I am fascinated by the human cost and compromises brought about by totalitarianism, in all its forms. This powerful and moving memoir, written by someone who not only survived the Nazi concentration camps but endured persecution of the most severe kind under the Soviet-inspired oppression that followed, is a hard-headed and remarkably unsentimental account of what they mean in practice.

It is an account of events, rather than a dissertation on causes or a social analysis. But the comments made almost in passing, such as the observation that once you accept the absolute necessity for ‘discipline’, and subjugating human needs to the needs of a political party or a movement, you lose your freedom, are telling.

The writer is Czech and the story of her husband’s persecution and execution under the Communist regime plays out in what was, then, Czechoslovakia.

it remains amazing to me, at 52, that in my lifetime such political systems have flourished. Of course, they still do, though there are fewer of them. Oppression is hard to justify and the testaments of those who have lived through it must be taken seriously, so we embark on oppressions of various kinds, as we do in many societies, with our eyes open.

A short and very important book.

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