When I picked it up, I took (somewhat unthinkingly) to be “another holocaust memoir.” The holocaust figures—as well it might—but only for the first 20-odd pages. Most of the rest is about her life in post-war
Heda lives on. Under circumstances not much less desperate than what she faced in
Heda’s memoir is not a work of literary art on the order of, say, the camp memories of Primo Levi, although as a human story, it is equally affecting. Its cardinal virtue is that it is the best account I’ve ever seen of how a country might “slip into communism”—even a country with a history of democracy, even 20 years after the Russian revolution.
We see it all through the eyes of young people full of hope in a time of turmoil. They believe that demoracy failed them before World War II, when their elected leaders virtually lay down before the advancing Germans. They remembered life in the camps, where the communists were often among the bravest and most decent of the prisoners. But they also find themselves in the company of two other cohorts, neither promising allies in the march to a decent future. One are the hustlers and time-servers who had learned how to survive under the Germans—“hard-faced men,” said Stanley Baldwin in a closely similar context, “who looked like they had done well out of the war” (link) Indeed, Heda seems to show more bitterness for the “hard-faced men” (and women) than she does for her SS captors in the prison camps. The SS captors were, after all, just thugs and killers. The hard-faced ones were her neighbors, acting out a drama of betrayal.
Along with the true believers and the hard-faced men, there was a third component: people of small talent and less initiative who figured that their chance for survival depended on finding their niche in an authoritarian hierarchy Put these three together and you have a formula for disaster.
Rudolph was certainly no mediocrity, nor a hard-faced man. Remarkably, he wasn’t a very good communist either. He was an enthusiastic technocrat, convinced (until it was too late) that people of good will could work together to build a better country.
The story ends, as these things go, more or less happily. Ivan grows up and achieves a career and a family (he has written his own memoir, which goes on the list [link]). Heda comes to