philosophical point which is that there is no innocence ... To participate in the resistance is to take on the guilt of retaliation and to not participate is to take on the guilt of passivity."[8]

Between 1958 and 1989 she translated from German or English into the Czech language over 24 works of well-known authors such as Arnold Zweig, Raymond Chandler, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Arnold Bennett, Muriel Spark, William Golding, John Steinbeck, H. G. Wells and many others.[9]

In 2000 Kovály participated in the making of Zuzana Justman's film A Trial in Prague. In 2015 Mladá fronta, Praha, published Hitler, Stalin a já: Ústní historie 20. století by Heda Kovályová and Helena Třeštíková based on the full transcript of the 2001 TV film documentary Hitler, Stalin a já.


Margolius Kovály died in Prague, age 91, after a long illness.[1] A memorial plaque dedicated to Heda Margolius Kovály together with her first husband Dr Rudolf Margolius is located on the family tomb at New Jewish Cemetery, Izraelská 1, Prague 3, sector no. 21, row no. 13, plot no. 33, directly behind Franz Kafka's grave.[10]


  • Kovály, Heda and Kohák, Erazim (1973). The Victors and the Vanquished. Horizon Press (New York). ISBN 0-8180-1603-5. (In Czech: Na vlastní kůži. 68 Publishers (Toronto). 1973)
  • Margolius, Heda (1973). I Do Not Want To Remember Auschwitz 1941 - Prague 1968. Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London). ISBN 0-297-76671-6.
  • Nováková, Helena (1985, pseudonym of Heda Margolius Kovály). Nevina. Index (Köln). In Czech.
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (1986). Under A Cruel Star – A Life in Prague 1941–1968. Plunkett Lake Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts). ISBN 0-9614696-1-7.
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (1997). Prague Farewell. Indigo (London). ISBN 0-575-40086-2. (Kindle edition on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk also available.)
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (1997). Under A Cruel Star – A Life in Prague 1941–1968. Holmes & Meier (New York). ISBN 0-8419-1377-3. In Czech: Na vlastní kůži. Academia (Praha). 2003, 2012.
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (2010). Under A Cruel Star – A Life in Prague 1941–1968. Plunkett Lake Press e-book (Kindle edition on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (2012). Under A Cruel Star - A Life in Prague 1941-1968. Granta (London). ISBN 978-1-84708-476-7.
  • Kovályová, Heda (2013) Nevina aneb Vražda v Příkré ulici. Mladá fronta (Praha). ISBN 978-80-204-2592-8. In Czech.
  • Margolius Kovály, Heda (2015). Innocence; or Murder on Steep Street. Soho Crime (New York). ISBN 978-1-61695-496-3.
  • Kovályová, Heda a Třeštíková, Helena (2015). Hitler, Stalin a já: Ústní historie 20. století. Mladá fronta (Praha). ISBN 978-80-204-3625-2. In Czech.
  • Heda Margolius Kovály and Helena Třeštíková (2018). Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History. DoppelHouse Press (Los Angeles). ISBN 978-0-9987770-0-9, ISBN 978-0-9978184-7-5.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j (registration required) Grimes, William (9 December 2010). "Heda Kovaly, Czech Who Wrote of Totalitarianism, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Books and articles by and about Heda Margolius Kovály on WorldCat
  3. ^ a b Heda Margolius Kovály obituary, Ivan Margolius, The Guardian, Retrieved 14 September 2016
  4. ^ Gross, Tom (15 December 2010). "A Shy Little Bird Hidden in My Rib Cage". tomgrossmedia.com. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  5. ^ Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, p. 366
  6. ^ Margolius Kovály, Heda (1986). Under A Cruel Star – A Life in Prague 1941–1968. Plunkett Lake Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts)ISBN 0-9614696-1-7.
  7. ^ http://sohopress.com/books/innocence/
  8. ^ 'In Slavic Languages, Life Happens to You', Marci Shore interview with Tom McEnchroe, Radio Praha, March 23, 2019, https://www.radio.cz/en/section/one-on-one/marci-shore-in-slavic-languages-life-happens-to-you
  9. ^ http://www.margolius.co.uk.
  10. ^ Frank Shatz, The Lake Placid News, 8 July 2011 http://www.lakeplacidnews.com/page/content.detail/id/503813/WORLD-FOCUS--A-Kafkaesque-tale.html?nav=5001&showlayout=0

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • margolius.co.uk, "Ivan Margolius – Heda Margolius Kovály" official website