2005-03-08 / Front Page

Film, discussion to focus on 1952 Slansky trials

MANALAPAN — The Politics of Fear: Creating the Enemy, a program about the Slansky trials which took place in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1952, will be held at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters, 125 Symmes Drive, at 2 p.m. March 13.

The program will include a showing of the documentary film “A Trial in Prague” and a discussion of the book “Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941- 1968,” by Heda Margolius Kovaly.

Jack Needle, professor of history, Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, and co-founder of The Center for Holocaust Studies at Brookdale Community College, and Zuzana Justman, the Emmy-award winning writer and director of the film, will participate in the discussion.

According to a press release from the library, during the last five years of Stalin’s rule, as Israel turned more and more to the West, the Communist Party became virulently anti-Semitic. Furthermore, Stalin needed to demonstrate to the rest of Eastern Europe that he would not tolerate another Yugoslavia, where Tito had succeeded in achieving a measure of autonomy. So Stalin, in his obsession for total power, created an “enemy within” and orchestrated the infamous show trials, The Slansky trials, in Prague.

Thirteen high-ranking Czech Communists, including the powerful Rudolph Slansky, who was the party’s general secretary, were arrested on trumped up charges and tortured, physically and mentally, until they confessed to high treason and espionage. They were forced to memorize their testimony for the eight-day trial, which had been carefully scripted by Stalin’s apparatchiks, according to the press release.

Eleven of the accused were Jews whose loyalty to the Communist Party was sincere and intense. They had lived through the Holocaust and hoped that Communism would provide solutions to post-World War II social, economic and political problems. But their loyalty to the Communist Party stood them in no good stead. Eleven of the accused were hung; the other three were sent to hard labor camps and were released only when Stalin died, according to the press release.

Justman found original film footage and other documentation as archival materials gradually became available after 1989. Much of the testimony is supplied by the firsthand accounts of widows and children of the condemned. The dialog is in English, with subtitles in Czech and French; the score is by Peter Fish.

Kovaly, a dominant voice in the film, is the author of “Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968.” She and her first husband, the idealistic Rudolf Margolius, were survivors of the Holocaust who, upon coming to Prague, became active in the Communist Party. Margolius was one of the Slansky trial victims who was executed. His widow and son were exiled.

The program is co-sponsored by The Center for Holocaust Studies at Brookdale Community College and is free. For more information call (732) 431-7242.

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