When I signed up for a class covering the history of the Cold War, it intrigued me for two reasons. First of all, the entire event is wrought with intrigue, espionage, and political wrangling, all of which I have always been fascinated with. Secondly, and primarily, conceding the unavoidable fact that I’m the oldest student in the class, I am someone who actually was alive and old enough to be cognizant of the struggle between Capitalism and Communism as it occurred. However, the extent of my knowledge of the Cold War amounted to by and large what I had seen through the lens of Hollywood and the American Capitalist filter. The epic struggle, to me, was manifested most simplistically through the “Miracle on Ice”.
Fast-forward 30 years, and I find myself longing for deeper understanding of these things with which I’ve been enamored my whole life. Obviously, the Cold War was more substantive than an Olympic hockey game or a very young Charlie Sheen fighting off the invading Cubans and Soviets. What did the Cold War mean to those on the “other side”? Were they as passionate with their patriotism as the vast majority of Americans were? What was it like living in a Communist state during the height of Soviet and Bolshevik power? I found my answer in the poignant memoir of Heda Margolius Kovály, UNDER A CRUEL STAR.
As Kovály guides the reader through the events of those mostly tragic years, it’s very obvious to me that while her trials under Nazi occupation and Stalinist terror were two very distinct times in her life, that she views the two periods as equally formative, and inseparable in regards to their importance. Kovály actually views her life and her struggle as symbolic of those of Czechoslovakia as a whole. She opens the book with:
Three forces carved the landscape of my life. Two of them crushed half the world. The third was very small and weak and , actually, invisible…The first force was Adolf Hitler, the second, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin....