Hours after Holocaust survivor and memoirist Peter Kubicek died last December on December 14, a light snow fell in New York City. According to his daughters, Katia and Marina, who wrote a sweet obituary published in the New York Times on January 12, 2018, Peter was business owner, and he took one vacation a year, and spent it skiing.
“Our father who had the same breakfast every weekday, and who was so disciplined he could stop at a single potato chip, when skiing allowed himself to drink Coke and eat salted peanuts,” they wrote. “He was endowed with a remarkable sense of balance, and I remember him falling only once. He often told me he wanted to ski until he was 80, the age when he said ski resorts offered guests free lift tickets. He made it to 77 before deciding to stop.”
Peter learned to ski in the High Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, his native land. An only child, he spent his childhood in Trencin, playing with toys borrowed from his parents’ general store and eating forbidden pork sausages whenever possible. In 1939, his father was in Geneva as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress when Germany invaded Poland. Thinking he could help his family better outside Czechoslovakia, his father finally made it to New York in March 1941. He secured visas for Peter and his mother to join him just as the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor postponed their reunion for almost 5 years.
“For our 15th birthday, my father wrote my twin sister and me about his own 15th birthday, spent in the sick ward of a concentration camp, one of the eight in which he was interned,” Katia wrote in the loving obituary.
She added: ”My father could wiggle his ears and balance an umbrella on his chin; he shared with me his enjoyment of P. G. Wodehouse and The New Yorker magazine. He passed on a love of Dvorak, and encouraged us to study music. He took us to museums and art galleries; he taught us how to open and pour a bottle of wine, turning it so no drips roll down.”
Peter, who died at the age of 87, was painfully aware that he was one of the younger Holocaust survivors. In retirement, he expanded and then published a fuller memoir of his time as a teenager in 8 Nazi labor camps to which the epigraph from Hegel reads, ‘‘The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn anything from history.’’
After I learned of Peter’s death by reading the New York Times the other day online, I sent a copy of the obituary to a long list of email friends who knew Peter over the years. One letter resonated with me.
“Dear Dan,” wrote Professor Joe Skelly in Manhattan, “thank you very much for your message, including the poignant eulogy by Peter‘s daughter, Katia. Our hearts are heavy at the news of his passing. He was a lion of a man and a moral witness to evil in our midst, like his fellow Holcaoust survivor, Tomi in Ireland, and his dear wife, Edith. Our lives have been enriched by Peter’s testament in his book and in his life, his courage, and his friendship. I will never forget my meetings with him at my college and at his home in New York City. He has profoundly influenced many lives. We will continue his invaluable work by standing up to evil and those who rationalize it.”
”I have spoken recently with his wife Edith, and will meet her soon,” the letter continued. “We all went to dinner last year in Queens, a memory I treasure. Peter has challenged all of us to resist the dark heart of man. We won’t let him down.”
The letter was signed:
Department of History
College of Mount Saint Vincent